How to Stimulate Students' Language Development?

As a lecturer, you can boost your students' academic language acquisition. Such a language-developing didactic approach is based on three pillars: creating a context, interacting with your students and offering language support. This educational tip explains the three pillars, illustrated with practical examples. 

How do you create a context? 

The interest and motivation (in Dutch) of students will increase when they can place the learning content in a wider context, when they see the importance of the learning material, linked to professional competencies, if any. This also applies to (academic) language use, often in a context of communication skills. Therefore, explain the language course competencies in your course sheet, and communicate them to the students when you give them a language assignment.  

How do you  interact with your students? 

High-quality interaction occurs when you offer your students a stimulating language and leave room for language production on which you then give language feedback.   

Language input 

  • As a lecturer, you are supposed to take care of your language. The UGent strives for standard language use in the course material, the lectures and the syllabi. 
  • However, proper language use, however important, is only part of your language input. For example, be aware of the complexity of academic language: students cannot understand and adopt abstract, formal language just like that. Speak academically (raise the bar slightly), but do not make it unnecessarily difficult. Provide synonyms for more difficult terms. 
  • Read the education tip ‘Language use as lecturer: what should you pay attention to?’ for concrete tips on how to optimise your language input in Dutch or another language. 

Language production 

  • Make sure that students produce language, both written and orally, during lectures as well as seminars. 
  • Be inspired by the following lecture tips
    • writing to learn: make students write down a brief answer to a question, summarise it somehow, write down the core of the lecture and go through some answers. That only has to take five minutes, possibly at the end of the lecture. 
    • activational questions: make sure that all students think when a question is asked. Always ask open-ended questions. Designate a fellow student when someone has given the answer and ask if s/he agrees. If necessary, have them write down the answers. Alternatively, first let the students 'buzz' in small groups before one of them presents the answer. 
  • Apply the following seminar tips:   
    • peer feedback: let students give peer feedback on each other's written assignments or oral presentations. Provide a rubric (e.g., the UGent writing guide), training in giving feedback and adequate guidance by yourself. This video (in Dutch) demonstrates how you or your students can use the Writing Guide concretely. Monitor the quality of feedback students give to each other. Students are usually unable to give quality feedback by themselves. Emphasise that students also learn from giving feedback, and not just from receiving it. 
    • collaborative writing: let students produce a written assignment in groups of two or more. This encourages them to think about the wording and find solutions to content and language-related problems collaboratively. This type of written assignments ensures that students learn to reflect on (own) tasks and develop their collaboration competencies. You can read more about it in the education tip ‘Group work: How to coach students?’. 

Language feedback 

  • In addition to substantive feedback, also provide feedback on language. Without feedback, the students do not know points they need to work on and will not develop their language. 
  • Give that language feedback during the process, especially formative feedback that examines where a student is in the process, so that students can take it on board and apply it to optimise their language task. 
  • You can read more about it in the education tip 'Feedback: (almost) everything you need to know'. 

How do you offer language support? 

An integral language policy geared to all students regardless of their background is only successful when there is room for language support, both curricular and extracurricular. 

How do you offer language support within the curriculum? 

Point students to language learning strategies. You do this by paying extra attention to: 

  • expansion of their vocabulary. Let them deduce new words from a context. Ask them to create a word file in which they keep a record of the new words within a context. 
  • feedforward. Make sure students apply the feedback on a previous language assignment to the assignments that follow. You can do that by completing a rubric, e.g. the UGent writing guide, and making them use it when they write a new assignment. This video demonstrates how you or your students can use the Writing Guide concretely. You can also apply this principle to email correspondence. The education tip 'Language skills of students: what can you expect?' elaborates on the requirements student emails should meet. 
  • provide interim steps for complex language assignments 
  • support structures in written assignments, which are tapered through the programme. For example, use templates: pre-structured written assignments that support inexperienced writers in drawing up business documents. Make agreements within the programme. You can also opt for a language skills learning path in which you gradually build up language assignments (both orally and written) throughout the curriculum. 
  • Integrate an info session 'academic writing' in your lectures. The first time(s) you can book the language policy staff for this. 

How do you offer language support outside the curriculum? 

Refer students to: 

  • www.ugent.be/taaladvies, a website that specifies academic language expectations for Dutch and English at the UGent. 
  • the general lecture series Academisch schrijven and Academic writing of the DOWA language policy staff. 
  • Taalonthaal, the academic writing centre of UGent and an initiative of DOWA language policy. It is a place where students can go and ask for individual feedback on their written assignment.  
  • the online exercise platform ALICE, where students can brush up on their academic vocabulary, improve their understanding of text structure and comprehension, and refresh their knowledge of Dutch spelling, grammar and language competency. 
  • the online Writing Support of the KULeuven colleagues. Students can upload their written assignments and receive feedback on style, structure, and language form. The UGent has purchased a licence for both Dutch and English. The login details are available on  https://www.ugent.be/student/nl/studeren/taaladvies/schrijfhulp.htm
  • UCT courses

Want to know more? 

Last modified Oct. 1, 2021, 11:38 a.m.