A Test of Mother-Tongue Teaching

A Test of Mother-Tongue Teaching

Extra lessons in Danish and an expert-developed teaching program called Almen Sprogforståelse (General Language Understanding) increase the reading skills of Danish-speaking children. This is the main result from the first of two evaluations of a mother-tongue teaching program that the Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality launched in 2013. The aim of the program is particularly to strengthen bilingual children’s skills, well-being, motivation and inclusion in school.

Time period:

2013 – 2016.

Target group:

Children in 4th grade (of which at least 10 % of the pupils in fourth grade had Danish as second language).

Number of participants:

Pupils from 126 schools. 


The pupils in the test received one of the following three treatments during a period of 16 school weeks:

  • Extra lessons in Danish. The pupils received four extra lessons weekly in Danish.
  • Extra teaching in “Almen Sprogforståelse” (in English: "General Language Understanding"). The pupils received four weekly lessons in the subject Almen Sprogforståelse. The subject makes use of a specially developed textbook that consists of specific tools for the teacher to use in an attempt to increase the language understanding for particularly bilingual pupils.
  • Qualification of the language involvement in math. The pupils received math that to a greater extent than usual focused on involving Danish as second language in the teaching.


The effects of the mother-tongue teaching program have been evaluated in a randomized controlled trial. A 4th grade from each school was randomly given one of the three above mentioned interventions, or eventually, it acted as a control group. Hereby, any differences between the groups seen after the intervention period can with greater scientific certainty be ascribed to the teaching initiatives.

The pupils have been tested in their math and reading skills after the intervention period to see, whether they have been improved. This was measured through The Danish National Tests in math and in reading in Danish, but because of too few schools’ participation in the math test, it is only possible to say something about the interventions’ effect on children’s reading skills.

The intervention was completed in the schoolyear of 2013/14. On the basis of the test scores, it is possible to analyze the short-term effects of the teaching initiatives.


The Ministry of Children, Education and Gender Equality.


Both the extra hours in Danish and the subject Almen Sprogforståelse improve the Danish-speaking pupils’ reading skills in Danish. The effects are relatively pronounced (0.25 and 0.21 standard deviations on the test score respectively). The qualified involvement of language in math had statistically no effect on reading skills, and as mentioned, it has not been possible to test the effect on children’s math skills.

None of the teaching initiatives produce particularly positive results for the bilingual pupils or for children of parents, who do not have a qualifying education. Furthermore, the teaching in Almen Sprogforståelse only benefits girls.

A follow up intervention for individual pupils were completed in the schoolyear of 2014/15, and these results are still getting analyzed.  


Simon Calmar Andersen, Maria Knoth Humlum og Anne Brink Nandrup (2016): Increasing Instruction Time in School does increase Learning

Media publicity

ScienceNewsforStudents (08.08.2016): More classroom time increases reading skills