The effects of EAL learner wellbeing on their academic performance

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The effects of EAL learner wellbeing on their academic performance

Author: Shalu Aara, EAL Specialist

A learner’s wellbeing is vital to their achievement and overall success. Nevertheless, an EAL (English as an Additional Language) learner’s wellbeing should be considered more thoroughly when discussing their academic performance and achievements. In England specifically, EAL learners are defined as those who have been ‘exposed to a language at home that is known or believed to be other than English’ (Department for Education, 2019). They can come from a diverse, multilingual and/or refugee background. EAL learners sometimes come with fairly traumatic experiences, and for them to feel safe and comfortable in a trusted environment is crucial in order to be fully ready to learn. A learner who is struggling with mental, physical, and/or social wellbeing can show slow or decreased progress in their learning (OECD, 2017). 

Why is the wellbeing of EAL learners important?

Research has shown direct links between learner wellbeing and their academic performance, and vice-versa (Anchor, 2010). Physical wellbeing (through physical activity) can lead to enhanced learning, along with increased concentration. Social and mental wellbeing can be gained through positive and supportive relationships which help learners step out of their ‘comfort zone’ and take risks in their learning. These allow learners to explore new and creative ways of learning, increasing engagement and motivation in class. MacIntyre, Gregersen & Mercer (2016) discuss this further, stating that increased engagement leads to improved curiosity, love for learning, and creativity. Moreover, maintaining the wellbeing of learners increases a sense of belonging and trust, hence creating an environment where change, risks and mistakes are welcomed. EAL learners (who are already conscious of their proficiency in English language acquisition), need a space where they are allowed to make mistakes and take risks in their learning; a place where they are not alone in the struggles of the English language acquisition. When such an environment is created and maintained, learners show a rise in their language acquisition and overall academic performance (Jia, 2022). This is proved in a longitudinal study in 2010 (Han, 2010) exploring the language acquisition skills of Latino learners from Kindergarten to Year 5, where EAL learners were displaying an increased academic performance, along with enhanced social skills among peers and teachers than English speakers who were monolingual. 

How can we improve EAL learner wellbeing?

To improve EAL learner wellbeing, teachers need to first create a welcoming and inclusive environment for the learners. A space for them to explore their ideas and learn new concepts with an open creative mind. This, however, is not only a physical classroom, but also the social environment that the learners will be learning in. A teacher’s mindset and teaching style has a huge impact on the learners as well; a motivated teacher will inevitably motivate his/her learners, while an inattentive teacher will not be able to engage his/her learners positively, hence, not much results will be achieved (Guilloteaux & Dornyei, 2011). 

A data analysis on EAL learner wellbeing (Massey University, 2016) states three key ideas to increase learner wellbeing:

  1. Building positive relationships with learners through positive mentorship, peer support and friendship
  2. Creating a supportive and motivated learning environment
  3. Normalising language acquisition and EAL practices in the school

We have created a downloadable resource to help you create an inclusive classroom for your learners.


Overall, an EAL learner with a positive mindset and wellbeing will display high academic performance. Positive mood and maintained learner wellbeing is also closely connected to increased engagement and motivation, along with enhanced creative and critical thinking (MacIntyre et al., 2016). Prioritising wellbeing nurtures a child, for not only their academic needs, but also for overcoming their traumas or insecurities. It provides many advantages along with better academic results, such as healthy and positive relationship building, an improved learner mindset towards learning, and reduced teacher burnout (Bentea, 2017). The key idea to remember: a happy learner equals better learning.



Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. Corwin.


Bentea, C. (2017). Teacher self-efficacy, teacher burnout and psychological well-being. The European Proceedings of Social & Behavioural Sciences, 1128–1136. //


Guilloteaux, M.J., Dornyei, Z. (2011). Motivating Language Learners: A Classroom-Oriented Investigation of the Effects of Motivational Strategies on Student Motivation. Tesol Quarterly, 42(1), pp55-77.  //


Han, W. (2010). Bilingualism and socioemotional well-being. Children and Youth Services Review, 32(5), pp720-731. // 


Jia H. (2022). English as a Foreign Language Learners’ Well-Being and Their Academic Engagement: The Mediating Role of English as a Foreign Language Learners’ Self-Efficacy. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 882886. //


Massey University. (2016). ESOL Students’ Sense of School Belonging, Inclusion, and Wellbeing. Massey University. // 


MacIntyre, P., Gregersen, T. & Mercer, S. (2016). Positive Psychology in SLA. Bristol, Blue Ridge Summit: Multilingual Matters. //


OECD (2017). PISA 2015 Results (Volume III), p.40. Students’ Well-Being. Paris, France: OECD Publishing.

Department for Education, 2019

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