Understanding language achievement of immigrants in schools: The role of multiple academic languages

Tamar Levin*, Elana Shohamy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In this paper we argue that immigrant students need to develop both their second language (Hebrew) and the specific language characterizing each subject area learned at school, its terminology, concepts, thinking patterns and world views. At the same time students are also expected to communicate complicated ideas in the second language. These are the issues that triggered our interest in exploring how these two factors interact. We further claim that learning a school subject has elements that are similar to learning a language since each subject area has a specific register and sets of discourses which are culturally bound. More specifically the learning of subject-specific knowledge like those involved in the study of physics, history, geography or mathematics, cannot happen without the communicative base, and without appropriate language knowledge which is essential for good learning. Academic language is thus a necessary component of competence in a well-defined subject area and has to be explicitly developed alongside with it. The aim of this chapter is to demonstrate that academic language, as used in schools, plays a major role in understanding and explaining the academic achievements of immigrants, in this case those coming to Israel from the former USSR and Ethiopia and in three school levels - elementary, junior high, and secondary school.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCurrent Issues in Bilingualism
Subtitle of host publicationCognitive and Socio-linguistic Perspectives
PublisherSpringer Netherlands
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9789400723276
ISBN (Print)9789400723269
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2012


  • Achievements
  • Hebrew
  • Immigrant students
  • Subject-specific knowledge


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