Perspectives: ELLs and the Language of School Scienceby: Sandra K. Abell and Mark J. Gagnon

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In science, language denotes the relationship among ideas (e.g., cause/effect; instance/generalization; individual/group member), with features that are often subtle and abstract. Such features of science language make school science difficult for all students. Yet these features complicate matters even more for English language learners (ELLs), who have the added burden of a home language different from English. However, some educators assume that learning English is a prerequisite for learning subject matter like science. Given that it could take 4—10 years to become proficient in academic English (Thomas and Collier 2002), waiting to teach them science is misguided. This month’s Perspectives column provides some effective strategies in helping ELLs to develop the language of school science.

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Reviews (2)
  • on Wed Aug 10, 2011 12:28 PM

Understanding the English language gets more difficult in a subject when the words to learn also imply a relationship such as cause and effect, individual ideas and generalizations. This combined with the difficulty of not understanding a basic science word in their home language often presents a bigger challenge to a student. As the author points out this student may not know the home language equivalent to the science language. For this reason, inquiry based science helps these students and a sheltered language approach also is a benefit. This is a good background article for teachers to understand the unique problems students have with science vocabulary.

Adah  (San Antonio, TX)
Adah (San Antonio, TX)

  • on Mon Jun 13, 2011 4:20 PM

The authors provide an overview of why we should not wait to teach ELLs until they have good skills in English language. Using research, they present an argument in support of teaching science at all levels of ELL, the importance of inquiry and "science talk" and how important it is to have individual goals for science learning and language acquisition for ELLs in the regular science classroom. The information presented is an overview of an ongoing topic that is increasingly important at all levels.

Tina Harris  (Fairmount, IN)
Tina Harris (Fairmount, IN)

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