Using the discourse domain hypothesis of interlanguage to teach scientific concepts: Report on a case study in secondary education

Fernando Naiditch, Larry Selinker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This paper reports work-to-date on a particular practical context, applying one approach to interlanguage, the discourse domains approach, merged with the rhetorical-grammatical approach, involving both language and content. The context is an MA course for teacher residents placed in urban schools, and their English language learners (ELLs) in math and science classes, providing content area teachers the linguistic support they need to teach the language of their content, and thus the content itself. We were interested in how exactly learners' interlanguage creation interacts with their understanding of scientific concepts. We primarily look at the rhetorical function "definition," with discourse level semantic choices, and attendant grammar, with ELL data gathered by the teacher residents. Correct definitions in expected grammatical form point to an understanding of the scientific concept within the discourse domain, providing evidence that the science or mathematics content has been understood by the student. In our data analysis, we concentrated on the semantics and grammar of this rhetorical function, but other functions kept intruding, especially "classification". Cross-language transfer appears not to be a factor, but cross-domain transfer is. Finally, we discuss how the marriage of this view of interlanguage with safe rule rhetorical/grammatical functions can better support teacher preparation, especially given how challenging teaching ELLs is for content area teachers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)413-454
Number of pages42
JournalIRAL - International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2017



  • ELLs
  • discourse domains
  • interlanguage
  • language and content
  • teacher residency

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