CLILing two birds?

To be honest, I’ve often been a bit sceptical about the value of CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning). The idea that languages are best learnt when the focus is on something else (ie Science, Maths, PE or music etc) is an attractive one, but is there a danger that, rather than killing two birds with one stone, neither the content or the language gets learnt and learners end up leaving the lesson with nothing?

My scepticism partly stems back to a summer course on CLIL I was leading for 30 Spanish primary school teachers a few years ago. The teachers on the course had suddenly been informed that from September they would have to teach their subjects in English, rather than Spanish, and most of them were not happy about this at all!

The were two main reasons for their concerns. Firstly, many of them felt that their own level of English wasn’t high enough to be able to do this. How could they teach Science in English when they didn’t have a large enough science vocabulary themselves, or an appropriate  level of spoken fluency?

Secondly, they were concerned that if they taught Science in English to young learners it would be at the expense of developing a Science vocabulary in Spanish, and knowing how to talk about Science in Spanish was important of course since the children lived in Spain.

In the video below you can see me doing a HUP online session with a group of eighteen, 15 year old girls in a Ministry of Education school in Hebron, Palestine. They are on the Scientific stream, but they are not studying Science in their regular classes in English, they’re doing it in Arabic. However what we are doing in this session is, in my opinion, a form of  CLIL, and I think the problems that the Spanish teachers identified in their own context aren’t really an issue here.

For a start their teacher, Nabiha, is an English teacher not a Science teacher and, like most Palestinian English teachers she has a very advanced vocabulary in English and an excellent level of spoken fluency.

Also, these students are older and have already developed a Science vocabulary in  Arabic. The learning happens when they try, with support from their teacher and from me, to reformulate this into English. And it’s interesting to me that they are also taking on the role of teacher. I was rubbish at Science at school and I’m actually learning about Science myself through the questions they ask me.

What do you think?

5 thoughts on “CLILing two birds?

  1. To be honest ,when you started setting the groups according to the scientific subjects . I wasn’t so optimistic to manage that session successfully ,cause of the lack of scientific vocabulary my students have since they learn that subjects in Arabic language ..but I really was very surprised and happy to see them interact and communicate with Mr Nick . ….
    Whenever I do online session, I always try not to interfere so much during my students talk ..I like to let them feel free to say what they want ……
    That was an amazing session. We had learnt many new words …..Thank you HUP..


    1. Thanks Nabiha. In my opinion you intervened just the right amount. I could see that they were asking you lots of questions about language when they were preparing their quiz questions for me and you fed them with language as it came up – at the point of need. Great!


  2. In my humble opinion, CLIL is more efficient when the student possesses a satisfied level of English Language . If CLIL is practiced in early stages, it may not have that great impact. However, CLIL will be very beneficial and productive tool when practiced in the right time


    1. Thanks for your comment Saed. My experience is limited but I think I agree. It seems that CLIL has had much more success in contexts like Scandinavia where the level of English of the learners tends to be higher. Are there any success stories out there of using CLIL with lower level learners?


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