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Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)

Watch this video on Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) by Dr Julia Huetner
JULIA HUTTNER: Hello. My name is Julia Huttner And in this video, I’m going to talk about CLIL, which is the abbreviation for Content and Language Integrated Learning. And very briefly, that’s an approach to language teaching where content which is non-language related content– so it might be history or geography– is taught through a foreign language for the students. So why would people like to use CLIL? Well, one of the reasons is that it’s a way of expanding meaning-based instruction. So we make use of the content of non-language classes. So you’ve got geography or business studies. And you can use their concepts and topics and meanings. And in that way, you really extend the objects of real communication.
It’s also, in a way, an extension of task-based language teaching and communicative language teaching. You’ve got one huge communicative task, which is learning the content of a different subject. And that can be used through the L2 gain authentic communication. Another issue is that we’ve got a situation where there are learner groups who are often seen as people who are not interested in learning languages. Because they might not like what’s typically taught in the foreign language classroom. And they might be more interested, for instance, in learning science through English. And politically, there’s also been the reason to say, Europe is multilingual. European Union is multilingual. And language teaching approaches had to be diversified to increase the language competence of EU citizens.
So to give you a slightly more precise definition of CLIL, which is difficult, because it’s an umbrella term for a variety of practises, I think the best one is the one suggested by Christiane Dalton-Puffer. And she says that CLIL is an educational approach with some curricular content is additionally taught through the medium of a foreign language, which is often also taught as a subject itself, typically to students participating in mainstream education at primary, secondary, or tertiary level. So within this umbrella term, which covers quite a lot, we’ve got some similarities. And the first important similarity is that typically, the L in CLIL, for language, is English. It’s the most popular language used. It’s the language that has the most support.
Another similarity is that the C for content tends to be primary. So if you look at the schedule of a school that uses CLIL, a CLIL history class will be scheduled as history. And it will be typically the history teacher teaching the assessment based on history. We’ve got quite a few differences as well. And those involve, importantly, the amount of instruction that is held in the target language. And that can range from very short periods to maybe just repetitions at the beginning or at the end of a lesson, to maybe having a subject completely taught in the target language. We’ve also got variety in terms of who teaches CLIL.
So rarely, but it does sometimes happen, we’ve got the English teacher teaching a CLIL subject, because they feel confident enough to teach history or geography or maths. You might have two teachers. So you’ll have the subject teacher accompanied by a language teacher working as a team. And most frequently, you have a subject teacher who feels confident enough to teach their subject through the foreign language. Further difference is the level. So we’ve got CLIL from primary or nursery level up until tertiary level of instruction. And finally, there are difference in terms of how voluntary the participation in CLIL is. But it’s not that there are no arguments against CLIL.
And some of them are that it seems to overemphasise the role of English. So it reduces, in a way, a student learning the discipline-specific elements of the first language. Some content teachers also worry that they can teach less of their content subjects if they’re using a foreign language. An important criticism, I think, is that possibly it’s not suited for all learners. So learners might not be motivated to learn mathematics at all. And they might become less motivated in learning it through a foreign language. And also, there seems to be some suggestion that you need to have a threshold of foreign language competence to benefit most of using CLIL.

Another popular approach in current language teaching practice is CLIL: Content and language integrated learning.

In this video, Julia Hüttner describes what CLIL is and outlines some of the reasons why the approach is increasingly popular. But what are the challenges and benefits of adopting this approach?

What experience do you have of teaching or learning through CLIL? Tell us about your experiences.
How far do you think it is a sensible approach for language learning?


Dalton-Puffer, C. (2011) Content-and-Language Integrated Learning: From practice to principles, Annual Review of Applied Linguistics 31, 182-204.

Hüttner, J. and Smit, U. (2014) CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning): The bigger picture. System 44, 160-167.

Hüttner, J., Dalton-Puffer, C. and Smit, U. (2013) The Power of Beliefs: Lay Theories and their Influence on the Implementation of CLIL Programmes. International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education 16(3), 267-284.

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