114 comments on “To teach English is human, to teach CLIL is divine?

  1. Uuuf….as the Spanish say! As one of the CLIL ‘insiders’, I don’t know where to start really. It’s impossible to answer everything that has been stated here, and of course, such a pretence would be a little over-ambitious/arrogant anyway – take your pick.

    But there are some fallacies flying around here, and their wings need to be clipped a little, I feel. One of the major ones is the idea, perhaps unfortunately suggested by Jeremy’s initial starter, that CLIL self-proclaims as a de facto success, and as such the approach (if it is an ‘approach’) is a ‘craze’ that is fooling people (such as Malaysia) into quick-fix solutions to their curricular issues. It is true that several of the CLIL mafia (Marsh has been quoted here) have sold the approach as a positive one, but it would be strange to do anything else. The suggestion that only CLIL folks have a ‘vested interest’ in selling themselves as efficacious is a little unfair, I feel. We’re all in it to make a living Jeremy. Also, CLIL is obviously in a phase of organic growth, during which it is undergoing ‘parameter problems’. Why? Well because everyone and his grandma wants to try it, wants a piece of it, wants to claim that they’re doing it. Some of us in the full-time CLIL warned about this, and that it would happen. I feel happy that is has come into prominence, but panicky because I feel that what I understand CLIL to be is slipping like water from my material-writing fingers – splashing onto the educational pavement and drying up in the sun. How’s that for a mixed metaphor?

    I’ve been working in CLIL full-time for over 15 years and so of course, I know that it works, but that it also requires a set of conditions in order to be minimally effective, as does any educational paradigm. Does ELT ‘work’? Well some of it does and some of it doesn’t. It’s a bit of a mess nowadays, and its eclecticism, once a virtue, has led it down a path of stagnation, I feel. I may be wrong. CLIL may offer a way out, but I’d rather not make problematic claims. The ELT-centric nature of much of this discussion is revealing. CLIL isn’t about language teaching really. It’s about education, and that’s where the ELT world so misunderstands the whole CLIL issue. Language teaching, in general, has always been ‘over there’ in educational terms. There may be intrinsic and cognitive value to learning languages, but try convincing the current generation of that argument. We have entered an extrinsic, utilitarian phase in society, and educational values are reflecting this. It doesn’t mean they’re wrong. CLIL is an obvious vehicle for this type of approach. Language teaching is stumbling a little I feel, in comparison.

    CLIL is not about ‘English’ either. Reading this thread you would think it was. It’s about learning subject content through ‘another language’. English happens to dominate, sure, but CLIL is much more allied to a multilingual approach, and all the curricular and cognitive implications that it implies.

    Spain? Well for starters, Spain is a very federal place, and to talk of ‘CLIL in Spain’ is to employ a misnomer too. How would you judge its success though? Well you would judge it relative to its objectives. A country should adopt CLIL relative to its socio-linguistic reality, so that in Spain, where English (for example) is fairly absent from the public scene, CLIL gives us a chance to increase the contact time. That’s one rational objective (among others). In Holland, the judgement of ‘success’ would be based on wholly differing criteria, since everyone speaks English anyway – and English is much more present in its society. So the Dutch use CLIL to ‘fine-tune’ their academic English. It’s completely different. So please be careful with how you judge CLIL ‘success’. In the Basque Country, we have lots of empirical research-based evidence that CLIL ‘works’. What is all this nonsense about nobody knowing whether CLIL works for subject teaching? It works much better for subject teaching than it does for language teaching! But that’s another story……

    Oh, and it’s not an ‘approach either’, which is another debate. CLIL is a methodology, but that’s just my view. I’ve been trying to promulgate it for the last ten years, but one’s powers are limited, sigh. But it’s not an ‘approach’ yet. It’s too heterogeneous for that still. I would prefer it to be more limited in its scope and more prescriptive, which is what a methodology can be. But anyway, that’s for another day.

    Phil Ball

  2. Hello Phil,

    I am sorry it has taken me some time to reply to this. I have been thinking about your excellent comments, digesting them.

    First off, the drying water on the pavement! It may be a mixed metaphor, but it works for me! Brilliant.

    Anyway, there is lots to say. Yes, there was a suggestion (for which I am largely guilty), that CLIL is oversold, and that vested interests have a part to play in this. However, I DO take your well-made point about all of us having to make a living. Yes, we do things because of commitment, passion, belief etc, but other factors such as money, success etc are part of the mix too. It would be wrong of me (especially?) to cricise anyone for that.

    However, the main ‘selling’ argument for CLIL is that it is ‘better’ in some way. And that’s why the ELT-focused people get twitchy about it, of course, because if that’s true, what on earth are we doing? Is ELT in crisis? That’s a very good question but I guess if you go to the literally millions of students who study general English around the world (often in private language schools), you would have to say that it is still pretty robust.

    And, I would want to add, in a career which is getting way to long for me to feel comfortable about, I have seen some really really excellent general English teaching; engaging, challenging, effective and sheer good fun.

    However, if we ask the question ‘Is English teaching in crisis in (state) school systems? that question might get a different answer. Because the teaching of general English has not always been marked with success or student engagement. In such circumstances, teaching which encourages language acquisition and, at the same time, genuine cognitive and subject-specific child development, makes a lot of sense.

    But then Nicky Hockly (above) said she reckoned it would be ‘unmentioned’ in 10 years. Not true I hear you say! Because (and maybe your experiences in Euzkadi/Pais Vasco bear this out) where CLIL is well implemented, properly planned for, and properly trained for (and funded), then who could be against it, I guess.

    Malaysia did not abandon CLIL-type education because there was something wrong with CLIL per se. Of that I am sure. It was because kids were getting unsatisfactory subject instruction in English. The instruction was better delivered – so the argument went – in the home language, because teachers found it ‘easier’ to do that. At least that’s the way it appears to me. But then the devil is in the implementation detail. So yes, parameters.

    As I have been reading more about CLIL and, through this blog, hearing the views of others, I am more persuaded than I was of the POTENTIAL efficacy of CLIL, or indeed of the present benefits of CLIL whether in schools or in PLSs (see Borja above and Michelle Worgan’s ‘soft CLIL’ first steps http://kenwilsonelt.wordpress.com/2011/03/15/guest-blog-11-4-michelle-worgan-on-using-clil-with-spanish-primary-pupils). As an ELT-er, you see, CLIL IS a bit threatening. But also – and this is important I think – it sounds remarkably ‘un-new’ in the sense that content teaching has always been a feature of good ELT.

    But CLIL, real CLIL, may well be significantly different if it is properly cross curricular, involves subject teachers, has properly-trained English-language specialist (or subject teachers who have reliable competence).


    That’s the whole thing, isn’t it. In other words, here is a way of doing things that works if certain labour-intensive, resource-and time-hungry conditions can be met.

    So that’s where I am at the moment: trying to survey the scenery, seeing great benefits and troublesome failures all in the same frame, as it were.

    Please excuse this long ramble. Writing a blog is a learning experience, mostly (I have found) for me!


  3. I have just read about CLIL and it is something i have been working for the past two years, since i started working at the faculty of medicine in my state.

    Many obstacles have appeared, but i think that this is the future, or at least, a part of it.

    We always must remember the number one rule for teachers: ‘To be aware of our students needs’, following that, we should be fine.

    greetings from México!

    • Hi Abraham,

      you may be right about the ‘future’. The students’ needs should guide us.

      Of course what would be interesting is to know is what kind of English you teach in medical school. Is it CLIL, bi-lingual, or English for Specific Purposes!


  4. Hi Jeremy,
    This weekend I had the pleasure to attend some of your conferences (and even get my diploma signed by you! =)) at Jalisco Mextesol. I teach Social Studies in Middle School and I have nothing else but the best to say about the experience of doing it in English. Since the purpose of the class is not the correct use of grammar but to express your ideas it makes them feel confident and they acquire the language in a more natural way. Since the subjects that I teach are complemented by EFL classes their English level skyrockets! I just wish we had more workshops/conferences, and books to support us who are doing this.

    Gaby =)

    • Hi Gaby,

      so pleased you came along to the sessions in la Perla Tapatia.

      It sounds like your situation is ideal. Is it CLIL or bilingual teaching? Are they the same or different?


  5. In my short experience with young learners in Spain, I have only seen one school where students would use English in a natural way when speaking in class. It was a rather elitist school where they followed a semi-immersion education plan: children were exposed to English in a real context, on a daily basis and other subjects were also taught in the target language. CLIL is no new thing, but could actually the CLIL ‘brand’ be a way to democratise education as education authorities are starting to support it, instead of being reserved for an elite?

    • Hi Hugo,

      that’s an interesting anecdote. But of course the CLIL ‘people’ would say that teaching bilingually may not be CLIL.

      Nevertheless you ARE right that things like that may be largely reserved for an elite. It’s all about education authorities and some idea of provision for all.


  6. Dear Jeremy,

    Having met you at the INTO conference this weekend, I went straight to your blog and was delighted to find so many comments on CLIL. I have to admit I have not had the time to read them all in detail – but what I have read so far has really made me think about CLIL again.

    Back to your original question – why CLIL might be better for the learning of the subject, here are a few ideas from my experience as CLIL History teacher in Germany and as academic tutor for international students in the UK:

    In CLIL classes students have to engage more with the subject. If they are put in a situation where they have to overcome some linguistic problems to understand the academic content it will motivate them to find more resources, books, texts or any other material that will help them understand the language and thus the subject. Therefore, there is more engagement, more mental construction activity and thus more learning. We could also argue that they gain problem-solving skills and develop strategies to be more independent learners. For the teacher this obviously means to plan lessons and find materials that challenge the students linguistically but that do not to overwhelm them.

    Language transports cultural ideas and thus can offer great insight through an outsider’s perspective – e.g. why do we call it the Roehm-Putsch (coup) in Germany but the British call it the Night of the long knives? What is the difference? It thus promotes the development of intercultural skills and the ability to identify with others’ perspectives. It encourages the students to think critically about their own cultural / historical perspective – which is one central aim of history teaching.

    Many subjects require great linguistic awareness – not only in terms of subject specific / technical vocabulary, but also in the way language is used to argue a point. CLIL encourages students to think about discourses and ways of constructing arguments. I also often find that teaching CLIL generates more questions and stimulates curiosity and this surely has to be good for the subject?

    With regards to the teacher’s perspective I have to agree with some of the comments made above – CLIL has certainly made me reflect much more on how I teach, what scaffolding strategies to use and how to make my lessons more engaging, thus I really feel it has a lot of benefits.

    I am, however, intrigued by your question you asked me on Saturday and that you have also posted on the blog – what is the difference between bilingual teaching and CLIL? I will certainly need to explore more and will keep on checking the comments made here…

    Many thanks for your feedback and also for this discussion forum and blog,


    • Hi Sandra,

      thanks so much for coming along to the blog.

      In the same way that i thought your presentation was really good – organised, clear, helpful and enjoyable – so i think your pro-CLIL arguments here are absolutely spot on. I mean if I want to be cynical about CLIL I still can be, but you have made it a lot harder!!

      (Actually I’m not sure I want to be that cynical, but I do think that the success of CLIL (in its many forms) depends on who does it, how it’s done, and what kind of training is given to the teachers who use it.)

      Once again, it was a great pleasure to meet you and see you ‘in action’. I hope ot happens again!


  7. Hi Jeremy,
    I’ve just read the article.I’m a Turk and have been working as a teacher.As far as I know,CLIL is an old method.In Turkey it’s been implemented for years.I learnt English at 11 and after learning English,we used to study maths and science lessons in English,too.My English was good but I hated Maths and Science in English. I was brilliant at Maths at primary school but our proficient(!) teachers made me disgust from these subjects.They did not know English and try to teach us these subjects.It was such a nightmare.This is not the only reason for this failure.Then the authorities saw their mistake and changed the system at secondary schools.But this system continues at universities.I think these subjects should teach in mother tongue,otherwise people know what happens!I can write a thesis about this method and tell how this method make people feel stupid in many subjects.That’s my point of view.

  8. Hi, my husband is a CLIL language assistant at 2 schools in Tenerife. He had a shock this morning when he was served with a summon from Securidad Social asking him to present facturas he doesn’t have as he gpes on ‘baja’ for the Summer months as he is Autonomo.
    He contacted the consejeria and he is not the only one served. It appears that he should have a contract as he has worked for them for 5 years. The office did not have a clue what is going on and we are now panicking in case the job goes. Does any one know anything about what is happening or what to do???

  9. It is a pity I missed out this wonderful debate. I hope I’m still on time for someone to read my post.
    I’m a teacher of English at Secondary level in State school system in Spain. I’ve been involved in CLIL for something like 7 years now, as a teacher trainer, as an adviser (so to speak) and as a teacher. I have seen CLIL being implemented in very different contexts and I would definitely say it does work, both for content and for language.
    We would have to talk about what parameter do I have in mind to assert CLIL works. And that is precisely where I would like to make my point: would it be the bare communicative competence of students at the end of what, Secondary Education? Not enough to see that in the context where I teach, at least. But if we still wanted to do it, what would we compare it to? The previous competence in the same context, or students from say Germany? What about including other parameters too.
    Say, for instance, the emotional side of the learning: would CLIL students feel more confident about their English (whatever it is) than before? Would they think their learning has been more relevant? Would the teacher-student rapport change and would this affect their attitude towards learning?
    My point is THAT there is more to this topic than just the language and the content. We should be even talking about what do we consider learning, and what’s the role of the teacher and the learners. Maybe the foregin language (and the content, if I may say so) is just one of the many ingredients of CLIL (and I’m not really sure if it is the main one). If we have a look at the core clil activators (http://www.kke.ee/clil/eng/index.html maybe too catchy a name) we would all probably agree that they are all present in any good type of teaching, even in ELT.

  10. Hello Sergio. Like you I have come late to this very stimulating debate. Also like you I am working in Spain (12 years in CLIL contexts). My point to add to this debate is the need for a systematic approach which will ensure success and on the basis of this success CLILwill gain respectable momentum. Here in Spain it is only working well where training in language and content cooincide and CLIL theory is put into best practice in a systematic top down manner where the regional powers that be and the senior managements of schools understand the demands and benefits of CLIL and can lead their schools properly to achieve true language/content learning.
    Apart from good teaching CLIL needs clever planning and thorough and appropriate assessments.; for example, the allocation of a 60% subject and 40% language proportion to the planning and that same proportion to the assessment process immediately guides the activity in the classroom, focusses the mind set of the teacher and redirects the motivation of the child to get a good grade in both areas. In making this decision and putting it into a high quality planning/teaching/assessment model we have immediately constructed a systematic base which a whole school can use.
    The current mixed messages about the efficacy of CLIL can be blamed on poverty of experience rather than inherent weakness of pedagogy.There is so much about CLIL which we need to know and understand and there is much about CLIL yet to be discovered. The more we read, research and understand, the more able we are to make informed judgements and implementations to benefit the education of our young people. .

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