Foreign language learning and its impact on wider academic outcomes: a rapid evidence assessment

The EEF has commissioned a rapid evidence assessment (REA) focusing on the evidence on the effects of Modern Foreign Languages (MFL) instruction on wider academic outcomes. In addition to this overarching aim, The EEF has asked the research team to gather evidence about effective MFL teaching more generally.

Why are we funding it?

The EEF’s overall aim for this project is to understand the impact of foreign language learning and the most effective strategies to achieve language proficiency and positive impact on wider academic attainment. This evidence will be used to inform policy and practice, with the possibility of providing the foundation for further primary research.

The main objective of this evidence assessment is to understand what is known from the literature about learning a foreign language and its impact on students’ wider academic outcomes.

The specific review objectives are to summarise the evidence on:

  • how to effectively teach a foreign language;
  • the effect of learning a foreign language on attainment in other academic subjects;
  • the effect on second language acquisition and on academic attainment of using a non-native language as the medium of instruction in academic subjects;


  • to provide practical recommendations on:
  • how to best teach a foreign language
  • how to best teach a foreign language to maximise benefits on wider academic outcomes
  • when and how to introduce a non-native language as the medium of instruction

How are we evaluating it?

A team from Oxford University (Department of Education) has been appointed to undertake the REA. The REA will be conducted in two key phases:

Phase One will consist of a wide-reaching trawl for systematic reviews that address, or may address, the review questions. These will be assessed for relevance and quality. The most relevant and highest quality reviews will become ‘seed’ reviews that form the basis of the REA.

Phase Two will consist of updating the seed reviews by replicating their methods; limiting inclusion to papers published after the original search and to only RCTs and QEDs with a control group and pre- and post-tests. Any new studies meeting these inclusion criteria will be incorporated into the findings of the original reviews. Finally, the findings of this process will be organized thematically across reviews in a narrative synthesis.

Statistical synthesis (meta-analysis) to augment the narrative synthesis will only be conducted when studies of sufficient similarity in terms of intervention, comparator and outcome measure exist in sufficient number across reviews to make this kind of synthesis meaningful, and when data are available to allow these calculations to be made.

When will the REA report be due?

The report will be published in Spring 2020.