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Cognitive Benefits of Language Learning: Broadening our Perspectives

By Professor Bencie Woll FBA and Professor Li Wei

The final report from our project providing a systematic review of the academic evidence base, supported by fresh research on public attitudes towards language learning.

Language learning touches on everyone’s lives. Yet the cognitive benefits of language learning seem to be less well understood. The project Cognitive Benefits of Language Learning: Broadening our perspectives was funded by the British Academy as part of a broader initiative related to language teaching and learning. The project began in March 2016 and finished in January 2018.  

This report begins with a summary of the systematic review of the literature on the cognitive benefits of bilingualism and the cognitive benefits of language learning, including a section on sign language learning. This is followed by two sections describing the literature on cross-curricular benefits of language learning; and describing the literature on cognitive benefits relating to creativity. Further sections provide an analysis of grey literature; describe the findings of two surveys (adult and youth) conducted by the project on attitudes to language learning; and describe a series of focus group interviews held with modern languages tutors, PGCE languages students, and with a senior civil servant. The final section summarises the report and outlines action points for future work.

Publication part of

Cognitive benefits of language learning

This project is distinctive in its focus on the evidence for the cognitive benefits of language learning, as opposed to the better known benefits of bi- and multilingualism.