for how to effectively teach academic language. We also include an overview of academic language specifically for teachers of English-language arts (ELA).
Although definitions in the research literature differ somewhat, there is general agreement that academic language is both generic and content specific. That is, although many academic words are used across all content areas (such as demonstrate, estimate, analyze, summarize, categorize), others pertain to specific subject areas (idioms, charac- terization, symbolism for Language Arts; angle, ratio, dispersion for Math). It is impor- tant to remember that academic language is more than specific content vocabulary words related to particular topics. Rather, academic language represents the entire range of lan- guage used in academic settings, including elementary and secondary schools.
When you reflect on the previous examples for Language Arts and Mathematics, you can see that academic language differs considerably from the social, conversational language that is used on the playground, at home, or at cocktail parties (see Figure 1). Social or conversational language is generally more concrete than abstract, and it is usually supported by contextual clues, such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language (Cummins, 1979; 2000; Echevarria & Graves, 2007). To further clarify aca- demic language, the following definitions are offered by several educational researchers:
Academic language is “the language that is used by teachers and students for the purpose of acquiring new knowledge and skills . . . imparting new information, describing abstract ideas, and developing students’ conceptual understandings” (Chamot & O’Malley, 1994, p. 40).
Academic language refers to “word knowledge that makes it possible for students to engage with, produce, and talk about texts that are valued in school” (Flynt & Brozo, 2008, p. 500).
“Academic English is the language of the classroom, of academic disciplines (sci- ence, history, literary analysis), of texts and literature, and of extended, reasoned discourse. It is more abstract and decontextualized than conversational English” (Gersten, Baker, Shanahan, Linan-Thompson, Collins, & Scarcella, 2007, p. 16).
Academic English “refers to more abstract, complex, and challenging language that will eventually permit you to participate successfully in mainstream classroom instruction. Academic English involves such things as relating an event or a series of events to someone who was not present, being able to make comparisons between alternatives and justify a choice, knowing different forms and inflections of words and their appropriate use, and possessing and using content-specific vocabulary and modes of expression in different academic disciplines such as mathematics and social studies” (Goldenberg, 2008, p. 9).
“Academic language is the set of words, grammar, and organizational strategies used to describe complex ideas, higher-order thinking processes, and abstract concepts” (Zwiers, 2008, p. 20).
Some educators suggest that the distinction between conversational and academic language is somewhat arbitrary and that it is the situation, community, or context that is either predominantly social or academic (Aukerman, 2007; Bailey, 2007). For purposes of this book, we maintain that academic language is essential for success in school (the context), and that it is more challenging to learn than conversational English, especially for students who are acquiring English as a second or additional language. Although
What Is Academic Language?