Does CLIL make a difference? My report on AEDEAN congress

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From Wednesday 13th to Friday 15th November, I’ve been attending the 37th edition of the AEDEAN (Spanish Association of English and North American Studies) congress, which was this time held in Oviedo, and hosted by its University. As usual, I’d like to share my thoughts and impressions with you all. More particularly, I’ll be referring to those sessions related to my main area of interest: CLIL, which were presented in the Language Teaching and Acquisition section of the congress. These sessions were coordinated by prof. Francisco Gallardo del Puerto (Universidad de Cantabria), who did a great job not only in providing speakers with valuable feedback and food for thought in each session but also in creating a relaxing atmosphere.

From my point of view, there seems to be a big concern about demonstrating empirically the alleged learning gains when using CLIL instruction. In fact, most studies presented were interested in proving whether advantages of CLIL instructions can be correlated with the methodological approach used or with the increased exposure to the target language. I’ll provide with a brief summary of each of the sessions dealing with this.  For example, the one conducted by Pilar Agustín Llach (Universidad de La Rioja), and coauthored by Rosa M. Jiménez Catalán. They compared the lexical profile of two groups with the same hours of instruction in English (839 hours). A group was composed by 31 adult learners in their 2nd year of OSL (Official School of Languages), and the other group had 68 young learners attending 5th grade of Primary in a ‘CLIL’ context.  The results ‘clearly point to older learners obtaining significantly better measures of lexical richness, thus claiming that  ‘age is a more relevant factor in predicting or facilitating lexical acquisition that amount of exposure’. One curious finding in this research was that younger learners’ lexical profiles contain more words belonging to higher frequency levels.

In line with this, Izaskun Villareal Olaizola (Universidad Publica de Navarra) presented a study focused on the use of some morphological features (affixal –s and ed, suppletive auxiliary and copula be) in two groups. They are both L3 English groups, Basque-Spanish bilinguals, taking CLIL and non-CLIL programmes respectively. Results showed ‘a higher omission rate for the CLIL group’. The study was then repeated with a different CLIL group with a higher amount of exposure to the language. The non-CLIL group omitted less affixal morphemes again.

Another interesting study was the one presented by María Martínez Adrián. She carried out a research on students’ use of L1 in L3 (English) oral production. Her study was carried out with two groups which had started learning English at the age of 8 and have been learning English for 7 years as a L3. One group is involved in a CLIL programme. Results indicate that the CLIL group uses L1 less, and has a greater variety of tenses and more subordinate clauses.

Finally, Judith Fusté Fargas (Colegio La Carpa) described a study on 6th grade students’ vocabulary knowledge. 223 participants from 6 different schools in Barcelona took part in the study.  Results show that the effect of CLIL programmes is minor when the amount of instruction is parallel to the regular problems, hence, time exposure seems to be more determinant that the methodology used.

Although interesting and relevant, these studies have clear limitations. First of all, we need to establish which the minimum requirements for a programme to be considered CLIL-based are. Are we talking about a bilingual context or a CLIL context? Are they synonyms? What type of instruction is being carried out? I agree with Prof. Carmen Muñoz’s comment (she was a plenary speaker in the cogress, and was present in some of the Language Teaching and Acquisition sessions), who said that there are ‘different CLILs’, and for that reason it is very important to describe which type of instruction is being carried out in the schools researched. I completely agree with this, and I also wonder if we can talk about CLIL contexts (and not bi-,multi- lingual contexts).

Another weakness these studies need to cope with is the type of ‘measuring standards they are using. Being able to produce the 3rd person –s inflection or avoid auxiliary verbs may not be the main focus of CLIL instruction, which favours more meaning-based production. One the plenary speakers in the congress, Prof. Martin Dewey (King’s College, London) , who was among the audience in Villareal’s session, indicated that the results presented, far from being counterintuitive, were reinforcing the nature of CLIL programmes, were fluency was being fostered. This also raises an important question on the way we are ‘measuring’ students’ language performance. If CLIL is based on ‘language functions’, Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency, as well as Basic Interpersonal Communicative Skills, and fluency, are we using the right tests to check students’ proficiency level?

All in all, I would like to finish this entry saying that I’m really happy to find so many Spanish experts involved in researching SLA in CLIL contexts. I consider that we are doing a great job in seeking answers for the CLIL ‘big question’: does CLIL makes a difference? And Yes, it does!

Information on the congress can be found here:



A bilingual literacy experience at tertiary education

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You can know read an article about a literacy project developed last yeat at the Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros.  The abstract is the following:

The following article is focused on the study of a literacy experience I developed in a teacher training college in Spain (Escuela Universitaria Cardenal Cisneros). A group of students taking an optional subject on English language and literature took part on three activities which aimed at promoting a more aesthetic reading (Rosenblatt, 2005), and increasing their awareness of the importance of enjoying reading and writing books. The activities were the creation of a Spell Book, a newsstand and a bookcrossing experience.

It is available here

New book on Content and Language Integrated Learning

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Much has been written about bilingual education, but there is still much to say about multilingual contexts… One example of this is this book, which has just been published (January 2011). This volume has been edited by Yolanda Ruiz Zarobe, Juan Manuel Sierra and Francisco Gallardo del Puerto,  and contains interesting contributions on the multilingual educational context. It can be accessed here or using Google Books

CLIL-ing in me softly. Defining CLIL.

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It is interesting how specialists all over the world are trying to define CLIL. The first definition was written by the European Commission and tried to consider it as an “umbrella term”. In 2002 David Marsh provided the (probably) most quoted description:

CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.

Little by little the “umbrella” seems to be described more accurately, as teachers become more familiar with CLIL in practice. In other words, practice is shaping the concept of CLIL , and it is helping to determine what can be considered CLIL and what it is not, by any means, teaching through a foreign language.

An example of this is the distinction between soft and hard CLIL I’ve come across thanks to the work of Keith Kelly and Phil Ball. Soft CLIL stands for teaching content through the medium of a foreign language but with predominantly linguistic objectives. Teachers involved in soft CLIL will put language issues in front of their syllabus, and use content to give a framework for them. In my opinion, this is a more EFL version of CLIL, as most EFL teaching in the last decades has been topic-based but language oriented. Different methodological techniques may apply, though.

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On the other hand, hard CLIL stands for teaching content through the medium of foreign language with content objectives at the front. That is, language is relevant as much as it is needed to progress in the learning of content, but THERE IS, and MUST BE, language awareness, more specifically at the level of discourse and functional language.

After seven years working on researching and studying bilingual education, I am more inclined to consider the definition of hard CLIL much closer to my idea of what integrating content and language is. If we really want to use any foreign language as a communicative tool in the classroom, content cannot be enslaved to language. Quite the contrary, the real integration appears when we are able to determine which language we need to help our students to access that content, to work with it, analyse it, assimilate it,  and create with it. That’s my view.

Further reading on the definition of CLIL  What is CLIL? by Phil Ball (onestopenglish)

CLIL Pyramid by Oliver Meyer

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You can now download the article “Towards quality CLIL:  Succesful planning and teaching strategies” by prof. Oliver Meyer. Click here

Publication: Enseñar en el proyecto bilingüe. Reflexiones y recursos para el profesor

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This is a handbook for teachers starting to work in bilingual education. It is focused on infant and primary education, and it contains several sections: reflections, internet links, important questions, etc. It aims at helping teacher have some answers to everyday problems that may appear in their classrooms as well as to provide with a pocketful of ideas which may be put into practice.

You can buy it in any bookshop or online from the publishing house.

If you want to get more information on this book or buy it, click here.

BOUGHT this book? Leave your comments about it here. We want to here from you!

Our research work on bilingual education (I)

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A group of teachers of the University of Alcalá (Madrid), coordinated by Prof. Ana Halbach (PhD), started to follow the implementation of a bilingual project in state-run schools in the Madrid Region. This happened in 2004. Along these 6 years we have been looking at this challenge from the perspective of teachers. What does it mean for a teacher to participate in a bilingual project? Which are their main needs? What are their expectations? How do they value this experience? Many are the questions that we wanted to answer, and we had the chance to share this time with them, and try to collaborate as much as possible to solve their problems and doubts.

The first study, centred on finding out teachers’ prior expectations and needs to the implementation of the project, is described and explained here.

Soon, more on our research work. Hope it is useful!