Language System

  • An in-depth guide to three key aspects of language that should be covered in English B
  • Key Language Issues covers how to select the most useful and significant aspects of language
  • Detailed discussion of how to teach tricky, but important, grammar structures
  • Language of Instruction deals with the challenge of how to support students who are learning other subjects through the medium of English
  • Develops the notion of Transferable Academic Language (TAL) - high-level grammar and vocabulary which can be used in different subject areas
  • Language & TOK looks at how to integrate aspects of TOK in English B classes
  • A range of different ways to introduce students to how language and thought interact
  • In addition, two important online services are provided to support English B language teaching :-
  • The qBank - a data-base of question items so that you can design and produce exercises and drills for specific points of grammar - online or printed out.
  • Diagnostic Tests - a range of tests to assess the level of your students and identify weaknesses; in both online and printable formats

Studying language, language for study

By 'language system', I mean the fundamental, essential knowledge of how the English language works - grammar, vocabulary, register, phrasing, pronunciation, and so on. This primary knowledge of what the language is can be distinguished, for analysis and planning, from the neccessary practice in applying such knowledge in order to understand how the language can be used. In reality, of course, the what and the how are blended.

Students taking English B will usually be at a tricky stage in the development of their grasp of the language system. They will have some grasp of the basics - but will lack the range and sophistication necessary to have a real command of understanding and expression.

This makes the teacher's job complex. Which aspects of the language does one select to teach, given the inevitable restrictions of time?

Across the full range ...

This area of the site proposes three main areas to be explored :-

Key Language Elements 

Students following an English B course are not beginners in English - they should have at least some grounding in the basic structures of the language. However, that grounding is likely to be flawed and patchy at the weaker end of the ability range, so there is very likely to be remedial teaching to be done. Indeed, even students who handle the language fluently and with confidence may have strange errors in basics - bad habits acquired and never corrected. Beyond this remedial element, there must be a significant area in which students need language expansion, and much of this area of the site is devoted to indicating productive areas to explore.

Language of Instruction  

Teachers of English B are very often in a situation unique among teachers of other Languages B (the IB offers 26 Languages B, currently). Since English is the language of instruction in 88% of IB Diploma schools, most students of  English B have far more exposure to the target language than, say, a student of Russian B in a school in Colombia where Spanish is the language of instruction and so that student's exposure to Russian may be only the three hours per week in class. Continuous exposure to English through studying in that language is good in terms of the English B class, but it also means that students may need additional help in learning aspects of the language necessary for study. 

What the students really need is Transferable Academic Language (TAL) - resources of complex vocabulary and grammar, and the skills to use them appropriately to handle sophisticated concepts and arguments. To illustrate, degrees of certainty may be expressed through the use of modals ("may be true"), of modifiers ("true to some extent") and of framing devices ("it appears to be significant that...").

Language & TOK

English B courses are necessarily different from other English Language courses in that the Diploma programme specifically requires that students should be taught in some depth about the nature of language itself. This follows from the role of Theory of Knowledge (TOK) in the Diploma structure. The page Language & thought introduces specifically the topic of how language affects the practical process of thinking.


Tests, drills & exercises

Two important services are provided ...

The qBank

... a software system which enables you, quickly and easily, to compose grammar exercises and drills, targeted on specific language elements. A bank of over 1000 items is available to draw on, arranged by categories which are linked to pages in the main site.

Diagnostic tests  

... The diagnostic test is a very significant tool for the English B teacher, so as to be able to diagnose accurately each student's strengths and weaknesses, and thus target teaching to supply those needs.


Further language resources

Note that you can also refer to two other areas of the site which provide focus on the language system

  • Task Types which looks at the range of tasks that can be set for students to do - here the primary aim is the teaching of skilful thinking, and the teaching of language, as such, is secondary.
  • This distinction between grammar-focused and thinking-focused illustrates the distinction made between Target-based (grammar) and Target based (skills) in the section Design principles .


Selected Pages


Key Language Issues 2 August 2020

The English language is vast. To illustrate, here's Wikipedia on the Oxford English Dictionary :As of 30 November 2005,...


Diagnostic tests 10 July 2020

The diagnostic test is a very significant tool for the English B teacher. To be able to diagnose accurately each student's...


The qBank 20 July 2017

The qBank feature is a data-base of question items for exercising and drilling specific points of grammar. The software...


Student practical: pendulum 17 July 2017

What follows is a detailed analysis of problems in a student's write-up of a Physics practical. The analysis focuses only...

Genes & Culture 3 January 2018

LINK - 'Human Culture, an Evolutionary Force' Nicholas Wade, in The New York Times, 1 March 2010HANDOUT - CultureEvolution...

Language of Instruction 1 July 2016

Since English is the language of instruction in 88% of schools offering the Diploma programme (General Statistics, 2007),...

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