Beginner language learner survey

In Spring 2014, we conducted the NISSLL Beginner Language Learner Survey, using an online questionnaire aimed at adult language learners who started a new language in September/October 2013. The aim was to find out about perceptions of different aspects of language learning among those who opted  to take up a language at a time when uptake of languages is declining in the UK.


Below are some highlights from the survey findings. If you were one of the 242 people who completed the questionnaire, many thanks for your input! Aspects of these findings will be referred to in applications for funding for more specific research projects that are currently being developed by NISSLL members. You can also download results summaries for certain specific languages at the bottom of this page.


  • Responses came from people studying 17 different languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Russian, Dutch, Arabic, Greek, Latin, Czech, Polish, Catalan, Thai and Korean. Spanish had the highest number of respondents (36) and Korean and Thai the least (1).
  • A majority of language learners feel learning the foreign language will enhance their job prospects, regardless of which language they are learning.
  • Generally only 10-20% of people were learning a language because it is a degree requirement.
  • Learners whose native language was English and who had been educated in the UK seemed to place more importance on learning grammar than those with a different first language or who had been educated outside the UK. However, the majority of all learners feel having good grammar is important even if they will only use their language in the classroom.
  • Learners of Japanese and Russian feel that good grammar is more important than simply being understood.
  • A majority of learners pause to think about grammar during speech and writing. Word order, tense/verb conjugation, case and gender are frequent causes of stopping to think about grammar.
  • Learners tended to rank making a conscious effort to use a rule and memorising the rule as important aspects of learning grammar, while comparing the rules with those of their native language tended to rank lower.
  • A majority of learners found grammar instruction aided their language learning.
  • A number of respondents whose native language was English and who were educated in the UK commented they were never explicitly taught grammar in relation to English, so found all the grammar terms confusing.
  • Among all the different language learners, only learners of Russian felt the amount of grammar instruction they received was too little.
  • Mirroring the grammar result, most learners feel having a good accent is important even if their new language will only be used in the classroom.
  • Respondents were split roughly 50/50 over whether they pause to think about pronunciation in their speech.
  • A common reason for pausing in speech was to think about how to pronounce words whose spelling in the target language is pronounced differently to a similar spelling in the native language.
  • Writing was ranked as the most important aspect of successful language learning by most learners. although those who are learnning Chinese ranked writing second. Speaking and listening were invariably ranked as least important. Despite this, listening was often viewed as the aspect that most class time was focussed on.
  • Grammar was always viewed as one of the aspects that received the least attention in class.
  • Cultural context was seldom seen as irrelevant, but opinion is divided as to whether it benefits language learning or whether it is simply interesting without benefitting language learning.


For a breakdown of results in specific languages, click on the links below.