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CLER Conversation: The challenge of the primary-secondary school transition: The language of mathematics and science

research talks

CLER conversation with Prof Alice Deignan and Dr Duygu Candarli

"The transition from primary school to secondary school is known to be problematic for some students for a number of reasons: social, academic, and linguistic."

We researched the third of these issues, the linguistic challenge, using data gathered in the north of England. We worked with five secondary schools and eight primary schools to build corpora intended to represent the language encountered by students in Years 5-6 (age 9-11, the last two years of primary school), and in Years 7-8 (age 11-13, the first two years of secondary school), in academic contexts. We have developed a detailed description at the lexical, grammatical, and discourse levels of the spoken and written language of early secondary school, contrasted with late primary school and with language outside the school. Our corpus allows for comparisons at the broadest level between the two school phases, between separate year groups, and between individual subjects and registers at different levels. We have conducted a number of such studies and several more are still ongoing. In this talk, we will discuss how we worked with our partners in schools throughout the project, and describe our findings in two areas: mathematics and science, which present related but discipline-specific potential language challenges at the transition.


Alice Deignan is Professor of Applied Linguistics in the School of Education, University of Leeds. She is the author of Metaphor and Corpus Linguistics (Benjamins, 2005/2008), and co-author of Figurative Language, Genre and Register (CUP, 2013) and The Linguistic Challenge of the Transition to Secondary School: A Corpus Study of Academic Language (Routledge, 2023). She was PI of the projects Translating Science for Young People (AHRC) and The Linguistic Challenge of the Transition from Primary to Secondary School (ESRC), and is Co-I on Questioning Vaccination Discourse (Quo Vadis): A Corpus Study (ESRC).

Duygu Candarli (Ph.D.) is currently Lecturer in TESOL at the University of Southampton. She specialises in second language writing, writing assessment, corpus linguistics, and academic discourse. She has published in international journals such as Reading and Writing, Corpora, and Journal of English for Academic Purposes. She is the co-author of The Linguistic Challenge of the Transition to Secondary School: A Corpus Study of Academic Language (Routledge, 2023).


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