Number one for English language teachers

CLIL in the Netherlands: An interview with Loes Coleman

Type: Article

Loes Coleman was one of the first people involved in setting up a system of training for subject teachers working through the medium of English as a foreign language in the Netherlands. Here, Loes talks to Keith Kelly about her background and work in CLIL.

Tell us who you are and what you do.
My official title is Coordinator of CLIL Teacher Training at Radboud in’to Languages, the University Language Centre for the University of Nijmegen, where I promote courses to schools where bilingual teaching or CLIL teaching is on the curriculum.

You do other things besides CLIL, don't you?
Until two years ago I was manager of the entire foreign language section and I still advise and support the present manager. I advise students on their language study options and I also do some teaching.

How and when did you become involved in CLIL?
About 20 years ago. I was working at the University Language Centre and also working in the Department of Applied Linguistics and we heard about this new development in education, CLIL - it was called ‘bilingual teaching’ then - and I became interested. I found out that teachers were looking for a course to become CLIL teachers, so I set one up and taught it in schools in Rotterdam and Arnhem, which were among the first schools in the Netherlands to do CLIL.

Are there schools that have much more CLIL than others? Do you have schools, for example, that have entire subject departments who teach through English?
No, all the schools work more or less according to the same principle, they all teach half of the curriculum in English and the other half in Dutch, and it varies from year to year. So, within a school there will be people, for example, from the History department that are working in the English stream and people from the same department working in the Dutch stream.

How do they divide that? Do they split the curriculum in half or are there overlaps?
They either do it in English or in Dutch. If a child is in the CLIL stream, he or she will get taught in English for the first three or four years and if the child is not in the CLIL stream, he or she will get it taught in Dutch. So, we don't split up the subjects, we split up the children.
The school decides on the curriculum according to certain guidelines. You have to have so many subjects within the humanities area and within science, but there is an element of choice in the schools. They then teach it for three or four years depending on the level and then go back to Dutch because the finals are in Dutch. All schools do that.

What are the main problems and challenges for you personally in your work?
At the moment it's the weather! But seriously, working with CLIL teachers is wonderful as most of them are extremely motivated and often say to us that this is a really good course. It's improving their English and teaching them the didactics of teaching in another language. For us trainers it’s easy; it's the teachers that have to do the work.

Do Dutch teachers get paid more for taking on CLIL?
No. It varies from school to school how teachers are compensated. The CLIL course is always paid for, of course, but some schools only compensate teachers for half of the time they have to invest in CLIL. Some schools give a form of bonus when teachers pass a language exam and trips for training in England are paid, but most teachers don't get paid and just see it as an opportunity for professional development.

Can you tell us a bit about your system for qualifications and recognition for CLIL schools? What level must school teachers reach in order to meet the standards for recognition as a TTO or bilingual school?
The level the schools have set themselves is minimum B2, but in practice schools go to C1, and often C2. Teachers will often come back to do a proficiency course after having done an advanced course. TTO schools are given a couple of years to find their feet, and teams of inspectors come round to talk to staff, students and parents. If they pass they are given 'junior CLIL school' level, then a couple of years later the inspectors will return and, if all goes well, the school will receive recognition as a 'senior CLIL school'.

They also have to do things such as develop the European dimension in their school. They have to deal with the topic of internationalization and European citizenship, which is something that we as a language institute have nothing to do with, but is part of the CLIL certificate.

Can you tell us something about resourcing? Are there English-medium coursebooks?
One of the trends is that Dutch coursebooks are being translated. The curriculum is exactly the same as in the Dutch stream, which is what schools seem to want. And at least they are professionally translated so that it fits the curriculum. It's not an ideal situation but I can see the logic as children may switch from stream to stream, and the final exams are in Dutch. At least the teachers themselves are no longer doing the translating.

What do the Dutch people think and say about CLIL in the Netherlands?
The media coverage is fairly positive, after all English is part of mainstream policy. I think that when TTO started the feeling was that it was elitist, but that is no longer the case and it's moved down to the lower streams within the schools.

What do you see as the future for Dutch CLIL?
It will only go on expanding. It started off at the top of the school system, at the grammar school level. It moved down to preparation for children for higher vocational education and it's moved down further to the lowest streams within the comprehensive system which is preparing children for medium-level vocational education. It will continue moving throughout the educational system as it has into primary and infant school in recent years. 

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