Opacity, density, otherness, challenge and relevance —
Chemistry in Foreign Language teaching and learning
There exist stereotyped views as to what features characterise LSP-texts, leading to a type of "quick-fix" approach to LSP-teaching. While such approaches may have their merits in certain circumstances, a slight shift towards taking a closer look at the much neglected verb in LSP is sufficient to open a wider field of possibilities, and to give a deeper insight into the workings of Specialised Language. This requires some effort but rewards both teacher and learner with more varied and challenging activities, better understanding, and more fun.
Some of the exemplary features of LSP (Science) to be looked at in relation to teaching and learning include grammatical forms, lexical items, and discursive features:
The passive voice is the most common of the impersonal verb forms used in LSP. However, is "impersonal" the right word for a form that frequently deals with non-personal entities? Is “shift of focus” from the agent of an action to the process the right explanation, when in many cases there is no discernible agent? In terms of practical exercises for learners of LSP as a second language, the usual transformation exercises are of little help or may even be counter-productive.
If "the synonym is the arch enemy of technical language", as LSPs strive to fulfil the one concept-one word rule, how do we explain the high occurrence of synonyms in LSP-texts? And how is it to be explained that there are considerable cultural differences in the number and type of synonyms used in many specialised areas? As a consequence: how is vocabulary to be taught?
Definitions appear to be one of the characteristic features of LSP, at least if one believes the different textbooks for LSP in a second language. However, definitions very often do not explain the unknown by the known, which is a difficulty in an environment where science and the language of science are taught and learnt in parallel.