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Comptes rendus d'ouvrage

J.-C. Beacco, M. Fleming, F. Goullier, E. Thürmann, H. Vollmer, with contributions by J. Sheils. The Language Dimension in all Subjects – a Handbook for curriculum development and teacher training

2016, Council of Europe. ISBN: 978-92-871-8232-6
Silvia Minardi
p. 103-107

The Language Dimension in all Subjects – a Handbook for curriculum development and teacher training, 2016, Council of Europe. ISBN: 978-92-871-8232-6


1The Language Dimension in all Subjects was written by a group of experts belonging to the Language Policy Unit of the Council of Europe. Published in 2016 it was initially available in English and French. Translations into other languages have begun. This important text immediately reveals its practical side or, at least, the concrete purpose its authors had in mind, as it came out as “a handbook for curriculum development and teacher training”.

2It was intended to enhance and accompany the implementation of the principles and measures set out in the Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)51 of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on “the importance of competences in the language(s) of schooling for equity and quality in education and for educational success”. According to the Recommendation, language and, in particular the language of schooling, is what allows everyone to have full access to knowledge by developing subject-specific literacies. The language is not to be seen as a separate school subject or as a tool useful to communicate in everyday situations. Language belongs to all the subjects across the curriculum. Learning a subject implies learning the language of the subject. One of the key principles the Handbook is based on is that language is not an addition to content. Language is a part of the content and thus of the knowledge itself. For this reason, language education should be made part of every subject. This announces and requires a whole-school, cross-curricular perspective.

3In the Handbook, different levels of action are referred to, the most evident being, on one side, the importance of language work and language training in all non-linguistic subjects, and, on the other, the need for a comprehensive model of language education as the basis of a whole-school language policy. In a comprehensive model of language education there must be enough space for all languages as subjects (mother tongue education, foreign language education, second (or third) language education) as well as for the language dimension in all subjects. At school we should all be working with and building on specific academic language abilities in and through different subjects, as learning school subjects necessarily implies using the language, even the language a pupil was born into, in new ways.

4The Handbook means to demonstrate that subject learning involves thinking, communicating and collaboration. All this takes place through appropriate language competences. As stated in the Introduction, the Handbook adopts an extremely practical orientation but is not to be read as a “manual”, as “it is not intended as a how to book with a list of prescribed activities” (p.7).

5The ideal target group for the Handbook are all those between teachers and political stakeholders such as teacher trainers, those in charge of curriculum development and the development of pedagogical materials. An element which is evident throughout the Handbook is the explicit attention given to subject-teachers: in an effort to make them aware of the challenges presented by the language dimension of the subject they teach, the Handbook adopts an extremely down-to-earth approach especially when some of the most complex aspects of the theme are tackled.

6With the subject-teacher in mind, an important contribution of the Handbook is to agree on a common terminology, with a clear distinction made between the “language(s) of schooling” and the “academic language”, the former being “the dominant (sometimes only) national or minority/regional language used in the classroom for teaching” (p.11) and the latter referring to “a type of language use that is more specialised and formal, needed for thinking, for forming and comparing ideas” (ibidem). The academic language has been broken down into other distinctions so as not to reduce “academic language” to terminology. An important category the Handbook tries to clarify is that of “genre”. The most evident contribution to sensitising subject-teachers to the language dimension of subject teaching is the presentation of the language not as a system but as “discourse”. It is especially in Chapter 1 that the reader can explore new meanings for old or traditional concepts, as well as understand how the language can be a key-factor in insuring equal opportunities to all.

7Chapter 2, on the “role of language in the construction and application of knowledge”, offers numerous examples to the reader who wants to explore the relationship between language and cognition: language performs functions which are cognitive and linguistic at the same time. The notion of “cognitive discourse functions” and their role especially, in curriculum design, is the core of the chapter. Before the “implications for practice” section in the last part of the chapter, the authors make it clear how “subject literacies” should be enhanced and used to promote deep thinking and effective subject-learning.

8Learning takes place in concrete situations, i.e. “knowledge is acquired in the classroom” (p. 29) where all practices and activities have a verbal component. If we want to use the language dimension of subject-teaching in formal education contexts, it is essential to know the different forms of verbal communication in the classroom. Classroom communication takes on different genres and Chapter 3 is dedicated to a description of eight different types of verbal communication used in class, examined from a language perspective. They may all be very well known to teachers but, when analysed from a language-as-a-discourse perspective, they acquire different meanings and show the different roles they can play in terms of subject-learning.

9Chapter 4 is about “acquiring a command of academic expression”: this is one of the shortest chapters of the Handbook but for the kind of practical insights it gives on “scaffolding” it is probably one of the most important for subject-teachers. First, it shows what scaffolding is and how it works in helping to build academic language competences. At the same time, the chapter follows a step-by-step approach to show how to build “bridges” between orality and literacy and between everyday and academic language.

10Chapter 5 starts with two informative paragraphs which are helpful to remind the reader we are all plurilingual learners in multilingual contexts and of the many factors which contribute to strengthen the so-called “achievement gap”. Different programmes and solutions are described with a special emphasis on content-based language learning and immersion programmes.

11Primary education represents in all school systems a special area of work when it comes to language and languaging. The Handbook dedicates Chapter 6 to “building up a command of the language of schooling during primary education” with a list of strategies which are considered appropriate for that level of schooling. These include stories and the use of verbalisation with the aim to encourage exchanges among children.

12Before moving on to subject-classrooms and teaching, the Handbook dedicates Chapter 7 to “language as a subject” which is no longer to be seen as a “service subject”. One of the most important aspects of language as a subject is the integration of the different language dimensions at all levels of education. The chapter insists on the need for a school language policy as a tool for sharing approaches across the curriculum.

13The next two chapters (8-9) are both focused on the language requirements specific to subject learning. The aim of the two chapters is enhancing language-sensitive content teaching by giving specific examples for mathematics, sciences and social sciences (Chapter 8), with a presentation of different approaches to writing, reading, speaking and listening (Chapter 9) in different subjects.

14Curriculum development is the focus of Chapter 10, which emphasises the need for specific, transparent goals for subject-based language learning. The chapter contains examples of different approaches and implementation both at micro - “subject approach to curriculum design” - and macro levels.

15Chapters 11 and 12 are dedicated to teacher training. Claiming that “changes in policy documents and curriculum instruments are not enough”, Chapter 11 concentrates on three strategies which can be useful in the implementation process: integrating the language dimension into continuous professional development for all teachers; establishing a support system for change-ready schools; and encouraging schools and their staff to evaluate and further develop a language-sensitive culture of content teaching and learning. Chapter 12 examines ways to evaluate the curriculum and learning outcomes and provides criteria for assessment.

16The Handbook also has three appendices: the full text of the Recommendation CM/Rec(2014)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the importance of competences in language(s) of schooling for equity and quality in education and for educational success; references for further reading and a checklist called “language-sensitive teaching of the so-called non-language subjects”. The checklist is particularly interesting as it was specially designed for subject-teachers who want to reflect on the way they include the language dimension in their practices and routines. It provides a list of statements related to six different aspects of classroom language use and can guide subject-teachers in a self-reflection process to better develop lessons and materials which do develop language dimension objectives.

17The Handbook is a precious and important tool as it provides an organic and complete view of what assuming a language dimension in subject teaching means at different levels (meso, micro, macro). However, not all the aspects and implications of such a choice have been dealt with in the same way and in the same depth. For instance, the role of assessment seems to be analyzed in an extremely general way if we compare Chapter 12 to other parts of the Handbook. The text generally provides a useful way to see what a language-sensitive curriculum implies and especially what is requested of a subject-teacher to create lessons and materials intended to develop language objectives. The Handbook is very specific in giving indications for teacher training programmes and initiatives, whereas the curriculum development dimension probably needs more reflection and broader analyses.

18The Handbook, which the Council of Europe website presents as a policy and working document, can be considered a fundamental text - a must-read - for all those involved in improving the quality of education in different contexts.





Silvia Minardi, J.-C. Beacco, M. Fleming, F. Goullier, E. Thürmann, H. Vollmer, with contributions by J. Sheils. The Language Dimension in all Subjects – a Handbook for curriculum development and teacher trainingÉducation et sociétés plurilingues, 45 | 2018, 103-107.


Silvia Minardi, J.-C. Beacco, M. Fleming, F. Goullier, E. Thürmann, H. Vollmer, with contributions by J. Sheils. The Language Dimension in all Subjects – a Handbook for curriculum development and teacher trainingÉducation et sociétés plurilingues [Online], 45 | 2018, Online erschienen am: 01 Dezember 2020, besucht am 05 März 2021. URL:; DOI:



Silvia Minardi

LEND (“Lingua e Nueva Didattica”)

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