A Language-Science Bridge: ESL for Marine Science. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Article excerpt


A team of language and science faculty across the U.S. developed a prototype language course in ESL with sustained content for Marine Science. A set of original course materials for university students was designed and implemented in August 2000. Encouraging initial results from preand post- testing indicate that courses in sustained content do enhance language acquisition. Both students and teachers have commented on the potential of sustained content in Second languages to (1) strengthen language skills in ESL; (2) enhance academic performance in courses taken in the core discipline at U.S. institutions; and (3) motivate students to improve their performance in English. Although the core content for our model was Marine Science, the theoretical framework and teaching methods used could be easily adapted for sustained content courses in other languages and core disciplines.


The ability of scientists to communicate across linguistic frontiers may determine the future of the world's oceans. As oceanographers seek to understand the large-scale processes operating in the oceans, it is crucial that they work in international teams and in overseas locations (Ogden 1997). Yet science students in higher education are not mobile because they are often bound to lab facilities and specialized curricula. The Institution of International Education reports that students with majors in the sciences and engineering constitute less than 2% of all those who study abroad each year. The scientific community has voiced with increasing frequency the need for students who are able to "function productively in science within a different culture" and has called for science teachers to broaden curricula (Davies 1996).

Confronted with this reality, Eckerd College has partnered with two other U.S. institutions (the University of Washington-Seattle and the University of Hawai'i-Hilo) and with three E.U. universities (the University of La Rochelle-France, the University of Liege-Belgium, and the Universidad de Las Palmas-Gran Canaria) to create a consortium for student and faculty exchange. Integral to the exchange is a critical interdisciplinary link much like a bridge. The Bridge is in fact a unique course, which connects students not only to ESL, but also to the specific English language of Marine Science. It was designed as a three-week intensive course in sustained content. Its purpose is to prepare these students for the linguistic and cross-cultural demands of study abroad in the field of Marine Science.

An interdisciplinary team of language and science faculty representing each of the three U.S. partner institutions took the lead in designing the bridge course. Participants were selected based on their interest in developing a new format for language pedagogy, which would open language learning to the academic field of marine science. The majority of the participants were teachers who would be engaged directly with the E.U. students in courses during the student exchange. During a curriculum meeting supported by FIPSE, the team developed the learning model and set of original course materials. These materials were implemented in a pilot course delivered in August 2000. Encouraging initial results from student surveys and pre- and post- testing indicate that courses in sustained content do enhance language acquisition. Although our model focused on students in Marine Science, the theoretical framework and teaching methods could be modified and made applicable for international students transitioning into U.S. degree programs in many academic disciplines. Furthermore, the model is adaptable for sustained content in second languages for U.S. students as a preparation for study/work abroad in a specific academic field.

The Learning Model

Many of the elements specific to the design of a language bridge course will vary according to expected learning outcomes, for both language learning and for learning in the core discipline. …


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