Subject-language perspectives on multilingual students learning in science

Anders Jakobsson 1 2 * , Maria Kouns 1
More Detail
1 Malmö University, Malmö, SWEDEN
2 Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences, Hamar, NORWAY
* Corresponding Author
EUR J SCI MATH ED, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp. 197-214.
Published Online: 24 October 2022, Published: 01 April 2023
OPEN ACCESS   1482 Views   891 Downloads
Download Full Text (PDF)


In this study, we have explored the ways in which small-group work in science can contribute to strengthen multilingual students’ subject language and conceptual development when working with language-oriented classroom activities in primary classrooms. The aim is to determine whether it is possible to identify factors in interactions in small-group work that strengthen and facilitate the students’ language development. We have focused on how students orally formulate themselves when describing observations, hypotheses, and explanations of certain scientific experiments on the properties of air. An important starting point has been that students’ successive development of a subject-specific language is crucial for their conceptual development and understanding. The analyses of the dialogues have made it possible to study how individual students gradually develop their way of expressing themselves by taking over others’ expressions and word choices and making their own. The analysis also shows that these dialogical situations are crucial for all students to develop their language use in science, primarily through probing a more precise way of expressing themselves and putting their scientific ideas and thoughts into words. An important conclusion is that students should be offered opportunities and space to develop their subject language register in science and that this is important for all students, but crucial for those for whom the language of instruction is a second language.


Jakobsson, A., & Kouns, M. (2023). Subject-language perspectives on multilingual students learning in science. European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 11(2), 197-214.


  • Alvarez, L., Capitelli, S., Valdés, G., & De Loney, M. (2022). Toward an integrated practice: Facilitating peer interactions to support language development in science. The New Educator, 18(1-2), 110-131.
  • Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. (Eds.) (2004). Handbook of research on multicultural education. Macmillan.
  • Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. (Eds.) (2019). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Blackledge, A., & Creese, A. (2017). Translanguaging in mobility. The Routledge handbook of migration and language. Routledge.
  • Brown, B. A., & Spang, E. (2008). Double talk: Synthesizing every day and science language in the classroom. Science Education, 92(4), 708-732.
  • Buxton, C. A., & Lee, O. (2014). English learners in science education. In N. Lederman, & S. Abell, (Eds.), Handbook of research on science education (pp. 204-222). Routledge.
  • Cummins, J. (2021). Rethinking the education of multilingual learners: A critical analysis of theoretical concepts. Springer.
  • Fang, Z. (2005). Scientific literacy: A systemic functional linguistics perspective. Science Education, 89(2), 335-347.
  • Fang, Z. (2006). The language demands of science reading in middle school. International Journal of Science Education, 28(5), 491-520.
  • Gee, J. P. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. Routledge.
  • Gee, J. P. (2015). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses. Routledge.
  • Hajer, M., & Meestringa, T. (2014). Språkutvecklande undervisning–En handbok [Language development education–A handbook]. Hallgren & Fallgren.
  • Halliday, M. A. K. (2014). Language as social semiotic. In J. Benjamins (Ed.), The discourse studies reader (pp. 263-272). John Benjamins Publishing Company.
  • Halliday, M. A. K., & Martin, J. R. (1993). Writing science. Literacy and discursive power. University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Haug, B. S., & Ødegaard, M. (2014). From words to concepts: Focusing on word knowledge when teaching for conceptual understanding within an inquiry-based science setting. Research in Science Education, 44(5), 777-800.
  • Hernandez Garcia, M., & Schleppegrell, M. J. (2021). Culturally sustaining disciplinary literacy for bi/multilingual learners: Creating a translanguaging social studies classroom. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 64(4), 449-454.
  • Jakobsson, A., & Davidsson, E. (2012). Using sociocultural frameworks to understand the significance of interactions at science and technology centers and museums. In E. Davidssons, & A. Jakobssons (Eds.), Understanding interactions at science centers and museums (pp. 3-21). Sense Publishers.
  • Jakobsson, A., Mäkitalo, Å., & Säljö, R. (2009). Conceptions of knowledge in research on students’ understanding of the greenhouse effect: Methodological positions and their consequences for representations of knowing. Science Education, 93(6), 978-995.
  • Jakobsson, A., Nygård Larsson, P., & Karlsson, A. (Eds.) (2022). Translanguaging in science education. Sociocultural explorations of science education. Springer.
  • Karlsson, A., Larsson, P. N., & Jakobsson, A. (2016). Flerspråkighet som en resurs i NO-klassrummet [Multilingualism as a resource in the science classroom]. Pedagogisk Forskning i Sverige [Educational Research in Sweden], 21(1-2), 30-55.
  • Karlsson, A., Nygård Larsson, P., & Jakobsson, A. (2019). Multilingual students’ use of translanguaging in science classrooms. International Journal of Science Education, 41(15), 2049-2069.
  • Karlsson, A., Nygård Larsson, P., & Jakobsson, A. (2020). The continuity of learning in a translanguaging science classroom. Cultural Studies of Science Education, 15(1), 1-25.
  • Kouns, M. (2014). Beskriv med ord: Fysiklärare utvecklar språkinriktad undervisning på gymnasiet [Describe with words: Physics teacher develops language-based education in high school] [PhD dissertation, Malmö University].
  • Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (2006). Reading images. The grammar of visual design. Routledge.
  • Lee, O., Llosa, L., Grapin, S., Haas, A., & Goggins, M. (2019). Science and language integration with English learners: A conceptual framework guiding instructional materials development. Science Education, 103(2), 317-337.
  • Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Ablex Publishing Company.
  • Lemke, J. L. (2001). Articulating communities: Sociocultural perspectives on science education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 38(3), 296-316.<296::AID-TEA1007>3.0.CO;2-R
  • Linell, P. (2009). Rethinking language, mind, and world dialogically. Information Age Publishing.
  • Mercer, N. (2019). Language and the joint creation of knowledge: The selected works of Neil Mercer. Routledge.
  • Mercer, N., & Wegerif, R. (1999). Is ‘exploratory talk’ productive talk? In K. Littleton, & P. Light (Eds.), Learning with computers: Analyzing productive interaction (pp. 79-101). Routledge.
  • Mercer, N., Dawes, L., Wegerif, R., & Sams, C. (2004). Reasoning as a scientist: Ways of helping children to use language to learn science. British Educational Research Journal, 30(3), 359.
  • Mondada, L. (2006). Video recording as the reflexive preservation and configuration of phenomenal features for analysis. In H. Knoblauch, J. Raab, H. G. Soeffner, & B. Schnettler (Eds.), Video analysis (pp. 51-68). Peter Lang.
  • Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. (2003). Meaning making in secondary science classrooms. McGraw-Hill Education.
  • Norris, S. P., & Phillips, L. M. (2003). How literacy in its fundamental sense is central to scientific literacy. Science Education, 87, 224-240.
  • Nygård Larsson, P. (2018). We’re talking about mobility: Discourse strategies for promoting disciplinary knowledge and language in educational contexts. Linguistics and Education, 48, 61-75.
  • Nygård Larsson, P., & Jakobsson, A. (2020). Meaning-making in science from the perspective of students’ hybrid language use. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 18(5), 811-830.
  • Olander, C., & Ingerman, Å. (2011). Towards an inter-language of talking science: Exploring students’ argumentation in relation to authentic language. Journal of Biological Education, 45(3), 158-164.
  • Oliveira, A. W., Weinburgh, M., McBride, E., Bobowski, T., & Shea, R. (2019). Teaching science to English language learners: Current research and practices in the field of science education. In L. C. de Oliveira (Ed.), The handbook of TESOL in K12 (pp. 277-290). Wiley.
  • Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications. International Journal of Science Education, 25(9), 1049-1079.
  • Probyn, M. (2019). Pedagogical translanguaging and the construction of science knowledge in a multilingual South African classroom: Challenging monoglossic/post-colonial orthodoxies. Classroom Discourse, 10(3-4), 216-236.
  • Säljö, R. (2010). Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: Technologies, social memory, and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26(1), 53-64.
  • Schleppegrell, M. J. (2016). Content-based language teaching with functional grammar in the elementary school. Language Teaching, 49(1), 116-128.
  • Schleppegrell, M. J. (2020). The knowledge base for language teaching: What is the English to be taught as content? Language Teaching Research, 24(1), 17-27.
  • Scott, P., Mortimer, E., & Ametller, J. (2011). Pedagogical link‐making: A fundamental aspect of teaching and learning scientific conceptual knowledge. Studies in Science Education, 47(1), 3-36.
  • Seah, L. H., & Yore, L. D. (2017). The roles of teachers’ science talk in revealing language demands within diverse elementary school classrooms: A study of teaching heat and temperature in Singapore. International Journal of Science Education, 39(2), 135-157.
  • Seah, L. H., Clarke, D. J., & Hart, C. E. (2011). Understanding students’ language use about expansion through analyzing their lexicogrammatical resources. Science Education, 95(5), 852-876.
  • Solli, A., Hillman, T., & Mäkitalo, Å. (2017). Navigating the complexity of socio-scientific controversies—How students make multiple voices present in discourse. Research in Science Education, 49, 1595-1623.
  • Swedish Research Council. (2011). Good research practice. Swedish Research Council.
  • Van Horne, K., & Bell, P. (2017). Youth disciplinary identification during participation in contemporary project-based science investigations in school. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 26(3), 437-476.
  • Van Laere, E., Aesaert, K., & van Braak, J. (2014). The role of students’ home language in science achievement: A multilevel approach. International Journal of Science Education, 36(16), 2772-2794.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1980). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press.
  • Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). The collected works of LS Vygotsky: Problems of the theory and history of psychology. Springer Science & Business Media.
  • Willis, P., & Trondman, M. (2002). Manifesto for ethnography. Cultural Studies↔Critical Methodologies, 2(3), 394-402.