Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) plays an increasingly important role in language education, both as a feature of foreign language teaching and learning, and as an element of bilingual and plurilingual education. As learners develop their language competences, they are able to deal with evermore complex topics, so teaching material needs to offer learners interesting and challenging subject matter. One way to do this is through CLIL where language and subject teachers work together; language teachers acquire subject knowledge and subject teachers acquire expertise in combining language development with teaching the content effectively. Recent developments in CLIL have focused more specifically on academic literacies as well as on the use of CLIL approaches in the teaching of the language of schooling/majority language.
The importance of Content and Language Integrated Learning
There are a number of reasons why the development of CLIL is important in language education:
- Enriching the content of language learning and teaching makes it more interesting and more challenging. Language teaching which concentrates only on linguistic development does not provide the same opportunities for developing pragmatic and sociolinguistic competences; the intellectual challenges offered by good CLIL teaching have the potential to enhance cognitive growth.
- School timetables are crowded, so combining language classes with subject learning is a way of using time more efficiently. In many countries, learners can choose to present subject areas in one of the foreign or second languages they study in school. A bi- or pluri-lingual school-leaving diploma is an advantage both in terms of employment opportunities and for university entrance in many countries.
- All subjects have their own kind of literacy; the “languages” of mathematics and history, for example, have specific linguistic and discourse features. Language teaching in schools and universities needs to help learners to acquire these subject literacies, and the development of study skills is an important part of making progress in language competences, especially at levels B1 and above of the CEFR.
Challenges in CLIL and related research
One of the key challenges in CLIL is how to optimise both language and subject teaching. In other words, if history or maths or a science is taught in a foreign language, how can we ensure that the learning is as deep as it would be if the subject were delivered in the learners’ first language? And equally, how can language progress be maximised when the main emphasis is on the content of lessons? Both of these have an impact on the selection and training of teachers for CLIL.
A further challenge is the development of CLIL teaching methodologies; these include the development of questioning and elicitation techniques, the uses of paraphrase and redundancy to make it easier for learners to assimilate information in a language in which they are not fully fluent. More developed didactic approaches are concerned with the way in which tasks can be scaffolded and information and concepts structured in ways which generate optimal learning.
It is also important for stakeholders – schoolchildren and their parents as well as administrators and education authorities – to be informed about what can and cannot be achieved by CLIL approaches.
There is a considerable body of research on these and other challenges – in the International CLIL Research Journal or the International Journal of Bilingualism and Bilingual Education, for example. There is also a considerable body of applied research into CLIL and practical development of CLIL methodology, much of it resulting from ECML projects. This includes frameworks and matrices for implementing skills, descriptors of the competences used in subject learning as well as resources for plurilingual activities in primary and secondary learning. Further details can be found in the resources section below.
CLIL and bi- and pluri-lingual education
Although many of the approaches developed in CLIL are also relevant for bilingual education, the two domains are not identical. CLIL is referred to mainly in circumstances where the content of language learning is enriched by additional emphasis on providing stimulating content, whereas in bi- and plurilingual education the whole programme is designed to take place in two or more languages.
How the ECML's work contributes to the development of CLIL
A series of ECML publications and projects are devoted to CLIL. These include guides for implementing CLIL in language education. They include a Framework for CLIL (CLIL CD), a practical guide to getting started with CLIL programmes (CLIL Start) and for their further development (CLIL Go) where the methodological skills needed by CLIL teachers are described and illustrated, and where there is a more theoretical approach to CLIL teaching. A further project, CLIL and Literacy, links plurilingual approaches and the development of literacy. Much of the literature on CLIL concerns the teaching of subjects in English, which is the most common language used in CLIL teaching. However, the CLIL Start and CLIL Go projects focus on CLIL with other languages, especially with French and German.
In addition to these featured publication on CLIL, the ECML has a wide range of CLIL resources for teachers and teacher trainers working in different sectors and in different languages. And our website will take you to the relevant policy documents produced by the Language Policy Unit which complement ECML practical outputs, as well as to relevant EU resources.