Bilingual teaching

My report on… XXXIX Aedean Conference

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Hi everybody!

I’m back to comment on the 39th Aedean Conference held at the Universidad de Deusto, in Bilbao (Basque Country). I was delighted to attend this conference in such a beautiful place. And to top things off, the weather was absolutely fantastic.  The Conference ran from 11th to 13th November and, as always, I participated in the Language Teaching and Acquisition Section, coordinated by Prof. Francisco Gallardo del Puerto (Universidad de Cantabria).

My participation revolved around students’ perceptions and concerns on the use of CLIL in Teacher Education Degrees. This study saw the participation of forty-three  4th year students from our bilingual Primary and Infant Teacher Education degrees. Information was gathered using a questionnaire and focus-groups. Our main aim was to find an answer to the question: “Do students consider that taking the bilingual itinerary adds value to their training?” The main findings were quite revealing: 100% of the participants stated that they would choose the bilingual itinerary if given the opportunity. They also perceived that they had learned more contents, competences and didactic strategies solely due to following this itinerary.

Apart from this, the students’ comments reinforce some conclusions drawn from a previous study, with students from previous academic years. These findings, presented at Franklin Institute (2014), lead us to think that the implementation of CLIL may enhance students’ growth mindset (Dweck). If this is the case, CLIL will not only help attain better language proficiency in an additional language and good-quality teaching-learning methods, techniques and strategies, but will also have an influence on how students envision their own learning capacity.


An infographic on Growth Mindset vs. Fixed Mindset. Source:

There were some common aspects among the variety of topics presented in the sessions:

– interest in knowing how L1 positively or negatively influences L2 and to what extent this impacts and interferes with L3, L4, ETC.

I was not at all surprised, as this was a topic of interest when I was studying my degree (a long time ago now), and is still a matter of controversy. Why do elements which are similar in L1 become problematic when using L2? This issue has now expanded to a new scenario: speakers of three or more languages, as shown in the studies by Gutiérrez-Mangado & Martínez Adrián and Llinàs-Grau & Puig Mayenco. There is an interest in discovering whether learning one language helps the acquisition of specific language structures in other languages. However, to my surprise, Cummins was not mentioned at all. “Is the Interdependence Hypothesis out of fashion now?” I wondered.

– some talks aimed to describe the effect of task repetition in language acquisition.

I found this quite intriguing. It seems that some teachers have discovered that, if students are exposed to the same task time after time, the language used in the task tends to be more correct and the use of L1 is reduced. Also, it appears that when students are familiar with the content and procedure, they can focus on language. This suggests that they need to organise things first, and then they can pay attention to meaning.

It is evident that there is a cognitive component here. However, the word ‘cognition’ was barely used when dealing with these types of studies. It is necessary to make a stronger link between language and cognition. It is essential to have a look at the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) of participants, and their ability to use High Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) to discover whether cognitive demands and cognitive level are influencing these results.

–  CLIL as a context and as a pedagogical approach

As I put forward in my last post about AEDEAN Conferences, I was quite frustrated with the fact that schools were being labeled as CLIL whenever an additional language was used to teach content. My concern arose from a lack of distinction between schools embracing a methodological shift and those simply continuing a traditional approach. I mentioned this in my presentation to highlight that CLIL is not  just a context, but rather a pedagogical approach which has certain tenets. I insist on the need to distinguish bi-, tri-,and plurilingual contexts from CLIL contexts which are confirmed to be implementing a methodological change fostering the 4 Cs . That’s my view.

I also had the opportunity to talk to several speakers about this, and they told me I was right in indicating that CLIL should imply a methodological adaptation to a bilingual context. However, this was very difficult to prove in a ‘real’ study, as teachers were not willing to give information about their teaching practices. This leads me to the next point.

– Researchers admit having difficulties when obtaining information from schools

Even though this was not part of any of the sessions, the discussion came up when one person in the audience talked about his experience. Researchers have the feeling that teachers don’t want to cooperate with them, and therefore, it is virtually impossible to obtain information from real practical experience. In my view, this is completely true, but I can understand the teachers’ points of view, as they are bogged down by timetables, lots of paperwork, families and a myriad of children with different learning needs. Therefore, our point of view as researchers should be: what can I do for them in the short run? If we want this collaboration to happen, we must think about how we can help them to work better, and how they can collaborate with our universities. See for example how Celaya and Panelli, participating in this conference, mentioned how they had changed their questionnaires because teachers had spotted several difficulties in the original model. Personally, I’ve had school teachers talking in my lessons, and these have been rewarding not only for them, but also for me and my students. A different kind of relationship, beyond “just giving information or data”, must be established for the benefit of both parties.

– Culture: towards transculturality

The 4th C, Culture, has been the main topic of several of my posts on this blog. As you know, simply put, I consider that an English teacher should not limit his/her lessons to show how English people or American people live, their traditions, beliefs and celebrations. I believe that if English has become an International Language (EIL), it is also a tool to access any culture. In that sense, one of the speakers, Karen Jacob, mentioned the need to adopt the term “Transcultural” to denote how you can learn from and interact with different cultures. In her words, it gives a sense of “multidirectional movement”. In this context, Clavel-Arroitia and Pennock-Speck presented an interesting study involving telecollaboration between two high-schools located in Spain and Poland.


I hope this quick review is both informative and interesting. I’d love to read your comments.


Me in beautiful and sunny Bilbao 🙂

I’d like to thank James Crichlow and Carolina Benito for revising the original version of this post. Thanks for all your suggestions!


What’s the role of English in Higher Education?

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What’s the role of English in Higher Education? This was the main topic of an event which took place in Segovia (Spain) last week, as reported by the University World News. The British Council, in collaboration with the IE University organised this international meeting where universities from different countries worldwide and experts from the British Council and the European Commission were involved. The key issue of the meeting was to discuss the implications of offering English courses and programmes at university and to reflect on the quality of this academic offer.

It is no surprise that most universities are pursuing EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction) programmes as a way to increase their reputation. EMI programmes attract international students to their institutions, and improve undergraduates’ profiles to match the needs of an increasingly demanding labour market. According to the UWN article, many institutions are aware of the need to implement the ‘mother tongue + 2’ objective set by the European Commission, and consider EMI programmes to be an opportunity of improving the quality of university teaching. However, there is still much debate on how this can be achieved in a short period of time.

From my point of view, we are mixing two ideas. One is that English should become ‘a lingua franca’, and the second is that English should become THE language of higher education. In my opinion, all university students should be helped and trained to have a good command of English, as this will help them not only in their professional but also everyday lives. That said, the way we are going to improve students’ communication skills in English is another debate, however I don’t consider a completely monolingual programme to be a valid option. It is not how often you teach in English, it is how well you do it, and here we deal with the issue of methodology. Is EMI good just because we are delivering subjects in the English language? Are all EMI programmes successful? I’m afraid not.

Will English become the lingua franca in HE?
Will English become the lingua franca in HE?

From the meeting held in Segovia, issues were raised on two main areaspolicy implications for successful delivery of EMI courses, and “practical implications of EMI: methodology, quality and assessment’. In the first session, participants raised awareness on the danger of launching EMI programmes without prior training and preparation. Obviously, many institutions want to rush to offer the same academic degrees their counterparts are implementing, but organising a good EMI programme means a minimum training period of 1 year, according to my own experience. Also, participants mentioned the need to embed administrative and academic structures to support EMI projects. This is essential, as the EMI programme is a University academic proposal, in which everybody is involved in some way or another.

Regarding the second session, on the practical implications of EMI. Participants considered that this could be a ‘tool for improving the quality of teaching’. I couldn’t agree more. I consider that pedagogy has been disregarded in Higher Education Institutions. Many lecturers are leading experts in their fields of specialisation, but don’t know how to create knowledge in their classrooms. If we help these people to communicate more effectively, to work on higher-order thinking skills, to scaffold their input, etc, we are going to get better, long-term and more effective learning. Also, they will be provided with a set of teaching tools which are easily transferable to their classes taught in their mother tongue.

Another issue raised in the second session was the difficulty of establishing shared policies regarding language testing, and the need to compensate EMI teachers for this extra work they are doing. Bilingual projects in Spain have chosen Cambridge ESOL and Trinity Exams to assess students’ performance in terms of language competence. However, this is making many academic programmes suffer from the so-called washback effect. Besides that, I wonder what would happen if we measured the success of EMI programmes in terms of the 4Cs proposed by Do Coyle: Cognition, Content, Communication and Culture. Language performance is just a leg of EMI programmes.

All in all, I’m confident about the work Universities are doing to provide students with better instruction in or through English. The main issue that should be raised is that everything starts with the training provided to teachers. If head departments are happy just checking the English competence of their lecturers, EMI programmes will not be making the most of this opportunity of improving teaching-learning quality in Higher Education.

If you are interested in knowing more about how  our CLIL teacher training degrees are organised, please visit this link.

Note: Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/


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The English Teachers Association of Andalusia announces the celebration of its XXVII Curso Anual para la Enseñanza del Inglés (GRETA Annual Conference), which will take place at the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, University of Granada on 17th, 18thand 19th of  October 2013.

The contents of our sessions will be organised in four main lines of work:

  • ·        Developing students skills successfully in the XXI Century: Practical examples of effective teaching and classroom management, use of new technologies and task based learning.
  • ·         Pragmatic proposals for the Infant, Primary and Secondary Classroom.
  • ·         English for Specific Purposes in Vocational Training Courses.
  • ·         CLIL Methodology in Bilingual Programmes, ELT and Content teaching, tailor-made courses for specific teacher training needs.

Registration is now open and available here:

III Foro Nebrija

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Last Thursday the 3rd edition of the Nebrija Foro was held in Madrid. This one-day seminar aims to provide participants with the opportunity of listening to CLIL experts and/or practitioners, and get to know trendy topics and shared concerns. I would like to share some of the conclusions I drew from the sessions I attended.

First, in my view, there is a huge concern about the ‘digital component’ in education and, more specifically,

Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern
Digital tools in Bilingual Education seem to be a major concern

in CLIL. Almost all sessions mentioned the key role digital tools can play to develop cognition, interaction, collaborative work, etc. I admit I’m also exploring this, as I’m now getting training on the use of different digital tools in education, but I also think that we should be cautious: it is not the tool we use, it is what we do with it. Using Twitter in my lessons won’t make my students use their HOTS (High Order Thinking Skills) automatically. Hence, the tricky point here is not digital tools but PLANNING. If we train teachers how to plan effectively, they will make the most of any resource (digital or not). In any case, it is true that new generations are digital-native, and we should find ways to learn ‘the language’ they feel more comfortable with 😉

Second, there is a progressive tendency to replace Culture (one of the four Cs put forward by Coyle) with Community (which was proposed by Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols (2008). This does not come as a surprise, taking into account what I have mentioned in the paragraph above. That is, the word ‘community’ is linked to the digital world everywhere. Also, I guess that Culture may be a misleading concept for practitioners: “is it the Culture of the English-speaking cultures?” “my culture?” This is a clear shift towards ELF (English as a Lingua Franca)

Third, believe it or not, I gather that there isn’t consensus about what CLIL is. I still consider that there are many experts talking about EFL or ESL and labeling this as CLIL (and this is not so!). In one of the talks, CLIL was defined as “the term for the European version of bilingual education”. In my opinion, this is not a fair definition. First, Teaching in a Foreign/Second Language is not necessarily CLIL. There are ‘bad’ bilingual practices, and CLIL tries to make the most of bilingual education. Second, I really think that there isn’t a unique European version as such, many models coexist, and this is not CLIL all the time.

The following point I’d like to make is a warning note on the ‘search for’ recipes to implement CLIL. Even if I agree on the need to establish common ground so that not everything is labelled as CLIL, I also see that some people try to ‘sell’ ‘the CLIL didactic sequence’, and this can be a disaster if it is applied literally to any classroom. In fact, sticking to a foreseeable structure will spoil the ‘variety’ factor CLIL plays with. The student should be constantly challenged and engaged.

And last, but not least, some Bilingual Projects are in urgent need of an integrated curriculum encompassing integrated objectives and a major shift in the English language subjects. It is paradoxical that CLIL content teachers are applying innovative techniques and strategies whereas EFL teachers are still dealing with the present perfect with the same group in the next hour! Literacy should be included in the English Language Curriculum, as the projects set by the British Council/Ministry of Education have been doing for many years now.

Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education
Nebrija Foro Bilingual Education

Regarding the more practical workshops, I believe that some work should be done to provide Primary Teachers with tools to support their students’ reading comprehension. Some tips I can think of is to use colours for keywords, add pictures to reinforce understanding, and show alternative terms for a concept or idea. We shouldn’t forget that there are less able students that need to have clear scaffolding when dealing with texts.

Once again, this Foro is a great opportunity to meet people, exchange ideas and experiences and start up new projects with colleagues from other institutions. I’d like to thank the organisers for this wonderful opportunity to talk about Bilingual Education and CLIL.

Images have been obtained from:

BEDA Prize

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The federation of Spanish Catholic Schools in Madrid, together with Macmillan, and Cambridge ESOL celebrated its Bilingual English Development and Assessment (BEDA) Annual Contest last week. The contest accepted articles dealing with educational experiences carried out in Bilingual educational centres of any level. My contribution, entitled “Identified CLIL in every day practice: an experience with teacher trainees”, was awarded with a BEDA PRIZE. I’m really thankful for this recognition to my work and effort.

Due to the nature of this experience, this prize is has not only be awarded to a specific activity, but also to the teaching-learning model we are implementing in our teacher training degrees at the Centro Universitario Cardenal Cisneros (former Escuela Universitaria). It is our belief that good CLIL teaching-learning should start from training University lecturers appropriately. This naturally takes time, money and effort, but no good-quality teaching can be guaranteed if lecturers have not been trained to find their way to CLIL. Another key component of our Bilingual Project is that we are pioneers in implementing CLIL as our methodological approach. Students are not only told about CLIL (as the awarded experience explains), but also are helped to identify CLIL components, and later to work with them. This helps them find their way to CLIL from practice. As Benjamin Franklin said:

Tell me, and I will forget
Show me, and I will remember
Involve me, and I will learn.

You can access the full version of the awarded experience here.

Interesting search engine to find courses and programs in the US

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Hello everyone! This time I’m posting about a website including an interesting search engine related to education. Some weeks ago I received an email from Victoria Baker, who suggested me the possibility of revising it and consider it to be included in the blog. As you will see, it is a comprehensive and informative resource that systematically sorts out the undergraduate and graduate programs available today in the U.S.

In the case of Spain, many students are seeking for opportunities to improve their training and working profiles by entering courses and educational programs abroad. Websites like this are undoubtedly time-saving!

You can visit the webpage here.

Seminar: Learning through a foreign language

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We are working towards Synergy in CLIL
We are working towards Synergy in CLIL

On 21st and 22nd February, the University of Alcalá hosted a seminar entitled “Learning through a foreign language”, organised by the British Council in collaboration with the University and the Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sports.  People responsible for educational policies in different regions in Spain, inspectors, teachers, coordinators of Bilingual Projects at different levels, and University representatives were invited to participate in this initiative. It was a pleasure for me to receive the invitation from the organiser. I would really want to thank the British Council and the University of Alcalá for their kind invitation, as this was a great opportunity to exchange views on educational policies regarding bilingual education, both at a micro- and macro- level.

Although I was unable to attend the Seminar on 21st, I very much enjoyed attending the sessions on Friday, representing the University College where I work, Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros. These sessions were conducted by Prof. David Lasagabaster (Basque Country University), and Prof. Ana Halbach (University of Alcalá). It is my purpose to briefly comment on these two sessions and the main ideas I took with me from them.

The first idea I would like to put forward is one Prof. Lasagabaster highlighted in his session and afterwards in the round table time. It is true that teachers are very much obsessed with the “triumph” of bilingual education, and this will take time. If we think about how English was taught twenty years ago, we can affirm that this subject was considered a doss subject. Classes were teacher-centred and devoted to the learning of grammar and sets of vocabulary without any contextualisation. The result was that students were able to pass the subject without opening their mouths. Pay a visit to a bilingual school now and you will see that things have changed a lot and, obviously, they will change even more if an effort is made to push this opportunity of changing education a little bit further. Even so, this is a long-term process, and it will take time.

A second issue I will be mentioning is related to teacher training needs. Prof. Halbach was asked about the biggest need of teachers who are train to become bilingual teachers in Spain. She mentioned “Planning” as the most evident need. I agree with her up to a point, as a consider that a difference should be made between Primary Teachers and Secondary Teachers. Until now, Secondary teachers could well be teaching in a High-School without having to take any subject related to teaching during their university studies. Things are different for Infant and Primary teachers, who have many subjects regarding this issue during their studies. Even so, I agree with prof. Halbach on the need of providing with better training regarding CLIL planning (which is not necessarily what students are receiving in most universities). The integration of language in their teaching plans, and their training on scaffolding techniques is absolutely essential to reach these goals.

All in all, it is great news that institutions working on bilingual education are hosting debates like this, which offers us the opportunity to share what we are doing, and to work together in the same direction. As it was said during the Seminar, we should create the kind of SYNERGY we need to improve education standards in our country, and bilingual education has open a door for us to seize the chance.