A Summary of Guide 2018

This page provides a very concise summary of the key elements of the 2018 Subject Guide. This is basically a check-list in note form, in order to give an overview - it is essential to read the Subject Guide in detail in order to become familiar with what is involved under each of the items listed.

Overall language acquisition aims

The following aims should guide the teaching of a Language B course (and also apply to language ab initio). To quote from the Subject Guide:-

  1. "Develop international-mindedness through the study of languages, cultures, and ideas and issues of global significance.
  2. Enable students to communicate in the language they have studied in a range of contexts and for a variety of purposes.
  3. Encourage, through the study of texts and through social interaction, an awareness and appreciation of a variety of perspectives of people from diverse cultures.
  4. Develop students’ understanding of the relationship between the languages and cultures with which they are familiar.
  5. Develop students’ awareness of the importance of language in relation to other areas of knowledge.
  6. Provide students, through language learning and the process of inquiry, with opportunities for intellectual engagement and the development of critical- and creative-thinking skills.
  7. Provide students with a basis for further study, work and leisure through the use of an additional language.
  8. Foster curiosity, creativity and a lifelong enjoyment of language learning."

Syllabus design overview

The introductory diagram organises essential ingredients into three general areas, which can be described as:-

Communication : Receptive skills, productive skills, interactive skills

Content/material : Themes, Texts, Conceptual understandings, Language

Overall education: Links to TOK; ATL skills; international mindedness


The five prescribed themes are:

  • identities
  • experiences
  • human ingenuity
  • social organization
  • sharing the planet

LINK : see the whole section Themes 


The Subject Guide organises text types to be studied, both through reading and writing, into three broad categories:

  • personal
  • professional
  • mass media

LINK : see the whole section Text types, explored 


At HL, two literary texts must be studied - these will form the basis of the individual oral assessment at HL. (There is nothing to exclude teaching through literature at SL, but such study is not assessed.)

LINK : see the page Literature 

Conceptual understandings

Five fundamental concepts of language are to be studied:-

  • audience
  • context
  • purpose
  • meaning
  • variations

LINK : see the whole section Conceptual understandings 

Assessment structure

Important: Paper 2 in exam sessions N20, M21 & N21...

The Listening Comprehension component has been removed from Paper 2 for the three exam sessions stated above. Accordingly, Paper 2 will consist of Reading Comprehension only.

This is because the IB is concerned that the problems created by COVID19 will (i) make it hard for schools to provide appropriate training in class for listening comprehension, and (ii) cause difficulties in organising correct examination conditions.

The IB plans to re-introduce the Listening Comprehension component from M22 onwards, and so Paper 2 will return to the structure described below.

Writing paper (Paper 1 / Assessment 1)

SL - 1 hr 15 min (for 250-400 words)

HL - 1 hr 30 min (for 450-600 words)

(At both levels, one task from a choice of three options.)

NOTE: There is now no word-count penalty, either for under-writing or for over-writing

LINK : see  Writing criteria, unpacked for further details

Listening & Reading paper (Paper 2 / Assessment 2)

    LINK : see the sections   Paper 2 Listening and  Paper 2 Reading  for further details

    SL - Listening: 45 min + Reading: 1 hr

    HL - Listening: 1 hr + Reading: 1hr

    ** At both levels, there will be 3 listening texts and 3 reading texts - but at HL, the listening texts will longer and the reading texts more challenging. The specifications for the length of the listening texts are as follows:-

    SL - Text A = up to 2 min ... Text B = up to 3 min ... Text C = up to 4 min

    HL - Text A = up to 3 min ... Text B = up to 4 min ... Text C = up to 5 min

      LINK : see the section Listening question types, which includes Listening exam #1 and various samples

      Listening comprehension: Important information - a comprehensive guide / set of instructions about the Listening element of Paper 2 was published in August 2019. It can be found by following these directions:

      Programme Resource Centre > Diploma programme > Language Acquisition: Language B (first assessment 2020) > Assessment/General material > ‘Language acquisition listening comprehension examinations user guide’

      Oral internal assessment

      SL & HL - Individual Interview of 12-15 minutes

      ... based on preparation period of (HL) 20 minutes ; or (SL) 15 minutes 

      LINK : see the section Orals: what's expected? - which includes Oral IA Criteria, unpacked , and a number of marked sample oral interviews

      Assessment criteria

      An effort has been made to simplify and standardise the terms used for the Criteria. In a simple table -

      Paper 1 – writing

      Oral IA – SL

      Oral IA – HL
      Criterion ALanguageLanguageLanguage
      Criterion BMessageB1 Message: Visual stimulus
      B2 Message: Conversation
      B1 Message: Literary extract
      B2 Message: Conversation
      Criterion CConceptual AwarenessCommunicationCommunication



      Guiding principles

      In order to understand the underlying structure of the Subject Guide, it is worth considering the following list from the Review Report May 2017, which summarises the agreed parameters within which the Review was working. I have taken the liberty of dividing them into 'checklist' (mandatory instructions) and 'wishlist' (strong recommendations) ... and have added some personal comments where useful.

      Checklist elements

      • The maximum number of assessment components for SL will be three and the maximum number of assessment components for HL will be four. 

      The final version of the Subject Guide has three components for each level. I'm not sure what might have been envisaged for the fourth component at HL, unless Listening and Reading in Paper 2 are seen as two components? But then that applies to SL as well...

      • No unmoderated work may be counted for final grades.

      This ruling resulted in the end of the Interactive Oral Activity. A pity, perhaps, but it was unmoderatable (how could an external examiner follow who was speaking in an audio recording?) - and being unmoderated meant that there were often suspicions about the, er... generosity of certain marks for the Interactive

      Wishlist elements

      • The uniqueness of each syllabus needs to be proactively highlighted.

      From the context, it appears that 'syllabus' here refers to the overall programmes of Language B HL, Language B SL and Ab Initio (Although... 'syllabus' might also be taken to refer to the individual course programmes developed in each school ... perhaps? Unlikely - how could anyone check on how 'unique' any school's course programme was ?)

      • Syllabuses need to be developed to promote conceptual understanding.

      This has been achieved - see under 'Syllabus content', the section 'Conceptual understanding' (pp.21-22)

      • Consistent themes need to be established across all three syllabuses.

      This has been achieved - see under 'Syllabus content', the section 'Themes' (pp.17-18)

      • International-mindedness needs to be actively incorporated into all language acquisition syllabuses.

      This occurs in the section 'Nature of the subject' as 'Language acquisition and international mindedness' (pp.10-11) - as a statement of intent, but with little in the way of specific instructions

      • A greater profile should be developed for the DP Core in all language acquisition syllabuses.

      The DP Core is specifically covered in the chapter on 'Nature of the subject' (pp.8-10) - although how these general statements may be directly applied to individual school courses is up to the teacher

      • The current model needs to be reviewed to ensure it complies with the IB’s diploma assessment policy.

      I'm not sure what this involves - but presumably this has been done, since we now have a live Subject Guide!

      • Assessment objectives should be consistent across all three syllabuses and clearly reflect the aims of the syllabuses.

      See the general statement and illustrations under 'Assessment objectives' (pp.14-15) - which certainly cover both SL and HL in Language B

      • Assessment of language acquisition courses will be offered onscreen and off-screen ...

      Ah... well, in principle, yes, perhaps - but in section 8 of the Report, which expands on this statement, the actual wording is very 'wishlist'. At the time of writing this (Feb.2018), I hear rumours that the project of doing IB exams online may be delayed due to technical problems - but I truly know nothing definite...


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