With respect to vocabulary, the research suggests very strongly, de Villiers said, that for the direct teaching of vocabulary to be fruitful, the vocabulary would need to be introduced in the context of varied content, ideally content made interesting to the student, content that is linked to what the student already knows, and so forth. The challenge lies in figuring out how to arrange these learning conditions. Lynne Vernon-Feagans added that a theme of the workshop was that vocabulary instruction is likely to be more effective if, in developing instructional approaches, it is conceptualized as part of a larger system of oral and written language.
Regarding syntax and morphology, several questions had been raised, de Villiers said, among them just how automatic learning empty morphology—such as third persons or gendered articles—really is. There may be a critical period for learning some aspects of grammar or a sensitive period after which more repetition or explicit instruction is required. It is not yet clear which grammatical features help or hinder learning in school, but with such knowledge it might be possible to design children’s books and software to present essential linguistic contrasts for learning language in the context of content learning. Linguist specialists might help with developing these materials after they are confident about how to sequence contrasts appropriately, given the language level of children at different points in development and for different dialect and language speakers. Several participants, Labov concurred, seemed to suggest that linguistic contrastive analysis may be an acceptable and feasible instructional approach to study in the future.
Much more needs to be known, according to de Villiers, about whether “academic language” is necessary for schooling. Should language used for academic learning become simplified, more like verbal discourse, with dense nominalizations unpacked? It is worth considering that there may be limits to the feasibility of eliminating certain linguistic structures typical of academic language because the structures may be needed to express and even formulate certain concepts that are part of learning and thinking about academic subjects. It is not known whether academic content can be effectively taught and expressed in a vernacular that is familiar to children from their nonacademic experiences. Research may show that some linguistic structures associated with academic learning actually help children think in new ways. Yet developing children’s language generally is known to be important for school, she said, and in this respect parents’ competence in the home language is one strength to build on to maximize children’s opportunities to develop language. Thus, children would likely benefit if parents were encouraged to “reveal their maximum linguistic competence” to children. Intervening as early as possible with parents and high-quality early education programs was a related theme of the