Culture in the CLIL Classroom: going beyond the disguise?

Posted on

It’s a long time since I last wrote a post to the blog. This doesn’t mean I’m not reflecting on my teaching anymore (is that possible, in any case?), but time flies and my new duties as Deputy Director are keeping me busier than I expected. I’m coming back to discuss about the role of Culture in CLIL.

When you start implementing CLIL in your classroom, the first three Cs are ok. Content… is clear. Communication… is obvious. Cognition… is a must! But what happens with Culture? When asked about this, some teachers claim that their subjects cannot deal with this; others state that they do it, but in an implicit way; and a third group keeps on wondering: Culture, which culture?

As far as I know, it seems that Culture was divided into two different concepts by Seelye (1984). These concepts are known as ‘Big C’ and ‘Small C’. The ‘Big C’ includes literature, music, film and symbols (Clandfield, 2008: p. 4); whereas the ‘Small c’ is focused on typical food, clothing, values, activities, manners and practices of a group (Seyle, 1984: 19). It is also possible to find “K culture” which is referring to behaviours or customs which may seem unusual or curious, mostly based on stereotype (Clandfield, 2008: p.4).

Image taken from stockimages,

Even if we now know which C or K we would like to use in our classes, we need to choose the ‘culture’ or ‘cultures’ of reference. When I was a child, I was instructed about how to ask for a white tea in English (among other apparently ‘British’ customs), but right now English has become a ‘lingua franca’. Clandfield makes an essential point about this when asserting that English may be viewed as ‘devoided’ of cultural content, if we consider that we’re using a “’supranational’ variety of English” (p.5). He proposes to make our EFL/ESL teaching rely on what Byram (1997) termed as “intercultural competence”, understood as “the ability to communicate and operate effectively with people from another culture” (p.5).

In the same line, Chlopek (2009) indicates that for students to develop successful intercultural communication, “a through and systematic intercultural training” is needed. This training shouldn’t just encompass the English-speaking countries, in her opinion. Moreover, the starting point for this training should be to analyse students’ native culture, and compare them to other cultures. This initial step is also indicated b y Clandsfield (2008).

Some authors suggest practical ideas to take intercultural competence into our classrooms. Clandsfield considers that students can benefit from role-playing, and the analysis of cultural-biased elements in textbooks, for example. Chlopek offers a didactic proposal in three stages which invites students to reflect on the notion of Culture and its meaning for them (individually, and as a group). She also considers relevant to encourage student exchange or email exchange, organizing tasks as to share information with the rest of the class. Also, Chlopek mentions project work, as an opportunity to engage students in meaningful communication.

No matter what C/c/K we are teaching with, training on “intercultural competence” seems essential to help our students become global citizens. Are we making what is needed to develop it in our classes?What’s your view about CcKulture in your classroom? Are you supporting any of these views? Are you finding it difficult to integrate this C into your teaching? Have you carried out a successful project focus on the development of intercultural competence? I’d love to read your contributions.


Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and assessing intercultural communicative competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.

Chlopek, Z. (2008). “The Intercultural Approach to EFL Teaching and Learning”. English Teaching Forum, 4: 10-27. Retrieved from:

Clandfield, L. (2008) “Culture in ELT: Which C? Whose C?” Teachers of English as a Second Language of Ontario, 34/3: 1-8. Retrieved from:

Seelye, H. N. (1984) Teaching Culture. Chicago IL: National Textbook Company.


3 thoughts on “Culture in the CLIL Classroom: going beyond the disguise?

    María Pérez Galván said:
    June 23, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    This issue you bring up is something I’ve ben worrying about for a long time… many teachers, and Spanish institutions, believe a B2 is enough to be able to teach in English but they always forget it’s diffficult to be a language reference with a B2 AND (going back to what the post is about) always overlook the importance of knowing the Real English and having the right Cultural Awareness required depends on the age of the students you teach and iskey to proper CLIL teaching. If you are teaching CLIL in Infants you’ll need to know about the nursery rhymes, traditional stories, games, TV programmes…for that age if you want REAL language to seep into the students’ minds; whereas teaching CLIL in Primary and Secondary will need a different know-how.
    The question is…do CLIL, or even language, teachers really have the right training, professional career… to really be able to include ‘Culture’ in their lessons? Having spent a summer, a year…in an English speaking country, as an adult, does not build up practically any know-how of the real English Culture needed to teach CLIL effectively in Infants,Primary or Secondary. Is the teaching community really aware of this? Are parents really aware of this?
    Email and Project Exchange are a possibility to improve this, but I also believe Shadow Teacher Training in English speaking countries (or in English/American…schools here in Spain)shouldbe a must for teachers who have not been brought up in a native environment and want to achieve high CLIL standards in their clasroom.

      teachingtoteach responded:
      September 1, 2016 at 6:07 pm

      Hi María, and thanks for your contribution. In my view, English is now firmly established as a language for international communication. Using English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) necessarily means that our view of cultural learning cannot be limited to that of the countries whose official language is English. English is automatically a key to access pluricultural awareness. This basically means that teachers should not worry about transmitting a specific culture but raise awareness on the richness and diversity cultural encounters may bring to our society. If you are interested in this, Do Coyle’s notion of Culture is worth to look at.
      Raquel F

    etmarian said:
    June 24, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Reblogged this on English primary teacher and commented:
    An interesting article about the CLIL methodology to think about.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s