Equality of access to tertiary education, especially biology, requires access to the language of science. Our analysis of the patterns in student responses to an authentic science passage in university biology classes may reveal an important reason why many students experience difficulty. An existing test of student control of the specialist language of English characteristic of science was administered to 285 students in undergraduate biology classes at the University of Guam, USA. The assessment uses traditional and modern grammar categories to analyse student responses to a gap filling exercise.
The results indicate that entry-level students were having more difficulty than those who were further advanced in their study of biology and that, in general, students indicating that their families spoke Chamorro or other Micronesian languages at home had more difficulty than those specifying Philippine languages who, in turn, had more difficulty than those indicating that only English was spoken in their homes. The data were further analysed to indicate the specific features of the language of science that were problematic for particular groups of students. ‘Cohesive devices’, prepositions and nouns presented noticeable challenges for these undergraduate Biology students.
Difficulty with the language of science may seriously impede the learning of science in the study population, even though they seemed more capable than the secondary students and other undergraduates in previous studies. The levels of difficulty for all groups compared thus far have been large enough to be of concern.
In many science classes, a language-conscious approach could markedly increase the understanding of those groups of students experiencing most difficulty while supporting the conceptual development of students for whom language activities would serve a predominantly review function.
|Keywords:||Literacy, Discourse, Register, Diversity, EAP, ESP, EST|
Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Newcastle, Newcastle, NSW, Australia
University of Guam, Guam, USA
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