Content-Based EFL Teaching to Undergraduate Science Students: A Discourse Perspective

Content-Based EFL Teaching to Undergraduate Science Students: A Discourse Perspective

Olga A. Obdalova
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3266-9.ch012
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This chapter explores the contextual and linguistic potential of the content-based approach in language teaching. The first part of the analysis focuses on the theoretical underpinnings of this approach. The analysis of the cognitive-discursive activity of a non-native learner of a foreign language reveals the complex multi-level organization of cognitive-discursive activity. The author anticipates that context plays a decisive role in the processes of perception and understanding of a foreign language message embedded in a context. The second part of this chapter synthesizes research on learning outcomes in content-based EFL teaching of undergraduate science students. It deals with classroom-based research and participants' use of English taking account discourse factors, students' language resources, and didactic potential of the content-based teaching model. The findings demonstrated that the designed theme-based teaching framework proved to be more effective for science undergraduate students' speech skills development and acquisition of topic-related vocabulary.
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In this part of the chapter we will touch upon the theoretical underpinnings of the content-based approach in language teaching. Content-based learning and teaching have been among the most discussed topics in the research relating to innovation in mastering a language. Both educators and teachers of foreign languages have been analyzing the contextual and linguistic potential of this approach in connection with the relevant educational environment, such as secondary education or university contexts, as well as regional variations, for example Asia, America, Europe, etc. (Crandall, 1992; Kasper, 1997; Owens, 2002; Lee, & Chang, 2008; Warrington, 2008; Marsh, Ong, & Lai, 2009; Creese, 2010; Sylvén, 2013; Juan-Garau, & Salazar-Noguera, 2015; Yasain et al., 2009).

According to some researchers (Stryker, & Leaver, Editors, 1997; Davies, 2003; Butler, 2005; Kjellén Simes, 2009; Coyle, Hood, & Marsh, 2010; Sylvén, 2010; Huang, 2011), a content-based approach in language teaching has been widely implemented in various settings, including young and adult learners, since the late 1980s. It was used in such educational contexts as English for Specific Purposes (ESP), Language for Specific Purposes (LSP), immersion programs, and ESL/EFL Language Courses. Content-based language teaching refers to an approach in which teaching is organized around the content (Villalobos, 2013). More specifically, language lessons are blended with content relevant to the field of knowledge the learners need to acquire. The target language is being taught within the context of the content. Recently ‘content’ has been associated with the use of subject matter as a tool for foreign or second language learning and teaching. To enhance learning, it is important to create such a learning environment in which learners are exposed to a considerable amount of language through a stimulating content. Moreover, the underlying principle is that successful learning happens when the displayed materials in the target language appear in a meaningful contextualized form with the focal point on gaining knowledge and relevant information (Stoller, 2008). D. Raphan & J. Moser (1994) argue that this approach allows students to master simultaneously subject matter and language skills and it enhances the learners’ better academic accomplishment. At the methodological level, teaching materials, designed activities and tasks should be chosen according to the extent to which they match the type of the educational program (Navas, 2010; Villalobos, 2013). Finally, content-based language teaching provides the opportunity for teachers to meet the students’ learning needs and interests (Brinton et al., 1989). According to Brinton, Snow, & Wesche (1989), the most common models of content-based instruction (CBI) in the EFL context are theme-based, sheltered, and adjunct. As stated by Stoller, F. L. & Grabe, W. (1997), these models may be regarded as various methods of implementing theme-based instruction, so that theme-based and content-based instruction models may be considered interchangeable.

In recent research (Ahn et al., 2016; Almazova, Baranova, Khalyapina, 2017; Jaelani, Selamet Riadi. 2017; Yi Peng, 2017; Obdalova et al., 2017; Adawiyah, Rabi'atul, 2018; Martel, 2018), various features of the theme-based model are determined, whose main requirements deal with the authenticity of the learning material and structuring the language class around topics or themes relevant to appropriate content. Usually, texts and activities are organized by a language teacher around one major topic. Additionally, topic related vocabulary and concepts are specified and practiced through various activities engaging students to recognize these lexical items in texts and communicate ideas in a foreign language using these words in speech (Brinton, Snow & Wesche, 1989). As mentioned by Brinton and Holten (1997), students in such an educational environment are presented with authentic texts from the subject area through the context.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Theme-Related Vocabulary: Vocabulary items organized by themes or topics.

Cognitive Activity: A system of perceptual, mnemonic and intellectual activity.

Discourse Factors: One group of factors is due to communication as a process of exchanging information, the other deals with cognition as one of the modes of perception and compilation of ideas, the third involves pragmatics as knowledge of the subject of communication and the ability to apply this knowledge in practice, and the fourth group of factors follows from sociocultural characteristics (knowledge, covering both communicative and non-communicative goals, which are manifested in the implementation of social, textual, discourse aspects in specific real communicative situations).

Skills for Communication: The ability to convey information to another effectively and efficiently. The four “macro skills” (listening, speaking, reading and writing) are all an integral part of typical language proficiency and use.

Content-Based Instruction (CBI): A significant approach in language education ( Brinton, Snow, & Wesche, 1989 ), designed to provide second-language learners instruction in content and language (hence it is also called content-based language teaching; CBLT).

Teaching Model: Instructional design which describes the process of specifying and producing particular environmental situations which cause the students to interact in such a way that a specific change occurs in their behavior.

Vocabulary Acquisition: The process of learning the words of a language.

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