Clil in and outside the classroom

The current processes of globalization have made CLIL a timely solution for governments concerned with developing the linguistic proficiency of their citizens as a prerequisite for economic success. CLIL offers a budgetary efficient way of promoting multilingualism without cramming existing curricula. With its emphasis on the convergence of curriculum areas and transferable skills, CLIL also appears to serve well the demands of the Knowledge Economy for increased innovation capacity and creativity. Finally, its potential for intercultural understanding addresses issues of social cohesion [3; p. 59].

Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) was originally defined as a pedagogical approach with a dual focus, involving the integration of (second / foreign / target) language study with the study of a subject domain instructed in that language. However, there are many other definitions and terms, with over 40 in use in Europe alone, all referring to some kind of an approach where both content learning and language learning are being promoted.

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 [6].

According to Steve Darn, for example, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an umbrella term covering dualfocus contexts in which an additional language is used as a medium in the teaching and learning of nonlanguage content. There are elements of a host of contexts, primarily variations of the themes of Language Across the Curriculum, Bilingual Education and ContentBased Instruction which fall under this umbrella. However, the essence of CLIL is that it is about teaching and learning content, and that language is the key to a fuller understanding of the subject matter [2].

CLIL is fundamentally based on methodological principles established by research on "language immersion". This kind of approach has been identified as very important by the European Commission [4] because: "It can provide effective opportunities for pupils to use their new language skills now, rather than learn them now for use later. It opens doors on languages for a broader range of learners, nurturing self-confidence in young learners and those who have not responded well to formal language instruction in general education. It provides exposure to the language without requiring extra time in the curriculum, which can be of particular interest in vocational settings." The European Commission has therefore decided to promote the training of teachers to "..enhancing the language competences in general, in order to promote the teaching of non-linguistic subjects in foreign languages" [5].

Nevertheless, because CLIL has become a relatively established term in European primary and secondary education, and also suggested for higher education (HE), the term can be used as an umbrella term for all those HE approaches in which some form of specific and academic language support is offered to students in order to facilitate their learning of the content through that language. These approaches vary on a continuum of discipline specific and pre content support to full integration of language and content [7].

Although the first “L” in CLIL is meant to stand for any language, it would be an extreme case of denial to claim that this is also the case in reality. CLIL languages tend to be recruited from a small group of prestigious languages, and outside the English-speaking countries, the prevalence of English as CLIL medium is overwhelming. Therefore, most of the time, CLIL effectively means CEIL, or content-and-English integrated learning [1].

A CLIL lesson is not a language lesson or simply a subject lesson delivered in a foreign language. Neither is a CLIL lesson necessarily delivered by a language teacher or a subject specialist. To this extent, CLIL diverges from standard content-based instruction and ESL formats. CLIL lessons are subject lessons taught by teachers who are trained not only in the subject area, but also in how to exploit content-based materials for language. That language may be subject-specific, subject-related or necessary for the learner not only to comprehend, but also to produce written or spoken discourse having a similar content base.

CLIL lessons exhibit other important characteristics, either derived from underlying principles or dictated by the practicalities of the dual focus teaching context:

  1. In principle, CLIL adheres to the ‘4Cs’ curriculum. CLIL lessons therefore contain elements of content, communication, culture and cognition. While based on content, the CLIL curriculum recognizes broader educational needs such as the development of thinking skills and self-awareness, and exposure to alternative cultural perspectives. CLIL is committed to breadth of education, longterm learning and internationalization.
  2. In using language to learn while learning to use language, it is the subject matter which determines the language to be learnt. There is no language syllabus, and language within a text is not graded. Naturally, more content is learned as language competence increases.

Language is seen as a means to the end of learning content, and language is integrated into the broad curriculum.

CLIL lessons incorporate all four language skills, but are often based on reading texts as the major source of input. Language learning in the CLIL context bears similarities to current ELT practice in that lessons tend to be of the integrated skills type, language is approached lexically rather than grammatically and language is noticed and explored rather than taught.

Errors are seen as part of a natural progression, and functional language is of a high priority.

Learner styles are taken into account in task types. Language learning in CLIL, therefore, is not far removed from the humanistic, communicative and lexical approaches commonly seen in ELT.

While there is no such thing as a ‘CLIL lesson’, the following four-stage format is often followed in order to provide a balance of content and language:

  1. Processing the text. When working in a foreign language, learners need structural markers in texts to help them find their way through the content. These markers may be linguistic (headings, sub -headings) and/or diagrammatic. Once a 'core knowledge' has been identified, the organization of the text can be analyzed.
  2. Identification and organization of knowledge. Texts are often represented diagrammatically. These structures are known as ‘ideational frameworks’ or ‘diagrams of thinking’, and are used to help learners categorize the ideas and information in a text. Diagram types include tree diagrams for classification, groups, hierarchies, flow diagrams and timelines for sequenced thinking such as instructions and historical information, tabular diagrams describing people and places, and combinations of these. The structure of the text is used to facilitate learning, the creation of activities which focus on both language development and core content knowledge, and to provide a basis for further analysis of the text and note taking.
  3. Language identification. Although there is no grading of language, it is a good idea for the teacher to highlight useful language in the text and to categorize it according to function. Learners may need the language of comparison and contrast, location or describing a process, but may also need certain discourse markers, adverb phrases or prepositional phrases. Collocations, semifixed expressions and set phrases may also be given attention as well as subject specific and academic vocabulary.
  4. Tasks for learners. A variety of tasks should be provided, taking into account the learning purpose and learner styles and preferences. Receptive skill activities are of the 'read/listen and do' genre. A menu of listening tasks might include:
  • Listen and label a diagram / picture / map / graph / chart
  • Listen and fill in a table
  • Listen and make notes on specific information (dates, figures, times)
  • Listen and reorder information
  • Listen and identify location / speakers / places
  • Listen and label the stages of a process / instructions / sequences of a text
  • Listen and fill in the gaps in a text Currently, CLIL teachers are likely to

be language teachers able to teach one or more subjects, or subject teachers who can also raise awareness of language. Competence in the target language is a necessity, while the ability to identify the core language of a subject, the ability to work with texts and words, and the ability to design tasks and projects are key skills. Ideally, CLIL teachers are properly trained and involved in INSET. Training providers are beginning to respond to demand, with short courses being available in the UK at institutions such as Pilgrims and the Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE).

CLIL offers opportunities for team teaching and cooperation between language and subject teachers. Where skills for life are the aim, the ideal situation is the involvement of subject and language teachers together with a vocational trainer. In a cooperative environment, motivation for teaching increases, each discipline benefits, teachers expand their repertoire of teaching techniques, and mutual respect develops between teachers of various disciplines [2].

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. The treatment of the 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-, whileand post-reading tasks are as appropriate in the subject context as in the language context [6].

As CLIL requires new kinds of collaboration between subject specialists and language specialists it is important to acknowledge that new kinds of pedagogical practices are also required and that interdisciplinary meanings have to be negotiated for the role of language in knowledge construction and sharing. In principle, the language learning outcomes in CLIL are considered from a functional and communicative viewpoint, which is in line with the descriptors of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF). This implies interactive pedagogical approaches and carefully designed learning tasks, as well as institutional support systems for both students and teachers.

Sometimes this type of instruction (unless properly planned out) instead of fulfilling its aims will only put pressure on both students and staff and will result in dissatisfaction and ultimately, unfulfilled aims. Varieties of CLIL are currently being delivered both as direct contact hours and using blended approaches with e-learning methodology / distance-learning. Partial CLIL may rely on a native or non native speaker of the L2 to deliver content based courses. The focus is usually not on language enhancement and there may be little awareness that a number of communication problems could be avoided if language were properly considered. Language support may also be offered to students before they enroll in the subject courses or there may be distinct language for specific purposes/language for academic purposes courses that are coordinated with the subject specialist. However, learning outcomes are mainly assessed separately and a clear distinction is made between language mastery and subject mastery. The more integrated approaches, namely adjunct CLIL and dual focus CLIL then involve (full) coordination between language specialists and subject specialists, either in the form of joint planning or team teaching. Learning outcomes and criteria are specified for both language and content. There might also be a distribution of credits (ECTS or other types) in assessment.

All forms of assessment are used in European CLIL varieties: formative assessment (project-based, continuous individual or class work), summative assessment (oral and written exams), self-assessment and peerassessment, with the latter two generally appearing in combination with the former two. Depending on the CLIL variety, assessment ranges from individual / separate assessment of language and content to joint / team assessment where there are jointly agreed language and content criteria used by the assessors. In the former situation the student will receive two grades (with the respective ECTS credits), whereas in the latter the assessment often results in one joint grade (with the respective ECTS credits). Ideally, the progress of students is also monitored and considered in the evaluation. In any case, the assessment procedure needs to incorporate both language and content focused components, as the student is expected to develop subject competence as well as language / communicative competence during their CLIL program [7].

On the whole, in many ways CLIL remains embryonic. There is inevitable opposition to language teaching by subject teachers, while language teachers may foresee the end of the language classroom as we know it. There are also those who believe that the spread of CLIL is being driven by political and economic forces which may be temporary. Meanwhile, the majority of CLIL projects are experimental and there is a lack of empirical data by which success can be measured. CLIL training courses are few, and materials and resources scarce. Assessment is also a problematic area, given that content and language need to be given equal weighting. There are ongoing debates regarding the language acquisition aspect of CLIL learning, and over how far subject comprehension may be impeded by inadequate language competence. Critics, however, are faced with the potential of CLIL as long term learning starting in elementary school, and the inevitable demands of internationalization for efficient and economical ways of achieving bilingualism or multilingualism [2].

To resume, it is necessary to mention that 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 Europeanization may make CLIL a common feature of many European education systems in the future [6].


  1. Dalton-Puffer C. Content-and-Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles?// Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2011), 31, 182–204.
  2. Darn, Steve (2006). Content and Language Integrated Learning. http: // www. teachingenglish. org. uk/ think/ articles/ content-language-integrated-learning [British Council et BBC]
  3. Harrop E. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL): Limitations and possibilities// Encuentro, 21, 2012, ISSN 19890796, pp. 57-70.
  4. Commission Of The European Communities Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity: An Action Plan 2004 – 2006.
  5. Journal of the European Union Council Resolution of 21 November 2008 on a European strategy for multilingualism.
  7. / theme/ content-language-integrated-learning-clil
Year: 2016
City: Almaty
Category: Philology