Number one for English language teachers

CLIL is the way forward for English Language teaching.

In support of the debate claim "CLIL is the way forward for English language teaching" Hugo Baetens-Beardsmore looks at how the language teacher's and subject specialist's roles complement each other and how this collaborative approach adds value to the content, language and cognitive operations.

Language learning programmes differ fundamentally from monolingual education in that the burden of inculcating the new language depends almost entirely on the language classroom. Only incidentally do the out-of-class surroundings help build up second language competence, depending on the environment and opportunities, which can vary enormously.

In a monolingual school all teachers contribute to the language learning process, not only the English teachers, by extending the opportunities for use, different registers, specialised lexis and frequent, specific structures, when handling their content-matter subjects. There is a naturally established « whole school policy » where language is concerned. CLIL programmes try to carry out a similar function in the non-language lessons, by increasing both the range and opportunities for use of the target language in an immediately pertinent context, that of the content-matter subject. Traditional language lessons inevitably have a long-term reward and may not come across as immediately pertinent, at least not in a natural fashion. It is difficult at times to stimulate the less linguistically oriented learner, often male students, without the added incentive of the immediate pertinence of the rewards gained from operating satisfactorily in a separate content-matter lesson. A good CLIL programme crosses over into a « whole school policy » undera different format which takes into account the two languages in the school environment.

Good CLIL practice is a collaborative effort where the language teacher and the content-matter teacher are both specialists who complement each other according to the specific goals of the education process. Language teachers concentrate primarily, though obviously not exclusively, on accuracy and have to resort to semi-artifical techniques to promote fluency, e.g. rôle playing, debate type exchanges, prepared presentations, and may have difficulty in extracting continuous written or spoken discourse except in limited amounts. Content matter teachers in CLIL programmes automatically generate genuine question and answer exchanges on the matter in hand, which is the immediate pertinence motivating factor that enhances pupil efforts. This gradually builds up confidence, which leads to greater fluency in producing connected written and spoken discourse in a variety of topic-determined registers. Such registers might never come up naturally in the language lesson, or not with the required regularity for absorption, and it is here that the complementary rôle of language and subject-matter teachers fuses together. The language specialist plays a vital role as a check on the accuracy and register appropriateness of what is going on in content-matter subjects and can help the subject specialist prepare materials and methodology that comes across naturally and appropriately, re-inforcing the complementary nature of the « whole school policy ».

In the multilingual European Schools designed for European civil servants' children, where everyone is subject to a trilingual mode of education, all teachers are aware that they are all incidentally language teachers, and all concentrate on extending and re-inforcing language skills, and where the language specialists concentrate on precision and accuracy. Now this could be demotivating and work against language learning, were it not for the fact that pupils are aware of the immediate pertinence of such activities as their linguistic skills will be applied as soon as they leave the language classroom and move on to a content-matter subject in L1, L2 or L3.

Research into CLIL programmes in different countries reveals all round gains once the time factor is taken into account. Initially the content-matter may take longer to handle than in the age-equivalent monolingual programme but after a while the pace speeds up, to the extent that in certain programmes in the U.K. those involved have passed exit exams earlier than the equivalent monolingual groups and with equally good results. There is also an obvious gain in second language proficiency, at no cost to the first language skills, thanks to the increased, more varied and more motivating oppportunities to use the target language. Research in Italy and Switzerland has consistently shown intriguing differences in cognitive abilities, where the first language tests showed slightly better results on factual information, or « knowing what » but the second language tests showed better results on operational information, or « knowing how », and this consistently in repeated tests across different groups working in different combinations of CLIL-type programmes. In other words, there was an added value on 3 levels of analysis for the bilingual mode of education, on content, on language and on cognitive operations.  

Hugo Baetens-Beardsmore
The CLIL Debate, IATEFL Conference, Cardiff, 2 April 2009

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