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CLIL, or Deep Level ESP?
by Neil McBeath
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CLIL in Practice

As a result of this flaw, it is difficult to know how much credence should be accorded to the following list (Mehisto et al 2008; 105-107). It consists of 15 items, from a “highly experienced CLIL educator called Lynda Boynton” (P. 105) who was asked what she felt “were essential elements in supporting learning in content classes.” (P. 105)

I now intend to examine this list, offering my own comments.

1. Create a psychologically and physically safe environment

It must be admitted that many places of learning fail to do this. Biographies and autobiographies frequently reveal instances of people whose early education was a nightmare. In Britain, one of the most famous examples of this is The Prince of Wales. He was educated at Gordonstoun School in Scotland, a place which Flavin (1996) admits offered nothing to any boy who was bookish or introverted.

Even so, I do not believe that any educational institution anywhere in the world has deliberately set out to produce an atmosphere in which learners feel psychologically and physically unsafe. This item is simply common sense.

2. Consistently use one language

Boynton modifies this by suggesting that the students’ L1 can be used in “bridging techniques normally only used sparingly at the start of an extensive programme” (P. 105), but I thought that we had dispensed with “the monolingual fallacy” (Karmani 2003) years ago.

Banning the use of the mother tongue is possible with small groups of polyglot students. It is almost impossible with large groups, and completely impossible with classes from the same linguistic background. Indeed, attempting to do this deprives the teacher of a very useful resource. (Atkinson 1987; Deller and Rinvolucri 2002.)

3. In the beginning, it is acceptable for students to use the first language

Am I alone in believing that this point contradicts the previous one? Is it also not obvious that, with beginning students "students at the primary level, who are at the start of a programme" (P. 105) denying the right to use the L1 will effectively leave them lost for words.

4. Speak slowly and articulate clearly

Again, do any teachers deliberately increase rate of delivery and gabble or mumble to their students? Boynton hedges this item by saying that one should "be careful not to overexaggerate words or speak unnaturally slowly" (P. 106), but this just begs further questions. How does she define "overexaggerate"? Is just a bit of exaggeration acceptable? How slowly can one speak without sounding "unnatural"? These are important questions. Even among native speakers in Britain, delivery rates are far faster in Ulster than they are in the South West of England.

5. Use an appropriate level of language

"Avoid structures that are too complicated for your students, but speak in a grammatically correct manner" says Boynton (P. 106). In other words, sedulously avoid the gaps, hesitations, stabilizers, listener code markers, renewals or anacoluthon (Wilkinson 1965; 29) that mark informal speech. Teachers are to use the "full, complex and well-organised sentences" which Jones (2005: 77) points out are a sign of written language. Speaking uses "incomplete, simple and loosely organized sentences".

6. Use facial expressions, gestures and pictures to reinforce meaning

At the 2003 IATEFL Conference I won a teaching video called Snap TV; British and American Teenage Lifestyles (Coleman and Osborne 2003). In one sequence, a presenter said "Thanks" so emphatically that it looked as if she were using her tongue to try to catch a fly. Facial expressions can be overdone. It is not necessary to use pantomime.

Similarly, Boynton's suggestion that visual aids should only be used to reinforce the verbal message "That way, the idea registers first in the target language" (P. 106) is open to question. Our students have grown up with ICT. They have highly developed visual intelligence and that can be exploited.

7. Repetition is required

Not only is it required, it is essential. Nation (1990) established this point twenty years ago. For a lexical item to be acquired, it must be repeated at least ten times, and even more if the item in question differs only slightly from a word that is already known.

Maley (1994) has also stressed the importance of repetition. As a rule of thumb, the younger the learners, the more repetition will be appreciated. This is not an argument for rote learning, but all experienced teachers know that what is taught is not what students learn. Even the old Presentation, Practice, Production model of teaching leaves room for repetition.

8. Make it meaningful

Boynton states that "The language, themes and content of classroom lessons must be relevant and of interest to the students" (P. 107). Scheffler (1973; 75) "remarks that to stand against irrelevance is like 'opposing sin' whilst to favour relevance in the curriculum is 'akin to applauding virtue'" (Hill 2008; 16).

Surely this point is so obvious that it needs no restatement.

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