Focus on vocabulary

We detected a strong focus on subject-specific vocabulary in almost all questionnaire answers and class observations (see also Quinn Novotna, Grosser and Dunkova 2013: 68-70), as exemplified by a student's comment that '[e]veryone is very relaxed about the use of english, however the teacher is demanding more of a specialised vocabulary'. A teacher also made the following comment:

I teach subjects where the level of English influences the understanding and answering the questions. Also, there are key words which are different in English than in other languages. The subjects require precision in vocabulary. I am liberal in terms of grammar, demanding in terms of vocabulary and sentence structure.

This comment suggests that, in relation to CLIL at UWC, the importance of precise and extensive knowledge of terminology goes hand in hand with a focus on subject matter. This orientation towards lexis and the importance of how it is presented and taught (see also Eldridge, Neufeld and Hancioglu 2010), as well as its close link to proficiency, in other words, the fact that more extensive vocabulary knowledge is perceived to be directly linked to higher language and subject-specific proficiencies, are illustrated in the following comment from a teacher, exemplifying CLIL practice at UWC:

As part of developing their proficiency in the subject I teach, I insist that my students learn to correctly use the relevant vocabulary. I assign flashcards, give vocabulary quizzes, and instruct my students in how to write well-composed paragraphs and essays. As this level, I see my job not just as teaching 'content' but also developing fluency in the subject and its ways of expression. I hope my approach allows them to access higher-level research papers in the subject as well as critique popular depictions/usages of the subject's concepts.

A solid grasp of vocabulary also plays a key role in increasing students' linguistic self-esteem, that is, their confidence in how they utilise the language to their advantage: 'English language skills among the non-native students are being consistently enhanced, by expanding vocabulary and developing routine in use of key phrasing. They gain more confidence and gradually reach higher levels of proficiency.' Similar findings are also presented in Quinn Novotna, Grosser and Dunkova (2013: 65). For more about the role of vocabulary see the section Challenges of studying through the medium of English below.

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