18 November 2021

How are multilingual pupils being compared to their monolingual peers?

Dr Sabine Little's research into how multilingualism and identity has fed into the Literacy Trust’s 2021 Research Report.

FoSS Raised hands in classroom

The number of children and young people in England who speak languages other than English at home has grown in the past decade, increasing from 14.6% in 2011 to 19.3% in 2021. This has understandably sparked an interest in research around reading for multilingual pupils or those with English as an additional language.’ National Literacy Trust Research Report 2021

Dr Sabine Little is a lecturer in the School of Education. Her research focuses on the reading experiences of multilingual pupils. Working with the National Literacy Trust, Dr Little has helped to shape the Annual Literacy Survey to include important questions on multilingualism and identity and has fed into the Trust’s 2021 Research Report, evaluating multilingual young people’s reading in 2021.

“With about one in five pupils growing up multilingual, they form the largest individual minority of pupils in our classroom, but we actually have very little large-scale data available on their experiences of growing up multilingual in Britain.” Dr Little explains. 

“The survey not only helps us to address this shortcoming, but also sends a strong message in and of itself. By acknowledging the experiences of multilingual pupils on such a large scale, we highlight that their experiences are important and valued, that their multilingualism matters. To pupils who often leave their multilingualism at the door of the school, this sends a powerful message about all aspects of their identity being valued in formal education contexts.”

The National Literacy Trust Research Report 2021 explores the diverse linguistic backgrounds and skills of young people, focusing on 'reading enjoyment, behaviours and linguistic identity.' The National Literacy Trust looked at 10,000 multilingual young people between the ages of 11 to 16 and investigated to what extent they enjoy reading, how often they read at home and how much of that reading is multilingual. They also looked into young people's identity and recognition through multilingual language and experiences of bullying due to that identity.

The report found that 'more young people who speak multiple languages enjoy reading and read daily than their monolingual peers. This indicates that rather than focusing on what multilingual young people lack in terms of reading, emphasis should be put on supporting their reading enjoyment and behaviours.'

Dr Little is wanting to take her research further, using information that has been gathered to influence her next steps. “We are now looking at the data and deciding how to take it forward. There is rising interest among schools and teachers to provide for multilingual pupils, and to move away from a deficit perspective to a more positive, holistic attitude that looks at how we can help pupils navigate all their languages successfully, and enable them to draw on all their language skills for learning.”

Dr Little is also working with organisations to help them understand the importance of educating others on best practice for multilingual young people. “In my own work, we are working with schools, councils, and other organisations to equip teachers with the tools necessary to view multilingualism as a strength” she added.

“Ultimately, all students, whether growing up with multiple languages or not, benefit from increased language awareness and understanding. Our society is global, and language skills are highly valued. The language skills pupils develop at home are an important asset to the UK economy, as well as an important part of their identity, but understanding about languages and cultures other than our own is simply an important aspect of living and thriving in today's society.” 

Find out more about Dr Sabine Little and her work at the University of Sheffield

National Literacy Trust is a charity dedicated to improving the reading, writing, speaking and listening skills of those who need it most, giving them the best possible chance of success in school, work and life. Literacy is a vital element of action against poverty and our work changes life stories.

Read more about multilingualism in schools

Flagship institutes

The University’s four flagship institutes bring together our key strengths to tackle global issues, turning interdisciplinary and translational research into real-world solutions.