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Gymnasieelever i skolans kafé.
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Teaching in English seems to have no negative impact on students’ Swedish

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Upper secondary schools are increasingly offering teaching in English in several subjects. This has prompted a debate about the status of Swedish and raised fears that students’ productive Swedish will be compromised. However, a new thesis provides evidence to the contrary.

Many upper secondary schools offer programmes with teaching in a language other than Swedish. In most cases, such Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) uses English as the medium of instruction. The use of an­other language in the teaching of content subjects has become increasingly common since the decentralisation of schools in the 1990s and the emergence of independent schools, but it has also been the target of criticism. In a 2018 report, for example, the Swedish National Agency for Education declared that “teaching in English could pose a risk to the students’ development of Swedish and possibly also to their subject knowledge.”

There are, however, very few major Swedish studies into the impact that a different medium of instruction has on the Swedish writing skills of upper secondary school students. In her aim to bring new knowledge to this field, Elisabeth Ohlsson has analysed a total of 692 student texts written over time by students at three municipal upper secondary schools. The students at­tended different kinds of classes, both with Swedish as the main medium of instruction (non-CLIL) and classes with a varying degree of English as the medium of instruction (CLIL).

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Porträtt på Elisabeth Ohlsson.
Elisabeth Ohlsson.

“The results in my thesis show that teaching in English does not compromise the students’ productive Swedish” says Elisabeth Ohlsson.

All the students were enrolled in higher education preparatory programmes. The extent to which Swedish compulsory schools can use a different medium of instruction is regulated in law. There is, however, no such regulation gov­erning upper secondary schools in Sweden, in contrast to several other coun­tries.

Intervention study at one of the schools

A follow-up intervention study at one of the schools, involving both CLIL and non-CLIL students, was used to didactically test the different quantita­tive text studies in practice. The didactic tools used included lexical profiles, which visualise the occurrence and frequency of the words with colours, plus model texts. This method has not been used before in Swedish educational research. The results demonstrate significant differences in the follow-up test between the students who took part in the intervention and those who formed the control group. 

“These results can be seen as a methodological contribution to the field of writing instruction,” concludes Elisabeth Ohlsson.

Dissertation

Elisabeth Ohlsson is defending her thesis with the title The visualized vocabulary and the practice. Upper secondary school students' academic writing in Swedish on May 28.