Recently David Fay posted an article titled “Making the Most of 300 Hours.” In his article David outlined several recommendations for language instruction, including making a connection to other subjects, subjects such as science and Mathematics. Science and Mathematics are often referred to as STEM (Science – Technology – Engineering – Mathematics) fields. The importance of connecting STEM subjects to language instruction cannot be overemphasized.
Language instruction is best done when using the 5 C’s of language acquisition – Connections, Communication, Culture, Comparisons, and Communities. Using STEM subjects is an effective way of utilizing the five C’s. Science, technology, and engineering connect the learner to the natural world, focus on communications, emphasize the universal culture and communities of these disciplines, and require comparisons. The hands-on experiential learning inherent in STEM disciplines makes vocabulary meaningful, connecting the learner to the natural world.
The Spanish speaker has an advantage with STEM subjects in English. There are over 600,000 words in the English language, about a third of which are Latin in origin, and thus usually have equivalents in Spanish. STEM disciplines from A to Z — aerospace, computer and electronic technology, civil and bio-engineering, medical, and zoology — contain tens of thousands of easily recognizable words. Also, STEM field texts are typically written in a more formal academic style and thus support a learner’s use of academic language. This more formal register is often overlooked in schools.
If the learner is within a STEM discipline, the language instruction can be easier
because the learner understands STEM concepts and already has extensive STEM vocabulary. Since STEM fields focus largely on the process of observation, note-taking, and drawing conclusions, less weight is placed on right or wrong answers. This takes considerable stress away from the student.
Most importantly, EFL teachers need not feel burdened by being experts in the STEM fields. The ELF teacher’s job is to teach the language, not the subject. Exploring the natural world should become a collaborative effort. Not only does a teacher team up with the students, but also with science and math teachers in order to synchronize the effort. One added benefit is that the content teachers can practice their English as well.
Overall, STEM content should be seen as an additional resource for the ESL teacher, and a very effective one at that.
The Regional English Language Office for the Andean Region is based at the U.S. Embassy in Lima and serves English language teachers, trainers, administrators and students in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. It cooperates with Ministries of Education, Binational Centers, professional teachers’ associations, Fulbright, Peace Corps, public and private universities and other higher education institutes, among other partners, in order to build a stronger understanding between the peoples of the Andean region of Latin America and the U.S.