Language Matters: How Focusing on Linguistics Promotes STEM Literacy

Differentiating between STEM subjects and STEM education

Andrew B. Raupp
4 min readApr 2, 2023
Image: Shutterstock ID# 1285858291 / Language Illustration

Written by: Andrew B. Raupp / @stemceo

The term “STEM” frequently appears in discussions related to education, given that science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are now essential elements of contemporary curricula. However, the distinction between STEM subjects and STEM education is often blurred, leading to confusion and misconceptions about the goals and benefits of STEM education. As the world grows increasingly interconnected and technology-dependent, it is crucial to recognize the importance of linguistics in promoting STEM literacy and clarifying misunderstandings.

Linguistics: Bridging the Gap

Linguistics, the scientific study of language and its structure, serves as a bridge between STEM subjects and STEM education. Linguistics plays a pivotal role in enhancing our understanding of how we communicate and comprehend complex scientific and technological concepts. In other words, it helps us dissect and analyze the language of STEM, making it more accessible to a broader audience.

By examining the way we discuss STEM subjects, linguistics can help us address misconceptions and promote STEM literacy more effectively. For instance, STEM subjects often involve highly technical jargon, which can be intimidating and confusing for those not well-versed in the respective fields. Linguistics can help educators and communicators refine their language to convey complex ideas in a more digestible and inclusive manner.

Defining STEM Subjects and STEM Education

To appreciate the significance of linguistics in promoting STEM literacy, it is vital to understand the difference between STEM subjects and STEM education.

“STEM subjects refer to the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These are the specific fields of study that form the foundation of modern technological advancements and scientific discoveries. Examples include physics, computer science, civil engineering, and statistics.”

On the other hand, STEM education encompasses a broader scope, focusing on the development of skills and competencies that enable students to thrive in STEM-related fields.

“It includes both pedagogical and andragogical activities across all developmental levels — from pre-school to post-doctorate — in both formal and informal settings, which has grown into an international movement to promote peace and human progress.”

STEM education is an interdisciplinary approach that encourages critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration. STEM education is not solely about mastering the content of each STEM subject; it also involves learning how to apply these subjects in real-world scenarios and fostering a growth mindset that embraces challenges and adaptability.

The Role of Linguistics in Clarifying Misconceptions

Misconceptions often arise when people confuse the mastery of STEM subjects with the development of skills through STEM education. These misconceptions can lead to underestimation of the importance of STEM education or an overemphasis on subject-specific knowledge without considering the broader skillset required to succeed in STEM fields.

Linguistics plays a vital role in addressing these misconceptions by examining the language used in STEM communication and education. By analyzing the terminology, metaphors, and analogies commonly used in STEM discourse, linguistics can help identify areas of confusion and develop more effective strategies for promoting STEM literacy.

For example, a linguistic analysis of the way we discuss scientific concepts can reveal common misunderstandings and provide insights into how to communicate these ideas more clearly. By examining the language used in textbooks, lesson plans, and popular media, linguists can suggest improvements that make complex ideas more accessible and engaging for a wider audience.

Promoting STEM Literacy Through Linguistics

Linguistics can promote STEM literacy in several ways:

  1. Simplifying technical language: Linguistics can help educators and communicators identify and break down complex jargon, making it more understandable for students and the general public. This process not only helps clarify misconceptions but also encourages engagement and curiosity in STEM subjects.
  2. Developing clear and concise explanations: Linguists can work with STEM educators and communicators to craft explanations that are both accurate and easy to comprehend. By employing analogies, metaphors, and simplified language, complex concepts can be made more accessible to students and the public, fostering a deeper understanding of STEM subjects and their applications.
  3. Enhancing cultural and linguistic inclusivity: Linguistics can also help identify cultural and linguistic barriers that may hinder the accessibility and understanding of STEM subjects. By addressing these barriers, STEM education can become more inclusive, allowing a diverse range of students to participate and excel in these fields.
  4. Encouraging interdisciplinary collaboration: Linguistics can foster interdisciplinary collaboration between STEM educators, communicators, and linguists. This collaboration can lead to the development of innovative teaching methods, materials, and communication strategies that promote STEM literacy and understanding across various disciplines.
  5. Supporting language acquisition in STEM: Linguistics can assist non-native English speakers in navigating the complex language of STEM subjects. By providing resources and support to develop language proficiency in the context of STEM, linguistics can ensure that these students can fully engage with and excel in STEM education.

Final Thoughts

The importance of linguistics in promoting STEM literacy cannot be understated. By addressing misconceptions and differentiating between STEM subjects and STEM education, linguistics plays a crucial role in making STEM more accessible and engaging for a diverse range of students. By breaking down complex jargon, promoting clear explanations, and fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, linguistics can help bridge the gap between STEM subjects and STEM education, ensuring that students are well-equipped to succeed in a technology-driven world.

As we move forward in the 21st century, it is essential to recognize and embrace the role of linguistics in “STEM” by always adding a word or description when discussing it. By doing so, we can not only clarify misconceptions and promote STEM literacy but also ensure that our educational systems are more inclusive, adaptable, and capable of preparing students for the rapidly evolving challenges of the modern world.

Andrew B. Raupp is the Founder / Executive Director @stemdotorg. “Democratizing science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through sound policy & practice…”



Andrew B. Raupp

Founder Educational Research | @Newsweek | International Federation of Journalists #IFJ | Top Writer STEM Education