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English teaching leads to more dropouts and poorer results

classroom with students
According to a new study, students who took the Swedish language version of the course answered an average of 73% more test questions correctly than the English language course. Photo: Shubham Sharan / Unsplash
Published Sep 27, 2023

English as a language of instruction in higher education has a clear negative impact on study results, according to a new study published by KTH and Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

When 2 263 students were randomly divided into an English and a Swedish language version of a programming course, the students who were taught in English performed significantly worse, with more dropping out of the course early.

The global trend of using English as the language of instruction in higher education, as reported in a 2022 Swedish Language Council study, emphasises the importance of language choice not adversely affecting student learning outcomes. The idea is that students should learn just as effectively in English as they would in their native language.

However, the study conducted by researchers from KTH and Chalmers reveals that language choice may indeed impact study results.

Randomly assigned

In particular, students enrolled in the Swedish language version of the course performed significantly better, with an average of 73% more correct test answers, whereas students in the English-language course exhibited a 25% higher dropout rate.

The course was entirely digital, and the students set their own pace of study. How well the students passed the course was measured in the number of correctly answered test questions and how many dropped out without completing the course.

“It is important to remember that the only difference was the language of instruction. The substantial improvement in student performance in the Swedish language course suggests that English as the language of instruction negatively impacts learning under certain circumstances", states Olle Bälter, associate professor of Human-Computer Interaction at KTH and one of the study's authors.

May lead to poorer learning

Co-author Hans Malmström, assistant professor of Science Communication and Learning at Chalmers, says it is important to remember that a single study should not be used as a starting point for a radical change agenda in language or education policy in higher education. Instead, the research results can contribute to a more informed discussion about the implications of using English as a medium of instruction.

Viggo Kann, Professor of Computer Science at KTH and another author, adds, "A student who drops out of a course has likely not learned as much as one who completes it. In this respect as well, we observe that English as the language of instruction may lead to poorer learning outcomes."

Text: Peter Ardell

For more information, contact Olle Bälter at or 08 - 790 63 41.

Belongs to: About KTH
Last changed: Sep 27, 2023