This page contains ideas, information, and resources related to teaching and learning academic language in world language classes.


Big Ideas in Small Packages: Beginners Communicating About Complex Content
Presented by Anny Case, Ph.D., Gonzaga University, & Cherice Montgomery, Ph.D., Brigham Young University
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Conference (ACTFL)
Friday, November 16, 2012 from 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Pennsylvania Convention Center, Room 115C


Integrating language and content learning can support students’ eventual attainment of advanced language proficiency. This session synthesizes best practices from ESL and world language education to clarify the challenging task of designing compelling, proficiency-based lessons around rich and meaningful academic content and provides sample activities suitable even for beginning levels.

While traditional language curriculum for beginning language learners tends to focus on basic, concrete, and “survival” language, we propose that this foundation can and should be expanded to also help students communicate about complex, abstract topics and ideas rooted in academic content. However, selecting, designing, and enacting this type of curriculum can be a complex and challenging endeavor. To clarify the process, this session will address the following questions:

1) What criteria might teachers use to select a compelling academic content focus for their language lessons?

2) What processes and strategies can teachers use to identify and prioritize critical academic language that facilitates grappling with content in the target language?

3) How might teachers use the ACTFL standards as a framework for developing activities that engage students in communicating about academic concepts in the target language even with limited language proficiency?


Academic language is found in particular genres (especially non-fiction), is frequently associated with specific types of text (such as expository), and includes both technical language typical of specific disciplines as well as general terms that transfer across disciplines, such as transitional words that signal relationships among ideas. It is the language of government, professional settings, school, and power.




Pedagogical Strategies




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Communication at high levels of proficiency requires a person to be able to discuss complex disciplinary content (and political and social issues) from a variety of perspectives using critical thinking skills such as evaluating, hypothesizing, justifying, and problem-solving. All of these functions draw on academic language. Consequently, it is important to build into world language courses opportunities for students to become comfortable using academic language drawn from a variety of disciplines, genres, and text types--even at beginning levels.

Readings & Resources

Academic Language Resources for K-12 Teachers

KateKinsellaMaterials.jpg - Contains templates teachers can use to scaffold academic language for students, along with sample videos