Six Subject Survey: English as a Foreign Language

The IEA Study of English as a Foreign Language mirrored a similar IEA study, the Study of French as a Foreign Language. The study employed a similar test of reading, listening, writing, and speaking.

The study objectives included:

  • an examination of the place of English in the education systems of participating countries;
  • an examination of the relationship between level of achievement and student, teacher, school, and country characteristics;
  • an analysis of errors made by students in responding to the test in order to obtain a better understanding of how students learn English.

The student test was complemented by questionnaires for students, teachers, and school principals. The study was carried out as part of the Six Subject Survey, which, in addition to English and French as a foreign language, investigated achievement in civic educationliterature educationreading comprehension, and science. The data collection occurred in 1970–1971.

Target population

The target populations were 14-year-old students and students in the final year of secondary school.

Participating education systems

Belgium (French), Chile, Finland, Germany (FRG), Hungary, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and Thailand.

Key findings

Factors associated with student achievement

Both the number of hours of English instruction and the number of years of studying English were substantially related to student achievement. The grade level at which the learning of English as a foreign language normally commenced was positively and moderately correlated with achievement. Countries that began teaching English earlier had, in general, higher standards of achievement at the 14-year-old level.

Conducting classes in English was moderately associated with student achievement at the upper secondary school level and weakly associated with achievement at the 14-year-old level.

There was a strong relationship between students' verbal ability (measured by word knowledge in their mother tongue) and their achievement in English. Many errors in responding to the test arose not from an absence of linguistic competence but from a lack of general ability.

Other aspects of language education

Across the participating countries, the teaching of English as a foreign language was more for business purposes than for the cultural value of the language. More than 80% of students studied English in seven of the ten countries participating in the survey.

Students studying English in Germany, Finland, Israel, Italy, and Sweden tended to be more representative of the total school population than were the students studying French as a foreign language in the Netherlands and the English-speaking countries. These students came from higher status and more educative homes.

Major publications

Bloom, B.S. (1969). Cross-national study of educational attainment: Stage I of the I.E.A. investigation in six subject areas (Vols. 1–2). Washington, DC: Office of Education (DHEW).

Lewis, E.G., & Massad, C.E. (1975). The teaching of English as a foreign language in ten countries. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Passow, A.H., Noah, H.J., Eckstein, M.A., & Mallea, J.R. (1976). The national case study: An empirical comparative study of twenty-one educational systems. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Peaker, G.F. (1975). An empirical study of education in twenty-one countries: A technical report. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.

Walker, D.A. (1976). The IEA Six Subject Survey: An empirical study of education in twenty-one countries. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell.