What is language awareness?

Adam Steele

Language awareness – sometimes referred to as the language of learning – refers to how we use words in our learning materials. We research language carefully, so that our resources are as accessible as possible.

In a nutshell*…

Why is language awareness important?

Understandably, using language that makes new and complex ideas easier to understand is incredibly important when writing textbooks. It’s even more crucial when those textbooks are for international curriculums, such as Cambridge IGCSE™ or the International Baccalaureate Diploma programme, and are therefore likely to be read by English as a second language (ESL) or an additional language (EAL) learners.

We recently conducted a piece of research with science teachers on our exclusive research community. We asked:

Which area represents the biggest barrier to your students when it comes to language?

52.8% of teachers answered that interpreting questions was the biggest language barrier to students’ learning: more than all the other options put together.

This reveals just how important it is to frame questions in an understandable way. Students may know the answer, but if they don’t understand what the question is asking, they struggle.

What does language awareness look like?

We work carefully to use language that enables learners to understand new and challenging concepts. This includes clear definitions of key words alongside the text on the page, as well as glossaries of not only subject words, but command words too. For example, words such as ‘analyse’, ‘justify’ or ‘contrast’. This ensures that students are clear on what questions are asking them to do.

In addition, we always give opportunities for learners to practise their vocabulary. Studies have shown that it takes 15–20 meaningful exposures to new words and phrases before an item becomes part of a learner’s active vocabulary. That’s why when learners see an important new word in our books and digital resources, it will be repeated close-by in the text to give context and they are also often used in student activities.

* ‘In a nutshell’ is an English idiom that means to explain something briefly. An idiom is a phrase that is not directly translatable, but whose meaning is generally understood (if you are a first language speaker). This makes them difficult to understand from a second language perspective. But it also makes them attractive to learn because they feel like a secret language!

An idiom is an example of language we would not use in resources designed for second language speakers – at least, not without an explanation! For more fun with idioms, try our interactive quiz.