"A great deal, or nothing much" is being said about CLIL in Portugal depending on which perspective you are talking from, according to Amy Nathoo. She discusses the current state of CLIL in Portugal and the challenges of recruiting English teachers.

Starting point

I first heard about CLIL this year when I obtained a grant to do the course "From Key Principles to Best Practice in CLIL" using English as the CLIL language through which the content would be taught. Having been exposed to the methodologies and enriching experience during the course, I realized that so many countries in Europe have taken up the English language as a means of a learning vehicle. With a unified European community and migration of peoples who search for better opportunities and better lifestyles, so many countries have taken initiatives to provide a common teaching basis and have adapted CLIL, using English as the base language. They are also so advanced in this way of teaching and so many schools are involved with support from the local authorities and/or governments. Other languages are also being used as the CLIL language although not to such a large extent.

Investigating Portugal

Having been given the opportunity to write about the country where I live, I began to do some research and talk to the people connected with this issue. The truth is that the International Schools have always used this methodology and have also taken English as the base language. In Portugal, there are also two or three universities where some subjects are taught entirely in English for the Post-graduate and Masters programmes respectively, in recent years. Here, the professors are brought in from England, Canada or the United States to teach. There are also the English schools where all subjects are taught in English.

Questions asked about CLIL

For CLIL to work, the need arises for having two teachers: one for content and one for language. In some countries, graduate courses train a person to be competent in both fields. But a question posed is: When it takes a person 4 years to become a teacher and equally 4 to 6 years to be qualified in a content, non-language field, how can it take only a few years to train a person to be competent in both fields in a shorter period of time? Another question is: What is the quality of the CLIL method of teaching? These are questions asked by many who are either against this method or have not yet seen the results produced.

What about Portugal?

In Portugal, this is not the case. There is some interest in post-graduate areas and whenever there is some type of congress or training course. There are some institutions - private or public, that practise CLIL but this is in the form referred to as "soft CLIL". This are no official programmes or syllabus implemented in public schools. They are either projects or extra-curricular activities, which is the case in the school where I work.

The Portuguese educational system has two mandatory foreign languages at primary level and one mandatory foreign language at secondary level. In 2005, the Portuguese government took the initiative and implemented English as an extra-curricular subject in public schools for the 3rd and 4th grades. It was not mandatory and parents could choose to enrol their children or not but the school was required to offer the subject. This has caused mixed levels and abilities in the 5th grade where English is mandatory. This year, the extra-curricular English language is offered in the 1st and 2nd grades. This has caused problems with recruiting English teachers as there is a shortage plus the fact that being extra-curricular, these teachers are paid lower salaries than others, thus the lack of motivation of teaching English, let alone implementing CLIL!

CLIL today in Portual

In Portugal presently, CLIL is not a priority item on the government's agenda. Its priority is to provide the native language at a national level to increase the level of literacy of the Portuguese people in relation to the rest of Europe. Another is to increase the offer of Portuguese to foreigners. We do have German and French schools where the CLIL methodology is practised but the base language used to teach are the respective mother-tongues. There is, however, a joint initiative and programme, a protocol between the Portuguese government and the French Embassy to revive the French language. It is not officially considered a CLIL project but the methodology is such. It is in its 3rd year at present.

The Portuguese Association for English teachers has been fighting to have good, qualified teachers, especially for the 3rd and 4th grades to have equal levels before embarking onto the 5th grade and who knows; maybe CLIL through English will be a reality in Portugal soon!