CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and it is based on the idea that subjects like geography, physics, history, etc. can be taught and learned in a language which is not the student’s mother tongue.
(CLIL is also known as CBI or Content Based Instruction.)
The emphasis in the CLIL learning process is not on the language used to teach the subject but on the subject itself, which is often unrelated to language learning.
So, for example, you might teach electrical engineering in English to a class of intermediate level students from several different countries around the world.
The result of this approach is that the learner gains knowledge about the ‘non-language’ subject while using and learning the foreign language.
Teachers working with CLIL are specialists in their own discipline rather than traditional language teachers. They are usually fluent speakers of the target language, bilingual or native speakers.
CLIL has been applied successfully for over 10 years to all sectors of education from primary through to adult and higher education.
How it Works in TEFL
CLIL is based on language acquisition rather than enforced learning, as it has been proven that when students are interested in a topic they are more motivated to learn the language they will need to be able to talk or read about it.
CLIL is long-term learning process based on natural language development. Students become academically proficient in English after 5-7 years in a good bilingual program; compare this with the number of years it takes a child to learn their native language.
In CLIL fluency is more important than accuracy and errors are a natural part of language learning. Students develop fluency in the new language (English, for example) by using it to communicate for a variety of purposes.
In a practical way, CLIL can be brought into the TEFL classroom (albeit in a minor way) by running lessons where English is merely used as the medium of instruction and communication while the students are engaged in a very different task. Think here of the Dragons Den Business Activity1 where the thrust of the lesson is about presentation and ideas rather than accuracy in English; or perhaps taking the students on a field trip to a local historical site and have them work on
Growth of CLIL
Despite the predominance of English as the lingua franca in most of the private and public sectors, the need to accommodate the growing multilingual society brought about by the expansion of the European Union has made CLIL more relevant than ever.
Government bodies and educational institutions have come to recognize the importance of people’s ability to work and interact in two or three languages. In fact, taking into account the ever more integrating world we live in, the European Commission has set as one of its objectives that all European citizens should have competence in two European languages on top of their mother tongue.
Thus more and more schools are looking at methods and forms of classroom teaching and learning that allow students to become pluri-lingual and pluri-cultural professionals. Learning a language and a subject simultaneously, as CLIL advocates, is viewed as a good way to catch two birds with one stone!
1 Dragons Den – a business activity for students of Business English
Teaching Methodologies – a look at various TEFL methodologies