Research in Science Education

, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 849–873 | Cite as

Language in Science Classrooms: An Analysis of Physics Teachers’ Use of and Beliefs About Language

  • Samuel Ouma OyooEmail author


The world over, secondary school science is viewed mainly as a practical subject. This may be one reason why effectiveness of teaching approaches in science education has often been judged on the kinds of practical activity with which teachers and students engage. In addition to practical work, language—often written (as in science texts) or oral (as in the form of teacher and student talk)—is unavoidable in effective teaching and learning of science. Generally however, the role of (instructional) language in quality of learning of school science has remained out of focus in science education research. This has been in spite of findings in empirical research on difficulties science students encounter with words of the instructional language used in science. The findings have suggested that use of (instructional) language in science texts and classrooms can be a major influence on the level of students’ understandings and retention of science concepts. This article reports and discusses findings in an investigation of physics teachers’ approaches to use of and their beliefs about classroom instructional language. Direct classroom observations of, interviews with, as well as content analyses of the participant teachers’ verbatim classroom talk, were used as the methods of data collection. Evidence is presented of participant physics teachers’ lack of explicit awareness of the difficulty, nature, and functional value of different categories of words in the instructional language. In conclusion, the implications of this lack of explicit awareness on the general education (initial and in-service) of school physics teachers are considered.


Physics teaching Language of instruction Initial preparation of physics teachers Continuing professional development of physics teachers 



The very helpful comments on an earlier version of this article from three anonymous reviewers as well as the guiding notes by the Editor, Research in Science Education are highly appreciated. The comments and the guiding notes have served to make the text of this article clearer; any mistakes in text however remain mine.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marang Centre for Mathematics and Science Education, School of EducationUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgRepublic of South Africa

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