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How should CLIL work in practice?
by Alex Mackenzie
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Anyone who is anyone in the EFL world these days is talking about CLIL. The general consensus is that it’s the way forward but there is much debate about how it’s going to work in practice and how it’s going to be integrated into EFL schools. There are many high-schools across the world who actively run CLIL programmes but as of yet it hasn’t really entered the private EFL sphere.

As Academic Director in a school that offers CLIL courses and implements its principles in General English too, my aim in this paper is to give my own ideas on the matter; ideas that are working in practice as we speak. To begin with, let’s have a look at the underlying principles behind CLIL.

Principles of CLIL

  • Content and Language Integrated Learning- pretty much does what it says on the tin- it’s dual-focused education where attention is given to the topic as well as the language. Personally, I like to think the topic is more important, English is simply the medium used. Very often the subject in the EFL classroom is the language itself- wouldn’t you prefer it if your students could leave being able to speak about rainforests rather than relative clauses! Whether the topic is a school subject or another, the principles are the same. The fact that importance is given to the topic and the language gives a more integrated methodology of learning and teaching, drawing attention to the educational process as a whole as opposed to just how languages should be taught.
  • Making content/context king means that the student is actively involved in the language; they are immersed in it, surrounded and engulfed in it. They are using the language but the context, theme and task are the driving forces. When the students are engaged and interested in the topic they are more motivated to use and learn the language needed to communicate. It also promotes a more natural use of language; simply because the scope of the language is so much wider than the constraints of a traditional EFL lesson.
  • CLIL has been called ‘education through construction, rather than instruction’ which again puts the onus on the student- they learn, they build their language because they are put in the position where they have to, not because they are being taught to. CLIL is based on language acquisition rather than enforced learning. Some people are of the opinion that students often learn despite their teachers; with CLIL teachers take much more of a facilitator role than instructor.
  • Fluency is more important than accuracy. The nature of CLIL lessons means that the students will produce (and be exposed to) a vast array of language, the focus is firmly on communication and accuracy comes with time. Making mistakes is a natural process in language learning, and as we all know, language doesn’t have to be accurate to be communicative. CLIL exposes learners to situations calling for genuine communication.
  • CLIL promotes critical thinking and collaboration skills as well as language competence. It produces life-long learners and students are sent out with real-world skills and enhanced motivation and self-confidence.

CLIL is sometimes called ‘English across the curriculum’ which I think narrows the scope of it a little. CLIL can be a Geography lesson conducted in English but it could also be a lesson on another subject such as ‘film’, ‘literature’ or even ‘sports’. The principles are the same.

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