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    Programme 2016-2019
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    language in subjects
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    Step 1: Planning
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    3. Discover the tools
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    Tool 1: Subject Specific Language Descriptors

Developing language awareness in subject classes under development

Tool 1  -  Tool 2  -  Tool 3  -  Tool 4  -  Tool 5

Tool 1: Subject-specific language descriptors

Language descriptors illustrate what language learners can do in terms of language at different competence levels. They give examples of what students at different levels of language proficiency are able to understand when they listen and read, and what they are able to produce when speaking and writing. In order to use the descriptors in connection with specific subjects, topics and student groups, teachers will have to tailor the descriptors to suit their particular needs. Read more

What do the language levels A1, A2, B1, B2, C1 and C2 mean?

6 different levels in the Common European Framework for Languages describe how language competence develops. Basic users (A1 and A2) focus on learning the most important, everyday language to survive in a new language community, while Independent users (B1 and B2) have language proficiency that enables them to cope independently in educational settings, as well as to use the language they are learning as a means to learn more. Advanced users (C1 and C2) are able to use the language effortlessly, coherently and effectively in professional settings (see The Common Reference Levelsglobal scale, Appendix I).

How can general content descriptors be tailored according to subject and topic?

What does it mean, for example, ‘to describe’ or ‘to understand factual information and explanations’?

Example 1

The descriptors for history/mathematics (www.ecml.at/languagedescriptors) illustrate how students at different levels of language proficiency are able to describe:
 

B2

Can pass on detailed information. Can give clear detailed descriptions of events, observations and processes. Can describe a visual representation (a graph, a figure, a table, a drawing etc.) in detail, pointing out both important features and significant details. Can describe in detail how s/he is thinking when solving a task.

B1

Can pass on information and briefly describe events, observations and processes. Can describe how s/he is thinking when solving a task in a straightforward way. Can briefly describe a visual representation (a graph, a figure, a table, a drawing etc.), pointing out important features.

A2

Can describe events, activities in a simple list of points.


How well students are able to describe, depends, among other things, on their language background and age. Some students, such as immigrant students, may perform at a lower language level than average students. In the same way, young students will perform at a lower level than older students.

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Example 2

Understand factual information and explanations

The descriptors for history/mathematics show how students at different levels of language proficiency are able to understand factual information and explanations:

B2

Can understand in detail factual texts on a wide range of both abstract and concrete topics in teaching materials.

B1

Can identify main conclusions in clearly written argumentative teaching materials. Can deduce the meaning of words and sentences from a context when the topic is familiar. Can understand the main points in simple factual texts if they follow a clear structure and the topic is familiar.

A2

Can understand the most important information in short, simple, factual teaching materials on familiar topics.

 
The teacher needs to be aware that some students may find it difficult to read school textbooks and other teaching materials if the content is somewhat abstract and the language contains subject-specific words and phrases. To help the students, the teacher may try to ‘open up’ the text and new concepts, for example, by using the students’ L1 or other languages that the student knows.

Putting it into practice:

Here is a simple example of how the language aims for a PE lesson may be defined in relation to the PE content aims. The example illustrates what a student with basic language skills could be expected to understand when seeing the sign.

Content aims:

Students should be able to

  • take into account potential threat and risk situations in physical education lessons and strive to act safely and appropriately

Language aims:

Students should be able to

  • understand the most important information in short, simple, factual teaching materials on familiar topics (A2)

Why use subject related language descriptors?

In order to build knowledge and develop skills, students need language. In many countries, curriculum aims in school subjects include both knowledge and language aims. This is because good language skills are likely to make learning easier. If students are able to talk/write about what they work on, they understand, learn and remember more.

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