Integrating Content and Language

Tania Ruiz presents educators’ impressions of the dual-language methodology sweeping Europe

Similar to other bilingual education methods, the CLIL methodology (content and language integrated learning) is considered a model of good practice in Europe. It has been adopted by a large number of infant and primary schools in Spain, such as schools in the Bilingual Project in Madrid. CLIL is a form of dual-focused learning where emphasis is both on content and on language. Teachers plan their lessons with two sets of objectives, one regarding content and one regarding language. When we talk about CLIL, we’re talking about a new construct of what the curriculum looks like in modern education and how it needs to be implemented.

The term CLIL was coined by David Marsh of University of Jyväskylä, Finland (1994): “CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.”

However, CLIL teaching has been practiced for many years, from the Babylonian era to the early 60s, when bilingual education was introduced in many schools around the world. Even if you are unaware of the term CLIL, you may already have been using CLIL methodology for many years.

There are many ways of describing the characteristics attributed to CLIL. You may already be following and using many of its principles.

It is a methodology similar to but distinct from language immersion and content-based instruction. It’s an approach for learning content through an additional language (foreign or second), thus teaching both the subject and the language. The idea of its proponents was to create an “umbrella term” which would encompass different ways of using language as the medium of instruction.

David Marsh claims that. CLIL methodologies develop immediate competence building; One of the key issues here is enabling students to learn how to learn and enabling students to learn as they use and to use as they learn, not as in my education: learn now and use many years later.”

Through CLIL, students are using the language as they learn. Their thinking skills are engaged through successful methodologies right from the beginning. Students are not learning passively, as they learn math, science, history, or other monolingual contexts; they are learning in a very active and challenging way. And this relates to the keyword neuroplasticity, which has become profoundly important over the last years in terms of how we understand the brain. CLIL promotes situational adaptability; it supplies students with better skills to learn how to adapt themselves, their communication, and their thinking to different contexts. In addition to these advantages, CLIL also enhances the flexibility of the mind. It encourages students to look at things in different directions and from different perspectives. It also helps students develop their problem-solving skills.

“Teaching in a bilingual context is more than just bilingual language; it involves thinking about many things. What are we going to teach? How are we going to teach it? How can we assess students? CLIL is a pedagogical approach which involves teaching content through an additional language. CLIL puts quality into the bilingual classroom. It incorporates four main areas, which are content, communication, cognition, and culture.”
— Raquel Fernáandez Fernáandez, Doctor of English Philology, coordinator of CUCC Bilingual Program

“Curricular subjects apart from languages can be taught through the target language. When we plan the contents of our lessons it’s essential to think of the language, skills, and understanding we want our students to learn and not only the knowledge they should acquire.”
— Eva Peñafiel Pedrosa, Doctor of Psycho-Pedagogy and Bilingual Education Professor

“Communication is one of the cornerstones of CLIL. As well as being a medium for communication, the foreign language is a tool through which new meaning and new knowledge are constructed. CLIL lessons are characterized by their high levels of interaction not only between learners and teachers but also between learners and their peers. This is fundamental to the learning process, and CLIL offers learners genuine opportunities to articulate their new knowledge.”
— Matthew Johnson, Bilingual Education Professor and Expert in Content and Language Integrated Learning, certified in English Philology

“CLIL is an exciting vehicle for exploring the links between language and cultural identities. The use of a different language may also help you know about geography, art, history, and cultural heritage, all that provides the necessary background to enrich the learning process. This is a great experience for widening horizons, understanding other points of view, and preventing cultural clash.”
— Josué Llull Peñalba, Doctor of geography and history, and Bilingual Education Professor

“Cognition requires the kinds of cognitive processes and the kinds of thinking skills that we have to develop in our students. So we can’t only expect them to develop lower-order thinking skills such as understanding and remembering information. We have to ask them to go further, to analyze this information from different points of view, to apply it to new, different situations, and furthermore to evaluate it in order to develop their critical thinking and ultimately to generate new ideas and new knowledge.”
— Ana Sofía Urraca López, Bilingual Education Professor and Expert in Content and Language Integrated Learning, certified in Psychology

“In my opinion, being a good bilingual teacher implies having an excellent command of the language and knowledge of CLIL methodology, in order to be able to motivate pupils and to have strategies to communicate in that language.”
— Teresa Yévenes Retuerto, Elementary Teacher of Science and Arts

Useful Links
The TIE-CLIL project (funded through Socrates — Lingua Action A) promotes plurilingualism through the introduction of content and language integrated learning in five different EU languages (English, French, German, Italian, Spanish). The major aim of TIE-CLIL is to provide pre- and in-service development programs in CLIL for language teachers and subject teachers through building on existing knowledge of this field, to providing state-of-the-art understanding of theory and practice.
The web site aims to bring together as many practitioners, researchers, teacher trainers, and policymakers as possible so as to exchange information, experience, and materials in the field of content and language integrated teaching.
David Marsh gives a great insight into CLIL answering relevant questions: the future of CLIL, and advice on how to start up a CLIL program.
The Research Network on Content and Language Integrated Learning and Immersion Classrooms (CLIL ReN) aims at joining expertise of CLIL researchers in language acquisition, language use, language pedagogy, and subject pedagogy.
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) has a digest of information on CLIL.

Tania Ruiz is an English and Spanish teacher in Los Angeles, Calif.