Sarah McKeown reviews David Lasagabaster’s article (published in the Open Access Applied Linguistics Journal) on the effectiveness of English language CLIL in the Basque Country and examines the range of issues it raises.

Overview / The wider landscape of CLIL / Younger learners = better learners? /
CLIL and gender / CLIL and sociocultural status / CLIL in the Basque Country /
Author's findings / Is it worth downloading?

Anchor Point:1Overview
This academic article examines how CLIL is being implemented in the Basque Country where both Basque and Spanish are official languages. As Lasagabaster points out, in the Basque region English is the third language a child will learn at school and, as English is hardly used outside an educational setting, this makes it a particularly interesting context for examining the effectiveness of CLIL.

Anchor Point:2The wider landscape of CLIL
The article is not only useful for its insights on the Basque CLIL experience, it also provides a clear, concise and very interesting overview of the wider landscape of CLIL – in particular the relative language-speaking abilities of various European countries. (No surprise that small EU member states are the best at being able to converse in more than one language, while the poor old United Kingdom and Ireland languish at the bottom of the charts.) Lasagabaster also examines the rationale behind CLIL and the purported benefits of the CLIL approach. Of course, if you are already interested in CLIL or have read Macmillan’s Uncovering CLIL none of this will be news to you, but Lasagabaster’s critique is as insightful and well-written (and concise) as any you will find.

Anchor Point:3Younger learners = better learners?
It is interesting that he questions the received wisdom that, as far as foreign language acquisition is concerned, the younger children are, the better. He suggests that older starters can be faster and better learners than pupils who are immersed from a young age, and so starting a CLIL programme at secondary school may be no bad thing.

Anchor Point:4CLIL and gender
Lasagabaster provides a lucid discussion of CLIL research in Finland, Sweden and Norway and draws attention to the anxiety (expressed in Finland) that the L2 will somehow contaminate students’ grasp of their own mother-tongue. He also explores the relationship between foreign language learning and gender, suggesting that learning foreign languages is often seen as ‘feminine terrain’. It is certainly true that girls are traditionally regarded as better language learners than boys, but can language learning really be said to be ‘feminine terrain’? Could CLIL help redress the gender imbalance - presumably by providing more motivating content for boys? A fascinating area for further study.

Anchor Point:5CLIL and sociocultural status
The author also suggests that studies should pay greater attention to the sociocultural status of the CLIL student’s family and the possible role this might play in how well students respond to CLIL. The issue seems to be that we should not be interested in how well-off the families of CLIL students are, but rather how educated their parents are and how much ‘cultural capital’ they are exposed to at home. This is another intriguing area – with links to sociology and sociolinguistics – and one that, to my knowledge, has not been examined by applied linguists or eminent ‘CLILers’. Hopefully Lasagabaster’s article will inspire someone to look into these issues further.

Anchor Point:6CLIL in the Basque Country
CLIL is blossoming in the Basque Country, according to Lasagabaster, with state schools embracing CLIL programmes and 95 different subjects being taught in either French or English at the country’s university. But how effective is CLIL at improving students’ English language proficiency? The vast majority of Basque CLIL teachers are non-native speakers and children receive virtually no sustained exposure to English outside of the classroom, unlike children in Scandinavian countries.

Anchor Point:7Author's findings
The author presents the results of his research which compared the English language abilities of groups of CLIL and non-CLIL students from 198 Basque secondary schools. You can read his hypotheses, method and results in detail in the actual article. What comes across is Lasagabaster’s confidence that CLIL has had a positive impact. In other words, CLIL students outperform their non-CLIL counterparts in all language skills. However, a potential flaw of the study must be the fact that the CLIL students that formed part of the research chose to be part of those CLIL programmes. Lasagabaster concedes that this could mean that these students were ‘more academically gifted and more motivated than their non-CLIL counterparts’ and thus more likely to outperform them anyway.

Anchor Point:8Is it worth downloading?
There are other questions and issues that emerge from this article that can’t be gone into in any detail here. For example, how 'intense' should CLIL programmes be, to have results? Is ‘early CLIL’ really worth it? Shouldn't other sociocultural factors be taken into account, other than the level of parents’ educational achievement?

But suffice to say that for any subject teacher, language teacher or researcher, Lasagabaster’s article is thought-provoking, clearly expressed and therefore well worth your attention.

Bentham Science Open Access Journal Publishers

David Lasagabaster’s article is available for download from the Bentham Open Access website.

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