Second-language learning is beneficial on many levels, but to what extent? Let’s have a look at the second article of the series, based on the Literature Review on the Impact of Second-Language Learning (2017), for the academic impacts of L2 learning.

Why Learn Languages? Languages Build Academic Performance 

wll lang build academic“Why Learn Languages? Languages Build Brains,” part one of the series, makes it clear that learning a second language has positive cognitive impacts, in particular when it comes to focus and memory. But the question that parents have across the country persists: If my child learns a second language will it impact his academic performance? Of course it will, but positively...

In the Literature Review, Mary Grantham O’Brien and her team analyzed the impact — positive! — of bilingualism on academic success in two foundational subjects: literacy and mathematics.

Languages Build Literacy

Children who learn a second language show either comparable or enhanced first-language literacy skills related to reading and understanding written texts (O’Brien et al., 2017). In particular, learning a second language positively influences the development of first-language spelling and reading skills as a result of an enhanced understanding of language structures (Hussien, 2014). This boost in skills, in part, is explained by the fact that second-language learning can be viewed as language awareness training (Murphy, Macaro, Alba, & Cipolla, 2014).

Languages Build Math Skills

In their study, Padilla, Fan, Xu, and Silva (2013) found that grade 4 and 5 students enrolled in an immersion program matched or outperformed their English-only program peers in academic achievement on core subjects such as math and science. Clarkson (2007) also discovered that knowing two languages can sometimes help second-language learners to self-correct their own mathematical errors. Additionally, being proficient in mathematics in one language can help in learning it in the second language.

Bottom line, if your child learns a second language at school, at worst it will have no impact and at best it will boost their academic performance.


  • Clarkson, P. C. (2007). Australian Vietnamese students learning mathematics: High ability bilinguals and their use of their languages. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 64(2), 191–215. doi:10.1007/s10649-006-4696-5

  • Hussien, A. M. (2014). The effect of learning English (L2) on learning of Arabic literacy (L1) in the primary school. International Education Studies, 7(3), 88–98. doi:10.5539/ies.v7n3p88

  • Murphy, V. A., Macaro, E., Alba, S., & Cipolla, C. (2014). The influence of learning a second language in primary school on developing first language literacy skills. Applied Psycholinguistics, 36(5), 1133–1153. doi:10.1017/s0142716414000095

  • O’Brien, M. G., et al. (2017). Literature Review on the Impact of Second-Language Learning. CASLT.

  • Padilla, A. M., Fan, L., Xu, X., & Silva, D. (2013). A Mandarin/English two‐way immersion program: Language proficiency and academic achievement. Foreign Language Annals, 46(4), 661–679.

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