Presentation on theme: "Developing academic language. What difficulties do learners in your school have with language?"— Presentation transcript:
Developing academic language
What difficulties do learners in your school have with language?
Key issues This is not just an EAL issue – formal English can be regarded as an additional language for many students Gaps in academic vocabulary often remain hidden due to apparent fluency in spoken or playground English Without a good range of academic language many learners cannot achieve top grades and the vast majority will underachieve at some point Language acquisition needs to be a structured process – learners can be taught how to do it themselves
Key features of learners who need attention They tend to have more gaps in their academic vocabulary and handle certain features of writing less confidently They have less grasp of idiomatic speech or take things more literally than intended They tend to lack ‘cultural capital’ and haven’t been exposed to the diversity of history and society critical to achievement They are likely to be unfamiliar with the conventions and expectations of academic writing
Key features of learners who need attention They may have excellent ‘playground’ English but this is not mirrored in their ability to use formal language and genre They may slip into a more informal tone for a task, when what is required is the adoption of formal language They may have good topic level knowledge but limited capacity to show what they know when answering in exams They may write answers that throw information at a question without actually answering what the question requires
Word frequency and text recognition 1,000 most frequently used words give access to 74% of texts Word level tests available through REAL toolkit Less than 80% score requires a focused intervention to support acquisition
Diminishing returns to language acquisition
Language development Receptive vocabulary of Yr 9 EAL students who have been educated through English for 10 years had gaps in the most frequent words and serious problems at the 5K level Explanation may lie in the nature of the learning environment for learners with EAL and the possible lack of focused support it provides for vocabulary development Vocabulary coverage tends not to be planned but arises from teaching in curriculum areas Intervention by mainstream subject teachers in vocabulary development may often be limited to simplification of unfamiliar words, rather than attending to the need to increase vocabulary size or develop deep word knowledge. Source: Lynne Cameron
The Academic Word List The common core or 2,000 word level offers access to 78% of texts This does not include much of the formal language required for high achievement Academic Word List (AWL) relates to the words needed by students to access and understand academic texts. It comprises 570 word families that are not in the common core but which occur reasonably frequently over a very wide range of texts in many different subjects. Learning the AWL will give someone most of the language they need for writing across subjects
Academic Word List 570 word families Not in the most frequent 2,000 words of English Formal (not technical) vocabulary cutting across a range of subject disciplines (e.g. authority, define, assume, legislate, layer) Headword ‘access’ (family words – accessed, accessibility, accessing, accessible, inaccessible)
Composition of QCDA vocabulary for science
Vocabulary for science by AWL sub-list
The mother of all flu pandemics The flu virus is a survivor. It must continually evolve in order to evade its biggest threat - the immune system. Mammals, including humans, make antibodies, which recognise and target the virus. "So it has to keep mutating to escape being destroyed," explains David Morens from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Despite these tactics, most of the strains that make people ill during the eponymous "flu season" are sufficiently similar to infections most of us have been exposed to before. Our immune systems recognise common parts that these new strains share with their ancestors, and can launch an effective defence. Every so often, however, a different strain emerges and infects people - one that contains new genes from an animal virus. Its novelty is its most effective weapon against our immune defences. And if it is infectious enough to find its way easily into a new host - perhaps via an innocent sneeze - it can spread rapidly and cause a global epidemic - or pandemic.
What does subject language look like?
AWL highlighter tool The REAL Project has developed a profiling tool that enables you to highlight the academic language in any electronic text and to research its meaning and application. You can find this at
Using the AWL highlighter
Using the highlighter tool
Word coverage 1k68% 2k73% AWL79% Not listed100% (cumulative)
Identifying meaning in context Its novelty is its most effective weapon against our immune defences. And if it is infectious enough to find its way easily into a new host - perhaps via an innocent sneeze - it can spread rapidly and cause a global epidemic - or pandemic. The word global helps us to be accurate in our understanding of the meaning of epidemic or pandemic, two science words that have similar but distinct meanings. 1.Try to find a simple match, which helps you to establish a fix on meaning 2.Check this with other definitions to establish that the meaning is correct in the context in which the word is used in the text 3.Look for a more complex definition that may help you to strengthen your ability to use this word