Language-Related vs. Content-Related Talk in the Classroom

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the distinction made between language-related and content-related talk, especially in English and second-language classrooms.

Classroom Talk

If you've ever been in a classroom for any reason, whether you're a student or a teacher, you know that talk is a huge part of teaching. There are different ways to talk, such as in discussion groups, or in a lecture format. There are also different things to talk about. Of course there are different subject matters and topics and so on, but there is another level of distinction that needs to be made. This is the distinction between content-related talk and language-related talk in a classroom. Here, content talk is talk about what topic is being discussed, where language talk is more about how it is being talked about.

This distinction is especially important in language-related classrooms, whether they are English classrooms or second-language classrooms. In any language classroom setting, students will pick up some language aspects through content talk. However, they will really get the most benefit if there is a mix of content-related talk and language-related talk.

Content-Related Discussion

Content-related talk is what most people think of when they picture talk happening in a classroom. In science, math, or history classrooms, the majority (if not all) of the talk is content-related. It might be about a specific historical event, or the scientific process. In an English class, for example, the content might revolve around reading Huckleberry Finn and discussing Mark Twain as an author, or the setting and time period of the novel. Content discussion is an important aspect of any classroom.

Language-Related Talk

The language-related type of classroom discussion or lecture is most often seen in English or second-language classrooms. In both class types, at least part of the curriculum focus will be on how things are being said, rather than the specific idea behind the words. In English classrooms, this might only be a small portion of the class, but in second-language classrooms, it can actually make up a majority of the curriculum. This prevalence, and the fact that it is not as common a distinction in other subject areas, is why it is especially important to distinguish between content and language-related talk.

For an example of what language talk might look like, let's go back to Huckleberry Finn. If you were to discuss the specific words Mark Twain picked and why, this would be language-related talk. In a second-language classroom, you might talk specifically about adjectives or adjective placement. For example, talking about the fact that most Spanish adjectives come after the noun is language-related talk.

Drawing the Line

The main issue arises in language-related classrooms, where the distinction between content talk and language talk becomes much fuzzier. After all, in a second-language classroom, language is the content! So how do you draw a distinction? The answer is going to vary some between class types, but in general, if you are looking at the idea behind the words, it is closer to content-talk, whereas if you are looking at the words themselves, it is language-related.

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