University of Oulu

Jaekel, N., Ritter, M., & Jaekel, J. (2023). Associations of students’ linguistic distance to the language of instruction and classroom composition with English reading and listening skills. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 1-23. doi:10.1017/S0272263123000268

Associations of students’ linguistic distance to the language of instruction and classroom composition with English reading and listening skills

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Author: Jäkel, Nils1,2,3; Ritter, Markus4; Jäkel, Julia1,3,5,6
Organizations: 1University of Oulu, Finland
2University of Copenhagen, Denmark
3Finnish Institute of Public Health (THL), Finland
4Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany
5University of Warwick, UK
6University of Leicester, UK
Format: article
Version: published version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
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Language: English
Published: Cambridge University Press, 2023
Publish Date: 2023-06-06


Globally classrooms are increasingly linguistically diverse. Research often oversimplifies lived linguistic heterogeneity as binary variables: native versus non-native. Linguistic distance (LD) measures allow a fine-grained operationalization of linguistic diversity in foreign language education. This study investigated associations of cognate LDs of students’ home languages and classroom heterogeneity with English as a Foreign Language skills. Data were collected from a diverse sample of 5,130 Year 5 students in Germany. Mixed-effects linear models confirmed our hypotheses that higher individual LDs and a higher proportion of multilingual learners per classroom were both independently associated with lower English proficiency. Multilingual learners with higher cognate LDs to English and students in more linguistically heterogeneous classrooms had lower English proficiency. The results emphasize the need to assess LD in research to better differentiate between students. Foreign language classrooms seem not to address linguistic diversity adequately and need to readjust their focus to better meet multilingual learners’ needs.

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Series: Studies in second language acquisition
ISSN: 0272-2631
ISSN-E: 1470-1545
ISSN-L: 0272-2631
DOI: 10.1017/S0272263123000268
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 516 Educational sciences
6121 Languages
Funding: The study was funded by the Mercator Stiftung. NJ was supported by the Academy of Finland (grant number 354373).
Academy of Finland Grant Number: 354373
Detailed Information: 354373 (Academy of Finland Funding decision)
Copyright information: © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press. This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution and reproduction, provided the original article is properly cited.