The Impact of Multilingualism on Grade Point Average Among College Undergraduates

The Impact of Multilingualism on Grade Point Average among College Undergraduates

Laurel Gilmore

EDU 653:  Second Language Acquisition

Marisa Gambardella

January 18, 2015

Synopsis of Article

The Impact of Multilingualism on Grade Point Average among College Undergraduates (Kovalik, 2012) discusses research to determine whether or not students who speak more than one language have an impact on the grade point average of those students.  Multilingualism is first defined as fluency in multiple languages.  Merriam-Webster (n.d.).  Alexandra Kovalik determined that very little research was available on this topic.  She presented a survey to “various preselected classrooms” … of students in a “large public university in the northeast” (p.142).

The survey was administered to 305 students of whom only 12% were multilingual.  Of those multilingual students, 71% indicated an existing grade point average of 2.67 to 3.55.  In contrast, students who spoke only one language had higher grade point averages of 3.76 to 4.0.  The author further describes benefits of multilingualism which include the ability to “bridge gaps in communication,” encourage respect, and “create cohesion within the world” (p. 142).  There were only four literature reviews conducted by the author who determined very little had actually been written specifically to address grade point averages.  She posited two hypotheses:

  • Null: There is no difference in grade point averages…
  • Alternative: Multilingual students would have a higher grade point average.

The survey appears to have validity in how it was administered, although there was a large gap between gender participants. The author determined results that “suggest that there is no significant relationship between multilingualism and grade point average, or if there is one, that the relationship is negative” (p. 147).  The author further states her finding “contradict much of the increasing value that is being put on learning multiple languages”.  She does draw attention to the deficits of the survey and suggests ways in which it could be improved if completed again.

Article Analysis and Reaction

This student found the article quite interesting and also expected the results to support the second hypothesis that multilingual students would have higher grade point averages. A study by Braunmüller and Gabriel (2012) states “default modes of communication observed in large parts of the world are determined by both individual and societal multilingualism rather than by monolingualism”.  It would therefore seem logical that multilingualism benefits would outweigh the disadvantages and perhaps even increase scholastic results.

In the first review of an article by Lutz and Crist (2009), results seemed to indicate students “who have some sort of ability to speak Spanish have a higher GPA than those who do not” (p. 143).  However, another study by Coombs and Cebula (2009) appears to dispute that theory.  Coombs and Cebula studied whether nurses who were multilingual were rewarded for having that skill.  Apparently, they are not, even though there is a great need for multilingual nurses.  Jacob Koppenberg (n.d.) says “If a patient speaks a different language than the healthcare workers around them, a trip to the ER – or even a routine doctor’s appointment – can become terribly overwhelming, scary and even potentially dangerous”.  Nurses are often the liaison between patients and doctors and there is great value in their ability to communicate in the patients’ native language.

Peter Martin (2010) performed a different study to “examine the impact of multilingualism on a student’s identity” (p. 143).  The author of the subject article admits this research does not “look at grade point average” but seems to feel this is important.  It may not be as easily measurable, but important in an abstract way.  The conclusion of Martin’s study was that multilingualism had a negative impact on students. The students felt isolated and experienced feelings of “racism and exclusion due to the lack of space given to embrace their multilingualism” (p. 143).   Steve Marshall (2010) supports this and says “ESL is not only a linguistic state, a course, an abbreviation, appreciated by many, disliked by others; it is also as an institutional and learner identity that some students associate with non-acceptance, deficit, and even non-recognition of their multilingual and multicultural knowledge and competence” (p.51).   He further describes “a range of social, cultural, and linguistic factors” which helps students identify themselves within university settings.  Often these students’ assets are not recognized for their value, because of their first identity as ESL students.

The final study by Joyce Milambiling (2011) was also a study of feelings and not specific to grade point averages.  Students appeared to benefit from being multilingualism as they were able to use “their language skills to help them when learning another language” (p. 143).  This supports the view of this student that an instructor should get to know the students cultures, characteristics and backgrounds.  The instructor should also understand the motivations and goals of their students and learn how each processes information and learning styles.  With that, the instructor can help the students by identifying challenges and being able to use resources more efficiently.


Most of the studies seem to have difficulty identifying the actual value of learning a new language.  The intrinsic values are easy to see but much harder to quantify.  Further surveys should be conducted in this area.  Those surveys could rely more on instructor feedback as opposed to being self-reported by the students.  A larger data base with balanced gender participants would indicate higher validity.  As Ms. Kovalik says, “Although this research question doesn’t confirm that multilingualism positively impacts grade point average, it cannot be concluded that it doesn’t impact other aspects of one’s life” (p. 148).



Gabriel, C. & Braunmüller, K. (2012). Multilingual Individuals and Multilingual Societies. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Pub.                            Co.

Kovalik, A. (2012). The Impact of Multilingualism on Grade Point Average among College Undergraduates. Perspectives (University Of New Hampshire), 142-148.  Retrieved from sid=79caa98a-8dfa-4ab0-9034-97a4250935e5%40sessionmgr4005&vid=6&hid=4211

Coombs K. C. & Cebula, R.J. (2009). “Are there rewards for language skills? Evidence from the earnings of registered nurses.” The Social Science Journal. 47:3, 659-677.

Koppenbert, J. (n.d.).  The value of being a multilingual nurse” Oniglot.  Retrieved from

Lutz, A. & Crist, S. (2009). “Why Bilingual boys get better grades in English-only America? The impacts of  gender, language and family interaction on academic achievement of Latino/a children of immigrants.” Ethnic and Racial                 Studies. 32:2, 346-368.

Marshall, S. (2010). Re-Becoming ESL: Multilingual University Students and a Deficit Identity. Language And Education,                  24(1), 41-56.

Martin, P. (2010). “‘They have lost their identity but not gained a British one’: non-traditional multilingual students in higher education in the United Kingdom.” Language and Education. 24:1, 9-20.

Merriam-Webster (n.d.).  Retrieved from

Milambiling, J. (2011). “Bringing One Language to Another: Multilingualism as a Resource in the Language Classroom.”                  English Teaching Forum. 1, 18-35.

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