Learning in a foreign language can improve pupils' performance in maths, natural sciences, geography and environmental studies, according to a Finnish study.
The applied linguistics department at JyvAskylA university has examined what influence teaching in a foreign language has on the performance of seven to 15-year-olds. In most cases, the language was English although French and Swedish were also used.
Researcher Aini-Kristiina JAppinen examined the achievement of 334 pupils in 12 schools on "content and language-integrated learning" programmes and compared them with 334 pupils studying only in Finnish. She concluded that a foreign language adds to the learning process and seems to improve results.
Supporters of bilingual teaching have long argued that it has wide benefits such as improving skills in dealing with people from other cultures. Some experts have expressed concern that teaching in a foreign language would erode mother tongue skills, but Ms JAppinen says her study indicates the opposite.
"When pupils have to conceptualise and grasp issues in a foreign language as well as in their mother tongue, it will help develop an ability to understand complex and multifaceted relationships between various themes," Ms JAppinen concludes.
Results were surprisingly impressive among 10 to 12-year-old children. Ms JAppinen thinks this is because at that age, pupils have already built up an adequate learning ability with good reading and writing skills. Boys in this age group did particularly well.
While conceding that bilingual programmes may attract gifted boys in the first place, Ms JAppinen suggests that it actively promotes their cognitive development.
In the study, 60 per cent studied in English, 30 per cent in French and 10 per cent in Swedish. Overall, the choice of language did not seem to have a major impact on performance.
The final results of the study are expected next year.