New Perspectives in Science Education

Edition 13

Accepted Abstracts

Bilingual Modules in Chemistry Classes

Jana Pfefferle, Georg-August-University Göttingen, Department of Chemical Education (Germany)

Thomas Waitz, Department of Chemistry Didactics, Georg-August-University Göttingen (Germany)


In the context of bilingual modules (BM) in the German educational system, English is used as the medium of communication in certain time-limited thematic units, where the topic offers itself to be taught in a foreign language.[1] These BM can be implemented in most school subjects and are well suited for project work. Furthermore, just like regular bilingual classes, they allow for the development of the students’ communicative competence in a wide variety of situations and subject areas, while drawing attention to cultural differences.[1] This also allows the development of an intercultural competence, one of the goals of the European language policy.[2] A further advantage of bilingual education and BM is that students are exposed to the many benefits of being able to communicate in English, promoting their motivation to learn the language.[1] In addition, nowadays in the chemistry classroom, students could highly benefit if English played a more important part in the students’ chemical education, due to its role as the world’s leading scientific language. Therefore, it is important that students come in contact with scientific English, especially if they intend to pursue a career in one of the many scientific fields. Since not all German schools offer bilingual chemistry streams, carefully selected BM can serve as a way of exposing students to scientific English as well as the benefits of bilingual education.

A potentially promising model of learning that could be used as a base for the educational design of BM is Lave and Wenger’s situated learning. The model is based on the “situated character of human understanding and communication” and promotes learning as participation in a community.[3][4] With the correct guidance and students’ imagination, a specific interactive context for the learning of a chemical topic can be created. The context then provides motivation and a reason for students to speak in English, creating situations where communication has to take place and where students see as to why it should be in English. This then requires the use of scientific vocabulary and allows for the development of intercultural, scientific and linguistical competences. Thus the paper’s scope focuses on the advantages of BM and gives a concrete example of how application of the principles of situated learning can provide a learning context, in which the use of English in a chemistry classroom can make sense.

[1] E. Otten, M. Wildhagen (2003). Praxis des bilingualen Unterrichts. Cornelsen: Scriptor, 18-31, 194-216. [2] Council of Europe, “Education and Languages, Language Policy” In: /linguistic/Cadre1_en.asp [20.11.2014]. [3] J. Lave, E. Wenger (2009). Situated learning. Legitimate peripheral participation. New York: Cambridge. [4] I. Parchman (2007). “Chemie im Kontext: Situating Learning in Relevant Contexts while Systematically Developing Basic Chemical Concepts” In; J.Chem.Educ.84(9), 1439-1444. 

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