The Content-Language Tension for English Language Learners in Two Secondary Science Classrooms

  • Jason S. WuEmail author
  • Felicia Moore Mensah
  • Kok-Sing Tang


Investigating the use of native languages (L1) in secondary science remains an unaddressed need in global scientific literacy. While past research in this area has largely focused on primary school students, more clarity is needed on the role of secondary school students’ L1 use in the classroom as the language of science becomes more specialized at a higher level. This chapter details two studies investigating L1 use in secondary science classrooms in New York and Singapore. The study employs qualitative and quantitative methods, including surveys, interviews, observation, and audio recording of student discourse. We find that the L1 can be used for learning scientific content, but is seen by some students as a hindrance to the acquisition of the majority language. This is seen when comparing in-class native language use and data from surveys and interviews. We propose that this reflects a content-language tension that exists in many linguistically diverse science classrooms. This tension highlights competing goals of content learning and acquisition of the majority language. We conclude with a discussion of implications for addressing scientific literacy on a global scale.


English learners English language learners translanguaging content-language tension content-based language instruction sheltered instruction secondary science 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jason S. Wu
    • 1
    Email author
  • Felicia Moore Mensah
    • 1
  • Kok-Sing Tang
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Mathematics, Science & TechnologyTeachers College, Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.School of EducationCurtin UniversityPerthAustralia

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