Steve Darn - ELT
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CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning


Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has become the umbrella term describing both learning another (content) subject such as physics or geography through the medium of a foreign language and learning a foreign language by studying a content-based subject. In ELT, forms of CLIL have previously been known as 'Content-based instruction', 'English across the curriculum' and 'Bilingual education'.

Why is CLIL important?

  • With the expansion of the European Union, diversity of language and the need for communication are seen as central issues.
  • Even with English as the main language, other languages are unlikely to disappear. Some countries have strong views regarding the use of other languages within their borders.
  • With increased contact between countries, there will be an increase in the need for communicative skills in a second or third language.
    Languages will play a key role in curricula across Europe. Attention needs to be given to the training of teachers and the development of frameworks and methods which will improve the quality of language education.
  • The European Commission as been looking into the state of bilingualism and language education sine the 1990s, and has a clear vision of a multilingual Europe in which people can function in two or three languages.

How does CLIL work?

The basis of CLIL is that content subjects are taught and learnt in a language which is not the mother tongue of the learners.

  • Knowledge of the language becomes the means of learning content
  • Language is integrated into the broad curriculum
  • Learning is improved through increased motivation and the study of natural language seen in context. When learners are interested in a topic they are motivated to acquire language to communicate
  • CLIL is based on language acquisition rather than enforced learning
    Language is seen in real-life situations in which students can acquire the language. This is natural language development which builds on other forms of learning
  • CLIL is long-term learning. Students become academically proficient in English after 5-7 years in a good bilingual programme
  • Fluency is more important than accuracy and errors are a natural part of language learning. Learners develop fluency in English by using English to communicate for a variety of purposes
  • Reading is the essential skill.

The advantages of CLIL

CLIL helps to:

  • Introduce the wider cultural context
  • Prepare for internationalisation
  • Access International Certification and enhance the school profile
  • Improve overall and specific language competence
  • Prepare for future studies and / or working life
  • Develop multilingual interests and attitudes
  • Diversify methods & forms of classroom teaching and learning
    Increase learner motivation.

CLIL in the classroom

CLIL assumes that subject teachers are able to exploit opportunities for language learning. The best and most common opportunities arise through reading texts. CLIL draws on the lexical approach, encouraging learners to notice language while reading. Here is a paragraph from a text on fashion:

The miniskirt is a skirt whose hemline is high above the knees (generally 200-300 mm above knee-level). Its existence is generally credited to the fashion designer Mary Quant, who was inspired by the Mini Cooper automobile, although André Courrèges is also often cited as its inventor, and there is disagreement as to who invented it first.

The language to be looked at in a passage like this falls into three categories: subject specific, academic and other lexis including fixed expressions and collocations:

Subject specific

Academic

Other language

miniskirt
hemline
knee-level
fashion designer

credited
designer
cited
invented

above the knee(s)
credited to
inspired by
cited as
disagreement as to

The treatment of this lexis has the following features:

  • Noticing of the language by the learners
  • Focus on lexis rather than grammar
  • Focus on language related to the subject. Level and grading are unimportant
  • Pre, while and post reading tasks are as appropriate in the subject context as in the language context.

The future of CLIL

There is no doubt that learning a language and learning through a language are concurrent processes, but implementing CLIL requires a rethink of the traditional concepts of the language classroom and the language teacher. The immediate obstacles seem to be:

  • Opposition to language teaching by subject teachers may come from language teachers themselves. Subject teachers may be unwilling to take on the responsibility.
  • Most current CLIL programmes are experimental. There are few sound research-based empirical studies, while CLIL-type bilingual programmes are mainly seen to be marketable products in the private sector.
  • CLIL is based on language acquisition, but in monolingual situations, a good deal of conscious learning is involved, demanding skills from the subject teacher.
  • The lack of CLIL teacher-training programmes suggest that the majority of teachers working on bilingual programmes may be ill-equipped to do the job adequately.
  • There is little evidence to suggest that understanding of content is not reduced by lack of language competence. Current opinion seems to be that language ability can only be increased by content-based learning after a certain stage.
  • Some aspects of CLIL are unnatural; such as the appreciation of the literature and culture of the learner's own country through a second language.

Until CLIL training for teachers and materials issues are resolved, the immediate future remains with parallel rather than integrated content and language learning. However, the need for language teaching reform in the face of Europeanisation may make CLIL a common feature of many European education systems in the future.

Where is CLIL happening?

CLIL has precedents in immersion programmes (North America) and education through a minority or a national language (Spain, Wales, France), and many variations on education through a "foreign" language. Euro-funded projects show that CLIL or similar systems are being applied in some countries, but are not part of teacher training programmes. There has been an increase in the number of schools offering 'alternative' bilingual curricula, and some research into training and methodology. Several major European organisations specialising in CLIL projects have emerged, including UNICOM, EuroCLIC and TIE-CLIL (see web references for details).

In the UK the incentive comes from the Content and Language Integration Project (CLIP) hosted by CILT, (the National Centre for Languages) which is the UK government's centre of expertise on languages. CILT monitors a number of projects covering the 7-16 age range and involving innovations in language teaching such as the integration of French into the primary curriculum. Other research is based at University of Nottingham, while teacher training and development courses in CLIL are available through NILE (the Norwich Institute for Language Education).

Further reading

CLIL Compendium www.clilcompendium.com
European Commission - Languages http://ec.europa.eu/education/policies/lang/languages
/index_en.html

EuroCLIC www.euroclic.net
Translanguage in Europe www.tieclil.org
Centre for Information on Language, Teaching and Research www.cilt.org.uk
Forum for Across the Curriculum Teaching www.factworld.info
There has also been an ongoing debate about CLIL in the press: http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2005/apr/20/
guardianweekly.guardianweekly13

This article first published 20 January 2006 http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/
articles/content-language-integrated-learning

Reprinted March 2008
http://www.nuanskitabevi.com