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Content and Language Integrated Learning in action




Peter Redpath, co-author of Incredible English second edition takes a look at CLIL and how it can be used in the classroom.

What is CLIL? It means Content and Language Integrated Learning. (Have you noticed how we seem to love acronyms in language teaching? The list seems never-ending: TBL; PPP; CLT; TTT! Can you identify them?).

The idea is simple. Other subjects in the curriculum are taught and learned in a language, which is not the mother tongue. By weaving together a foreign language and the curriculum content from other subjects we aim to provide a rich learning experience for children.

There are a number of ways in which CLIL has been interpreted but the bedrock of the idea is this: children are not focused on learning language per se. They are focused on the content of the lesson.

I think that this definition from Nixon continues to be valid: “the study of a non-language subject through the medium of a major world or regional foreign language” (Nixon, J., 1988).

CLIL is not a newcomer to the world of language teaching; you can see that from the date on that quote. It’s been around for some time. It is an aspect of language teaching which I think has gained strength and continued to develop since Nixon wrote those words.

What does CLIL mean in practice? Let’s look at a concrete example taken from a coursebook. Remember that this is how we have interpreted CLIL and blended it into our material. There are other variations and possibilities.

The topic area for this CLIL lesson is very relevant in many parts of the world at the present time: uses of water!

In the CLIL lesson on this topic children learn about what we use water for. They look at how much water is used for each activity. They learn how to measure a quantity of water. They learn how to make a water meter. In terms of the syllabus these are more related to science than to language.

But out of this would spring language. For example, “Having a shower”. Then how we measure quantities of water in litres: “6 litres”, “30 litres” etc. On top of that how much water we need for each activity: “You need 4 litres of water”.

As you can see, the language that children are using naturally springs out of the topic area. Talking about uses of water demands certain vocabulary and structures. There is a real communicative purpose. This is in contrast to choosing which vocabulary and structures children should learn and finding a topic that comes out of it. In other words they will be using language communicatively and therefore learning it.

This can sometimes lead to a challenge for teachers (it was certainly a challenge for me when I was first introduced to CLIL). How should the language syllabus be ordered? For example, when do you think the present simple passive (it is + past participle) should be introduced to children?

A more traditional syllabus would look at the complexity of the structure and would introduce it later rather than sooner. But that syllabus is ordered on the complexity of the structure rather than on the complexity of its meaning/use. “It’s made of plastic”, to describe a toy is not conceptually complex. Linguistically it’s a nightmare (if you look at its component parts). Or do you disagree? At what age do you think children can cope with this piece of language? At what age group do you think we first introduced this language in our coursebooks?

CLIL is an attempt to combine content and language to make an engaging and useful lesson. In a CLIL lesson children are ticking CLIL-appropriate areas: content; cognition; communication and community. Children are engaging in learning about something, learning to do something, learning to express it and how it relates to a community.

Do you think taking a CLIL approach to language learning is more beneficial than selecting the language and building an exercise around it?

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  1. I do agree with this sort of approaching. When it’s taught grammar and language by itself, students normally get bored or not enthusiastic with the lesson. But, in the other hand, when we do something different through the language, we learn much more than the “traditional” way. It’s worthy to try it!!!

    Gustavo, Brazil

  2. A move towards content rather than situation could relieve much of the boredom for both teachers and students but choice of content must be relevant to the students, not just a ‘good idea’ from the teacher or an excuse to preach their own philosophy on life… Language is about conveying meaning (Halliday), and so content is as much a part of any communication as structure.

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