Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Title

International Journal of Science Education


Taylor and Francis


School of Education




Edith Cowan University - Open Access Support Scheme 2020


Williams, M., & Tang, K. S. (2020). The implications of the non-linguistic modes of meaning for language learners in science: a review. International Journal of Science Education, 42(7) 1041-1067.


In response to the globally escalating number of language learners tasked with learning science through a foreign language, this review seeks to bring new perspectives by reframing research findings, still dominated by historical language assumptions, through a contemporary language lens. We aim to unearth, amalgamate and expose the potentials of non-linguistic modes described by the theory of multiliteracies that appear sporadic and fragmentary within studies due to their linguistic focus, as we surmise they offer language learners alternative avenues for meaning-making. 40 peer-reviewed empirical studies published between 1995 and 2019 were systematically found and examined using theoretical thematic analysis to expand our understandings. We conjectured findings that appeared contingent upon non-linguistic modes but did not prominently feature in the reported results. In doing so, we used a multimodal and translanguaging lens from which three themes and educational implications emerged. The integration of non-linguistic modes in science: (1) aided language learners’ science discourse, provided they had access to multiple modes and agency over expression; (2) facilitated multicultural learning communities validating each learner as a sense maker; and (3) promoted authentic and equitable learning experiences. Other noteworthy findings, such as the influence of the tactile mode, are discussed. Recommendations to future researchers include adopting epistemologies of language fitting to our century and developing transdisciplinary approaches to research.



Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.