Immersion and CLIL in Switzerland: An interview with Eveline Reichel
Has CLIL been a success in the country with four national languages? Have English immersion students reached the same level of achievement as their counterparts studying in their native language? Find out from teacher and teacher trainer Eveline Reichel, who talks to onestopclil about immersion classes and the teacher training programmes she leads in Switzerland.
Tell us who you are and what you do.
I'm a regular English teacher at a grammar school. I've taught there for over 20 years. I am also a teacher trainer at the University of Zürich (IGB) where I train immersion teachers. These teachers are mostly experienced teachers of all sorts of subjects – Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Geography, Maths, History, Art, Music and PE – and I train them to teach their subject in the target language, which the students are more or less competent in.
Are there other CLIL aspects to your work? For example, can you mention the ETAS CLIL SIG (English Teachers' Association in Switzerland – Special Interest Group)?
I am the SIG coordinator for the IC SIG. IC stands for Immersion and CLIL, and ETAS is the first group, I think, to include CLIL as a SIG, because IATEFL hasn't got a CLIL SIG yet, and we started two years ago. The University course for immersion teachers is also rather unique in our country. Besides teaching this University course, I have been asked to teach extra seminars at individual schools which start an immersion project that involves fifteen or more teachers. School authorities cannot send them all to Zurich once a week for a yearly course, so they asked me to give them a seminar of six entire days (48 hours) in their school.
Tell us about the conference in Zurich for immersion teachers at the end of November.
Every year we organize for the University course an exchange meeting with all the other immersion teachers in the area, and this year Keith Kelly will give the plenary speech as well as two workshops. We're expecting a lot of participants because the numbers have gone up to 70 so far. Last year we had about 40 teachers and we always include the new group that I teach and give them the opportunity to meet more experienced immersion teachers.
Would you tell us something more about the training for the subject teachers? What are your impressions of how it's going?
This training programme goes back eight years. It used to be a project of the educational department for the first five years, and now it's part of the University IGB teacher training courses. It is a yearly course – two semesters – and the teachers are trained to become more language aware and to take into account that they have to make sure their students understand what they're teaching them. It is a high level course because we expect teachers to have C2, proficiency plus level. I've noticed that the teachers who have come to my courses have become more competent in the target language themselves, and the immersion community is really growing. I think we have trained about 200 teachers over the course of the last eight years.
Apart from the high level of language proficiency, are there any other things you would highlight as successes of the programme?
Well the immersion students at Swiss Gymnasium are intellectually talented students. Only 20 percent of our children go to grammar schools, and within these grammar schools there is only a small group that is taught immersively. Every school is allowed one up to a maximum of two classes in Zürich per year, and it is still an option for the students; no one is forced to go into immersion. This usually applies to the teachers as well.
What about the future of CLIL in Switzerland?
At the moment it is just an English-German project, and possibly in the near future it will develop into a German, French and Italian immersion programme. With Switzerland having four national languages it would be easy to do CLIL with the other languages, too. In the French speaking part they of course have immersion in German and/or English.
Can you say in a nutshell what have been the main challenges over the course of your work in CLIL?
At the beginning it was difficult because we had few role models. It was also difficult to find materials, as the Swiss curriculum is not at all like the UK or other curricula, so the teachers either would have to translate their course books into English, which we never recommended, or to look for course books from England, Australia, the US, etc., which do not really cover our curriculum. So, the question was, should the immersion classes have a different curriculum than the monolingual classes? Another fear was that the immersion classes would not reach the high level that could be achieved in monolingual classes. Results have shown these fears to be unfounded. At the beginning of being taught immersively the students tend to be more tongue-tied, but usually the students do catch up as they get used to this new subject language. It is believed that this is due to the fact that they are so concentrated and focused on what they are taught.
Lastly, where do you think this project is going?
The project of bilingual matura has grown. It was evaluated after the first five years, which was very positive but showed a few weak spots, so it was prolonged for another three years, and a second evaluation will be published very soon. We will see what the government will decide about the future. I don't envisage it not continuing.
This means that we should keep our eyes and ears open about this CLIL project?
Yes, definitely! Watch this space!