Does bilingualism correlate with or predict higher proficiency in L3 English? A contrastive study of monolingual and bilingual learners


  • Eliane Lorenz Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)
  • Sharareh Rahbari University of Hamburg
  • Ulrike Schackow University of Hamburg
  • Peter Siemund University of Hamburg



advantages, bilingualism, heritage speakers, interdependence, multilingualism


This study investigates whether English in instructed settings is more successfully acquired by learners who are already bilingual in comparison to those with a monolingual background. There remains substantial controversy regarding potential advantages of bilingual speakers in their acquisition of additional languages, especially in heritage speaker contexts. We here contribute to this discussion by analysing the English C-test results of 1,718 bilingual and monolingual students of grades 7 and 9, sampled in schools across Germany. The bilingual students speak either Russian or Turkish (heritage language) and German (majority language). The monolingual control group was raised in German only. The main predictor variables are reading fluency and comprehension in German and the heritage languages. Additional predictor variables include school type, school year, socioeconomic status, cognitive ability, amongst others. Using correlation and regression analyses we test if reading fluency and comprehension impact proficiency in English and if bilingual students enjoy advantages over their monolingual German peers. The results reveal no systematic advantage of bilingual students, although we find significant correlations between reading fluency and comprehension and C-test results. School type, cognitive skills, among others, are predictors for English performance, whereas socioeconomic status returns no significant effect. 

Author Biographies

Eliane Lorenz, Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU)

Eliane Lorenz is a postdoctoral researcher in English linguistics and multilingualism at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim. She is currently part of the project ‘Acquisition of English in the Multilingual Classroom’ and the sociolinguistics project ‘Language, Attitudes and Repertoires in the Emirates.’ She completed her PhD in English Linguistics at the University of Hamburg in 2019. Her research interests include L2 and L3 acquisition, multilingualism, contrastive linguistics, varieties of English and corpus linguistics.

Sharareh Rahbari, University of Hamburg

Sharareh Rahbari is a PhD student in English Linguistics at the University of Hamburg. She completed her undergraduate studies in ‘Language, Culture & Translation’ at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and attained a master’s degree in English and American Studies at the University of Hamburg. Her research interests lie in the area of second and third language acquisition, multilingualism, English as a foreign language, language contact and crosslinguistic influence.

Ulrike Schackow, University of Hamburg

Ulrike Schackow completed a Master of Education in English and Russian at the University of Hamburg in 2018. During her studies, she worked on reading comprehension, English as a third language, as well as the influence of social background variables on foreign language acquisition. In 2019, she started to work as a high school teacher in Germany.

Peter Siemund, University of Hamburg

Peter Siemund is Professor and Chair of English Linguistics at the University of Hamburg. His areas of interest include World Englishes, the use of English as an additional language and multilingual development.


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How to Cite

Lorenz, E., Rahbari, S., Schackow, U., & Siemund, P. (2020). Does bilingualism correlate with or predict higher proficiency in L3 English? A contrastive study of monolingual and bilingual learners. Journal of Multilingual Theories and Practices, 1(2), 185–217.