Is CLIL Humanistic? Ting’s view on this issue

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The situation of English language subjects in Bilingual Projects should be revised
The situation of English language subjects in Bilingual Projects should be revised

The new issue of the online magazine “Humanising Language Teaching” has just been published. Among its interesting contents, I have found an article written by prof. Y.L. Teresa Ting (University of Calabria), an expert on Content and Language Integrating Learning.  Prof. Ting participated as a lecturer in the training course I organised for my colleagues in January, 2012, and we were really lucky to share our views and experiences of CLIL and bilingual education with her. In this article, she puts forward several issues which are a big concern for those who work in the CLIL world.

To start with, I’d like to comment on the idea that CLIL teachers envision the opportunity of using this approach in their classes as a way of making education better. It is not only teaching through a foreign language, but making learning more exciting and motivating.

A second important issue she is mentioning is related to the meaning of CLIL. I have been part of interesting (and sometimes bitter) discussions on the meaning of this apparently innocent acronym, and my conclusion is that I may doubt about what it is, but I know what it is not, and definitely it is not to teach in  L2 as we will do in L1. Introducing the variable “through a foreign or second language” in the classroom automatically implies a methodological change, if this is not so, opportunities for learning to happen decrease drastically.

I also agree with Prof. Ting in her conception of teachers’ comfort zones. It is true that when you ask a content teacher or a group of content teachers to leave their mother tongues and jump into the adventure of using a foreign language, they feel they are (in Ting’s words) “operating outside the comfort zones”. Although this may seem a disadvantage at the beginning, it rapidly becomes a big advantage, as this situation makes them explore more techniques, resources and materials; more learning and teaching strategies. Also, if the training has been carried out in groups, this feeling of “not being comfortable” creates a sense of unity. Teachers suddenly feel they can learn from the others, and feel more at ease to share and exchange what they are doing. This I can tell from my own experience during all these years training and being trained to become a CLIL teacher 🙂

Last, but not least, prof. Ting mentions something that I consider dangerous: the situation of EFL teachers and EFL subjects in education. In Spain, most bilingual projects do not offer a different curriculum from mainstream classrooms for the English language subject. Because of this, and in many cases, students have interactive and communicative content lessons in English, but when it comes to study English as a subject, they are again filling the gaps with the present continuous tense. Paradoxically, many students love taking content lessons in English, but hate English as a subject. If we want bilingual education to be fully beneficial for our students, we need to urgently revise the curriculum for the English subjects, and give them a literacy twist. Fostering reading, working on language functions connected with content subjects, carrying out cross-curricular projects, establishing with communication with native speakers…, these could be some of the many activities that an EFL teacher could do in their classes. If CLIL is an opportunity to make learning a little bit more fascinating, why should the English subject be left aside?

Is this the situation in your countries? Do you share this view? Please let me know your opinions.

Full version of Prof. Ting’s article can be read here

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