Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Benefits of Foreign Language Learning and Bilingualism: An Analysis of Published Empirical Research 2005–2011

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Benefits of Foreign Language Learning and Bilingualism: An Analysis of Published Empirical Research 2005–2011

Article excerpt


Since 1966, the year when ACTFL was founded, there has been a strong, purposeful, and consistent quest toward "building awareness about the benefits and advantages to language learning among the public at large ... and effecting change or influencing policies surrounding language education" (Moeller & Abbott, 2018, p. 13). A decade after ACTFL's founding, the 1979 President's Commission on Foreign Language and International Studies report, assembled under President Jimmy Carter (from Perkins, 1979, as cited in Moeller & Abbott, 2018), addressed the importance of foreign language (FL) study and its resulting benefits. Over time multiple initiatives have moved advocacy forward, including the 2017 campaign Lead with Languages (see, a growing commitment by states and advocacy groups to support the Seal of Biliteracy ( and a vision of implementing the recommendations of the report America's Languages (American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 2017, p. 38).

However, even in the growing context of positive attitudes and advocacy for language study, there still remains hesitance among policy makers to implement well-funded, coherent FL programs across the United States that begin in the early years and continue through high school. Now, when "as a nation we appear to increasingly value linguistic and cultural competence, much work remains to be done to establish language learning not only at the core of the curriculum in America's schools but in the mindset of the average American" (Moeller & Abbott, 2018, p. 13). Given a lingering deficit mindset fueled by the results from early research after World War II, when IQ testing suggested a negative relationship between intelligence and bilingualism (Baker & Wright, 2017), some individuals have continued to express anxiety about FL learning and bilingualism. Others have had little to no exposure to what the research says about the positive aspects of language learning and bi-multilingualism, or about what types of programs and instruction provide the most robust results. There is no doubt that language educators have much to do to make multilingualism and intercultural competence a reality for all students-that is, the "new normal" in the United States (Moeller & Abbott, 2018, p. 13).

What, then, must the field do to promote a generalized understanding that:

... in today's increasingly interconnected and interdependent world, proficiency in other languages is a vital skill that gives you the opportunity to engage with the world in a more immediate and meaningful way-whether in your neighborhood or thousands of miles away-while better preparing you to compete and succeed in the global economy. (from Lead with Languages,

How can one create a mindset that speaking another language is essential to being a 21stcentury global citizen-that is to say, one who is actively engaged in the broader world and can advocate for world understanding, a vibrant economy, and greater future peace? What will it take to convince policy makers, school boards, parents, and learners that speaking other languages proficiently also has the potential to actually enhance one's personal life and bring benefits to individuals who speak them? At what pace, if at all, is research evidence of the benefits of language learning, bilingualism, and multilingualism advancing?

Drawn from a comprehensive search using multiple databases, a survey of empirical research and accompanying qualitative analysis of the researchers' findings published during the first two decades of the 21st century was divided into two segments, enabling an in-depth analysis and findings from each of the two decades. Part I is presented in this publication and builds upon results of an earlier compilation of studies (Valdés, Kibler, & Philipose, 2004), capturing research from 2005 through 2011; Part II (forthcoming from Fox, Corretjer, and Webb) will include the empirical published research on this topic appearing from 2012 to 2019. …

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