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Multilingual young people’s reading in 2021

Added 22 Sep 2021 | Updated 20 Jan 22

This report celebrates diverse linguistic backgrounds and skills of pupils by focusing on multilingual learner reading enjoyment, behaviours and linguistic identity. We focus on 10,000 multilingual young people aged 11 to 16 and explore how much they enjoy reading, how often they read at home and how they feel about reading multilingually. We also discuss their multilingual language identity and recognition of multilingualism, as well their experiences of bullying due to their linguistic background.

The report shows that:

  • Multilingual young people are more engaged with reading than their monolingual peers:
    • Nearly 3 in 5 (56.4%) multilingual young people say that they enjoy reading in their free time, which is higher than the percentage of their monolingual peers who say this (46.3%).
    • More also read more often in their free time compared with their monolingual peers.
    • Multilingual young people also read a greater variety of formats in their free time than their monolingual peers, both onscreen as well as on paper.
    • More multilingual than monolingual young people say that they read to learn about new things, new words and new cultures.
  • For a sizeable percentage of children and young people, reading in languages other than English also unlocks their reading enjoyment, with 2 in 5 of those who said that they don’t enjoy reading generally telling us that they enjoy reading in their other language.
  • For many (73.6%), their other language is an important part of their identity. However, 2 in 5 (40.4%) said that they would like their multilingual skills to be more recognised in their school. At the same time, 3 in 5 (59.6%) multilingual young people feel it’s more important for them to be able read well in English than the other languages.
  • While young people are equally likely to appreciate diversity in books regardless of their language background, more multilingual than monolingual young people said that reading about characters that are like them makes them feel more confident about themselves (40.9% vs. 32.3%).
    • Seeing oneself represented in what one reads or hears is particularly important for those whose multilingual skills are part of their identity.
  • However, 1 in 6 (15.9%) multilingual young people also told us that they had been made fun of or bullied for speaking a language other than English. Those who have been bullied because of their language background have a lower ability to deal with problems and cope with stress, and fewer of them know where to find help if they have problems compared with those who have not been bullied.

To explore ideas for developing a supportive and inclusive environment that encourages reading for pleasure amongst multilingual learners, take a look at our resources for Understanding the language and literacy needs of EAL learners. In particular, you might like to use the whole-school EAL reflection audit tool to assess and develop current practice.

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