Lyubov Dombeva - a CLIL biology teacher in Bulgaria - gives her reaction to criticisms that CLIL compromises, rather than complements, English Language Teaching.
Is CLIL trespassing?
To a certain extent, language teachers may be right when they claim that colleagues teaching subjects through the medium of English are trespassing on their territory. But this is only true in that the subject is being taught through the medium of the English language, which in itself can only be a case of one foot over the border if there is any trespassing at all. Indeed, the accusation reveals more about the insecurity of the language teaching profession during a time of wonderful developments in education than about poor provision, repetition and redundancy in the curriculum when a subject is being taught through English.
CLIL as a collaborative opportunity
Language teachers have got the totally wrong end of the stick if they are claiming that teaching subjects through English is harmful to English language teaching. What they should be asking is ‘What can we do to make the most of this opportunity?’ In my own experience there is a wealth of professional development to be had for teachers and quality of education for learners when both content teachers and language teacher get together to talk about their work in the classroom. In fact, I'm sure I speak for a lot of biology teachers when I say that I can learn a lot about my subject and its language when I work closely with language teachers. If only they understood what I need to know about the language of my subject and how to make it accessible to my students!
CLIL’s integrated approach to education
Imagine a language teacher working collaboratively with a subject teacher where they prepare their teaching so that what goes on in the subject lesson provides focus for the language lessons. At an early age, this may be a focus on specific language with practice on such areas as comparatives, perhaps because learners are looking at different types of animal or plant in the biology class. It may be a focus on skills. When students are carrying out experiments and they have to prepare and present results in a group to the class, wouldn’t it be an ideal situation for the language teacher to deal with what makes a good presentation with practice on how to deliver one?
CLIL: revealing the cracks
It may actually be the case that the subject teacher is offering something to learners in their classrooms which they may not be getting in their language lessons. Where language teaching is old fashioned, with learners working on the form of the language with very little time dedicated to the function of the language and little practising of communicative skills, then it is possible that students find more communication going on in their CLIL biology classroom. In the modern science classroom students are expected to talk about what they are doing, share ideas, ask questions, investigate hypotheses through tests, record data and present it in class to their peers. If students don’t get these communicative opportunities in their English lessons, then perhaps it is true that CLIL is compromising English language teaching, but only in so far as it reveal the inadequacies of their language teaching.
I have to say that integrating content and language, for example by teaching Biology through the medium of English can only add to English language teaching. If there are areas where colleagues complain that CLIL is taking away from their teaching then that is a sign that there is a problem in another area, not with CLIL itself. This reaction indicates, for example, that there is a lack of exploration of the curriculum to find those areas where the content of the subject and the content of the language can complement each other. It may also be an indication that there is a lack of collaboration between the English department and the content subject department.
I think the title of the IATEFL CLIL debate could usefully be rewritten: 'CLIL - Joining up the Curriculum!'
You can read the EFL teacher's perspective on our sister site, onestopenglish.
The CLIL Debate: An EFL perspective by Adrian Tennant