Is language a
barrier for your students learning science?
English has its own special characteristics. There is
a lot of specialised vocabulary
but sentences are also put together in particular ways.
The load of unfamiliar vocabulary and unfamiliar structure
can make new ideas difficult for students to grasp.
that have a science meaning and an every day meaning
attempt to make science more accessible to students many
teachers attempt to put scientific ideas into “every
day” language. This also has its problems as students
can become confused when words have slightly different
meanings in everyday use and in scientific contexts.
Take for example the sentence:
Thistable shows some different materials
and their properties.
sentence contains 3 words (table, materials and
properties) all of which have slightly different
meanings in science than in every day contexts.
recent work about interdependence some students
displayed confusion over the word, relationships.
When asked to describe the relationship between 2 things
some students referred to things being related to each
other in the sense that they came from the same sort of
family (as in classification). Other students used it in
the sense of “liking each other”. After a class
discussion about the meaning of “relationship” in the
context of interdependence, some, but not all, students
were then able to use the word appropriately.
In a recent trial of a Level
5 resource many students appeared confused about the
meaning of the word “control” in a scientific context.
Examples of responses to the question "What control do
you think scientists used?" that illustrate this
licenses to get it so it would not be taken by every Joe
Blogg and his dog" (Controlling access)
controlled the rival plants and stock and rabbits" (Pest
that the pïkao survived and of thanking Täne Mahuta"
Time needs to be spent developing
students’ science vocabulary to enable them to
communicate their ideas precisely.
A useful framework for developing
academic language with bilingual students was described
by Cummins (2000). He suggested that first there needs
to be a focus on meaning, followed by a focus on
language and then a focus on use. It seems
likely such an approach could be useful with all
students learning the “language of science”.
Another area of language to watch out
for is non-technical terms. Words such as constant,
average, preparation, device, independent, effect,
accurate, action, complex, rate etc have been
shown repeatedly to cause difficulties for students.
These are all examples of words that are not used
commonly outside the school context. Students,
particularly those from diverse linguistic or cultural
backgrounds may not get enough opportunity to hear, and
use these words.
Cummins, J.(2000). Language power
and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire.
Clevedon: Multilingual Matters Ltd.