Juggling learning English and content at the same time

«English class» is becoming rarer.

Learning the language as just another school subject, in addition to history, science, math, etc… is less popular as more and more people take up learning English. How can both these things be true? Well, what we are seeing more and more is learning subjects using English. There are various approaches to this kind of teaching, including English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Content-Language Integrated Learning (CLIL), and English Medium Instruction (EMI). Let’s dive into each one of these to understand what they are and what they mean to language learners.

English for Specific Purposes (ESP)

ESP is the approach taken by Masterclass Language Academy. Our students already belong to a field or have specific field/career interests. It only makes sense for us to use this context to inform our teaching. In our lessons, we cater the content to the specific needs of the student, keeping in mind the specific vocabulary and skills they will need and actually use. Let’s use a tour-guide as an example. They not only need the words and phrases like tour or On your right you will notice…, but they will need to be prepared to respond to questions from guests, articulate complex details of historical sites, express enthusiasm and professionalism, and the list goes on. ESP is far from learning grammar structures or random phrases out of context. It is about developing pertinent skills and linguistic resources in order to be ready to use them in a real context.

Want to know a little more? This Medium.com blog post simplifies it for you!

Content-Language Integrated Learning

CLIL is being adopted more and more at the primary and secondary school level. Subjects like science and math are taught in English, which is not the first language of most of the students. The classroom becomes an immersive language environment as they are learning brand-new content (for example, biology) in their second language. Not only do these learners learn subject-specific terminology, but they also develop language skills that they can take into other realms of life, such as phrases for analyzing, describing, or comparing and contrasting. To get the most out of the class, they must be able to ask questions and be able to debate issues, among other actions. Oftentimes, students in these courses receive linguistic support, helping them develop these skills and abilities in their second language. While these kinds of classes may be especially demanding for students, the outcomes can be very fruitful in terms of English language gains.

Learning about ecosystems in a CLIL class is so much more than memorizing vocabulary. This word web gives an idea of how much language exposure and practice could be involved in this content-language integrated classroom.

Click here to watch several examples of CLIL classes in action!

English Medium Instruction

EMI can be found in more and more universities. English is used as the language of instruction, and students learn field-related material in their second language. Learning in English prepares students for a broader range of opportunities as the world becomes more globally connected and English is used as a common language (lingua franca) by many. There is less of a focus on the English language itself, and instead, it is simply used as the medium for teaching. Oftentimes, students in EMI courses already have a high enough level of English to succeed in these classes, but even with a high level, these courses can still be a challenge given the complexity of the material and the field-specific language used.

To get the most out of an EMI course, students can seek to improve some language skills that will help them to better engage with the content. Here are just some ideas:

  • Practice making critiques or challenging others’ viewpoints in a respectful way.
  • Test your understanding of content by explaining it in English to a friend who doesn’t study the same thing as you.
  • Highlight new terms and phrases and make an effort to use these in essays or other assignments.
  • Confirm your understanding of the language and content by asking open (not yes/no) questions to your instructor.

Second Language Acquisition when learning through English

For language learning to be achieved, several things must be true. Learners need to be motivated, they need to be receiving quality input, and they need to be engaging with the language. ESP, CLIL, and EMI provide these things to learners. There is a goal in mind that is career/field-related, and that is motivating for learners who seek success in that area in English. Rather than learning out-of-context grammar, learners in these contexts are exposed to language that is useful to them and their interests and needs. Finally, they aren’t simply exposed to the language of the field. They are doing things with the language, whether that is writing research papers, practicing role plays, or discussing topics with peers or teachers.

At Masterclass Language Academy, we back our teaching in language learning science. We are constantly working to provide the most beneficial learning experience for our students. We hope you’ve learned something new about approaches to language teaching. We’d love to hear about your experiences learning in any or all of these contexts. Feel free to leave them in the comments!


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