Overcoming Language Barriers in Content-Area Instruction

Nikki Ashcraft (United Arab Emirates University)

Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives

ISSN: 2077-5504

Article publication date: 1 June 2006

Issue publication date: 1 June 2006

This content is currently only available as a PDF


As new English-medium universities open their doors in the Arabian Gulf andsome Arabic-medium universities switch to using English as the language ofinstruction, instructors in all disciplines face the challenge of teaching theircourses in English to students who have learned (and who are continuing tolearn) English as a foreign language. This article reviews theories and practicesfrom the field of Applied Linguistics and Teaching English as a SecondLanguage (TESOL) which can help content-area instructors understand andreach these learners.

Second language acquisition research has produced several concepts ofinterest to content-area instructors. Krashen’s theory of comprehensible inputfocuses on the language used by the instructor, while Swain’s of comprehensibleoutput emphasizes providing opportunities for students to produce language. Cummins differentiates between two types of language proficiency: BasicInterpersonal Communication Skills (BICS), which are needed for dailyinteractions, and Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP), which isrequired for academic tasks. Interlanguage and first language interference mayalso influence students’ second language production in classroom settings.

Specific classroom practices for improving students’ language comprehensionand facilitating content learning are recommended. These include modifyingspeech, using visual aids, utilizing a variety of questioning techniques, andextending the time instructors wait for students to respond. Instructors canemploy strategies, such as mind-mapping and quickwriting, to activate students’linguistic and conceptual schemata at the beginning of a lesson. Scaffoldingprovides structure and support for students to complete tasks until they are ableto realize them on their own. Collaborative/cooperative learning lowers students’affective filters and offers opportunities for participation and language practice. Graphics illustrate some of the suggested practices.


Ashcraft, N. (2006), "Overcoming Language Barriers in Content-Area Instruction", Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 20-30. https://doi.org/10.18538/lthe.v3.n1.03



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Copyright © 2006 Nikki Ashcraft


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Publisher's note: The Publisher would like to inform the reader that the article “Overcoming Language Barriers in Content-Area Instruction” has changed pagination. Previous pagination was pp. 1-11. The updated pagination for the article is now pp. 20-30. The Publisher apologises for any inconvenience caused.

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Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: Gulf Perspectives Vol 3 No 1, January 2006

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