Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) – why do it?

You’re teaching a science class in English to Taiwanese young learners or Art to 5-year-old Spanish students in English.

Are you CLIL’ing? Are you just changing the language from the L1 (the students’ first language) into English (the L2, or the student’s second language)?

This isn’t CLIL.

So what is?

CLIL is teaching any L2 language through a subject.

CLIL focuses on activities/games/methodologies that are used in a TEFL environment, as well as the subject matters (art, history, science etc.), to make the subject matter compelling enough for the students to want to learn its underlying target language.

An example of a CLIL lesson can be seen here, where the students learn about blood and bodily systems. You can see from the beginning half of the video that students remember the different systems in the body and elements of the blood through TPR (Total Physical Response), after which they are given a demonstration of different elements in blood, that’d typically be seen in a science class, to show why blood is red (at 2:55). The fundamental difference between this lesson, which is CLIL based, and a normal lesson is that there’s a mixture of methodologies being used: soare is TEFL based (TPR for instance) and some are typical in a normal subject lesson (science experiments, projects etc.).

This makes CLIL very different from any other lessons. It is certainly unlike foreign language lessons of the past. As David Marsh (one of the creators of CLIL) said in a lecture here, foreign language lessons were often – teacher stands up and talks, students sit down and listen. In CLIL lessons, however, the students have to work together (as you can see in many CLIL lessons: here, here, here from 10:00, here), are often moving around the classroom, to produce something in the subject’s target language. Whereas language lessons of the past were student centered, CLIL is more focused on the students.

Why does CLIL work?

It all seems to be because CLIL facilitates in students the holy grail of language learning – ‘intrinsic motivation’.

A paper by Jaclyn Bernard highlights how Reminger (2009) found a learner’s interest in a subject deepened if everything in their learning environment (their “teachers, peers, texts, activities etc.) thrusted the learners to solve problems together or on their own (see here p.7-8). This seems to produce the ‘intrinsic motivation’ that students need in order to want to participate more and self-motivate them to persist when presented with difficult problems. The authors of this paper (p.2) too propose that eventually, and most importantly, intrinsically motivated students have better grades and are more productive adults in the workforce.

Google ‘intrinsic motivation and education’ to see the thousands of studies on its importance.

It relates to CLIL because CLIL firstly offers an interesting subject as a framework for students to learn an L2’s language structure. As Oxford University Press explain here, a CLIL lesson in Geography with a Spanish language aim, for example, helps students to retain the Spanish taught better because they are given something interesting to relate it to. Secondly, it works because students are offered to work in pairs, create dialogues and perform many other fun exercises – exercises that mightn’t have been done in the archaic ‘teacher stands up and talks students listen’ model. This newer, more interesting group work and project work seems to motivate learners from a multitude of age groups to engage in the lesson and learn (see here, here, here –although authors express caution, here, here).

And it’s easy to see why – that kid throwing paper and pens and talking in the L1 language may participate if the subject is something other than strictly ‘boring English’. If, for example, students are in a CLIL based chemistry lesson making a poster about Lithium/Francium/Caesium, and their different reactions with water, the naughty student’s fascination with science may compel them to concentrate. By teaching an L2 language through a subject then, students who are otherwise bored or disruptive of a strictly language lesson may be compelled to participate, which likely means they’ll take in the target language. It’s possible that this may be why countries that have adopted a CLIL like approach to language learning have seen an increase in their students’ language ability (see from 15:30).

You may be wondering too – where do adults come into this?

Although CLIL is generally used for younger learners, many adults want to learn English for their careers.  This video from 9:53 onwards shows CLIL being used in vocational colleges in Europe, to improve the students English for particular careers. For these students, using polite and proper English is the difference between being hired or sent packing. CLIL then offers the students hands-on, practical experience in dealing with work problems in their work’s language.

CLIL sounds great, how do I ensure it works?

Well, we’ll cover that in our next post.


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