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Dimensions of Academic Language

What are the components of academic language?

Academic vocabulary can be characterized by three different components: content-specific vocabulary words, vocabulary associated with functional language, and English morphology and word structure. The following components of academic vocabulary instruction are essential for effective vocabulary instruction for English language learners:

Content-Specific Vocabulary

Content-specific vocabulary consists of key vocabulary associated with content lessons. For example, when teaching a lesson about the life cycle of a butterfly, the content-specific vocabulary might be the following: life cycle, metamorphosis, pupa, chrysalis, larva, and other important vocabulary that is required for students to have an in depth understanding of the content. It is imperative that English language learners are exposed to content-specific academic vocabulary multiple times and are provided opportunities to authentically use the vocabulary as they are reading, writing, speaking and listening. 

Functional Language

Functional language consists of language and structure patterns that are associated with specific language functions, or tasks and purposes as to why we use language. Language is used to predict, summarize, ask questions, compare, contrast and a variety of additional language functions. For every language function, certain vocabulary words and sentence structures are associated with the language function and should be explicitly taught to English language learners. One example of functional language and sentence structures that are associated with the language function of compare and contrast can be found on the compare/contrast functional language page by clicking here

Morphology and Word Parts

Word analysis is an essential aspect of academic language development. Morphological analysis consists of the study of prefixes, suffixes, root words and other parts of words. Word analysis should take place within the context of meaningful and contextualized learning. For example, when students are learning about the life cycle of the butterfly they might also learn that the meaning of the root "morph" signifies "to change". In this type of scenario students are studying English morphology as they are also learning about content-specific vocabulary.



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