Some advantages and disadvantages of teaching CLIL

What are the advantages of using CLIL materials?

The two main ideas behind CLIL materials are that the approach is topic focused and that students learn the language through the content. When the content is interesting and relevant to their other studies, students may be more motivated than when the focus is on the nuts and bolts of the language (i.e. grammar). The second idea is that, by using topics that they are familiar with and, if possible, that they have recently studied in their mother tongue, students will be able to learn more as they will already know a lot of the content and context. This familiarity enables them to pay attention to details that they would otherwise miss.

CLIL also promotes a holistic approach to teaching and learning. Rather than starting with the small and building to the large, it works the other way around. This ‘top-down’ approach, using existing knowledge, contextual clues and overall meaning is almost certainly faster and probably a more useful way of learning, than a ‘bottom-up’ approach.

What are the disadvantages of using CLIL materials?

Many English language teachers worry about using CLIL materials because they feel they don’t have the background knowledge of the subject. Although this may well be true to some extent, it is important to remember that the material is only a ‘vehicle’ for the language. There are two other points to make here: First, does the teacher need to know everything? Isn’t there room in the teaching/learning process for the teacher to learn as they teach, and sometimes for the students to teach the teacher?Secondly, the worksheets in this section are designed to be teacher-friendly; you do not need to be an ‘expert’ in a particular subject or topic to be able to use them.

Another potential disadvantage is the view that other subject teachers might take, for example: 'Why doesn’t the English teacher stick to teaching English and leave my subject to me?’

You can dispel this problem before it even begins by talking to other subject teachers, explaining why you are using CLIL materials, asking for their help and finding out how you can help them by knowing what they are teaching and by using your lessons as an opportunity to review what the students are learning across the curriculum.

Learning should be about exploring new horizons together and enjoying the whole process.