Language learning opportunities in different academic subjects: Rvidence for “conventional wisdom”

Yuen Yi Eva LO

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Immersion programmes (IM) have become one of the most prominent forms of bilingual education programme available throughout the world. Its main characteristic is the use of a second language (L2) as the medium of instruction (MoI) for some or all academic subjects, so that learners can learn L2 “incidentally” (Swain & Johnson, 1997). Under the general principle of using L2 as the MoI in academic subjects, however, there seem to be no uniform policies concerning which academic subjects should be taught in L2, in case “partial” IM are practised. It has been proposed that ‘conventional wisdom favours subjects such as history, geography, and social studies for second language instruction since it is thought that they are more verbal and thus lend themselves to discussion and second language learning better’ (Genesee, 1987:16). However, there has been no empirical evidence supporting such claim so far. The present study therefore attempted to fill such a literature gap by comparing the language learning opportunities for students in lessons of different academic subjects. 22 lessons across grades and subjects were observed in two English-medium secondary schools in Hong Kong (where IM were practised). By estimating the proportion of student talk and the mean length of student turns, the language learning opportunities in lessons of different subjects were compared. It was found that in lessons of Humanities subjects (e.g. Geography, History), students occupied a significantly higher proportion of talk and they could hold the floor for significantly longer than in lessons of Science subjects (e.g. Physics, Mathematics). Lesson transcripts suggested that such differences may be due to language registers of the subjects and the associated instructional activities. The implications of such differences in language learning opportunities in different subjects will be discussed in the wider context of bilingual education programmes, particularly the IM in Hong Kong.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2011


Lo, Y. Y. (2011, September). Language learning opportunities in different academic subjects: Rvidence for “conventional wisdom”. Paper presented at the 21st Annual Conference of the European Second Language Association, Stockholm University, Sweden.

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