Balancing content and language in a CLIL lesson

February 22, 2021


Last week I received an email with the question: How can I balance content and language in a CLIL lesson?

A question I receive more often, and a logical question to ask at that. 

After all, we have to teach both language and content in a CLIL lesson, right?

Or don’t we...?

Estimated time to read this article: 4 minutes

Language as a tool

First and foremost, speaking from a ‘hard CLIL’ perspective (subject teacher teaching a subject through a second language), we are subject teachers.

Not language teachers.

Yet, we teach our students language as well. As CLIL teachers, it is our task to provide scaffolding to improve language and motivate language output.

In a CLIL lesson, students are aware of the fact they are learning a language as well.

For example:

If students in my lessons would say ‘tree’ instead of ‘three’, I would start drawing trees.

They get the hint immediately and start saying it correctly.

I just provided feedback on their language, and help them to develop their language.

Does that make me a language teacher?

Well, that depends on your definition of ‘language teacher’ of course.

  • If you define ‘language teacher’ as someone who helps someone else to develop a language, than yes.
  • If you define ‘language teacher’ as someone who has a degree in language teaching and can explain more complex grammar rules, than no.

But maybe more important than deciding whether or not you are a ‘real’ language teacher.. what you do as a CLIL teacher.

Remember: CLIL stands for “Content and Language Integrated Learning”

Not “Content and Language Separated Learning”.

Language is simply the tool you use. 

After all, without language we cannot communicate.

So instead of focusing on teaching language and trying balancing content and language.

Focus on integrating language in your subject lesson.

Key Take Away

Language is the tool, not the goal.

Students’ challenges with CLIL

I know, I know. That sounds like it is easier said than done.

I agree!

When students just start out with CLIL education and get bombarded with various subjects in English, they will at moments experience a feeling of overwhelm.

Believe me, I have been there multiple times as a student myself....

CLIL students might even find it hard to keep up the pace of ‘regular’ students, as they need to translate everything in their head.

In my experience, this lasts for about 4 months.

I have been a mentor to 1st year CLIL students for more than a decade and have seen this again and again.

Every single year.

Key Take Away

Students who just start out with CLIL catch up with their non-CLIL counterparts within a few months


In my opinion, there is no such thing as having to choose between a language or a subject related activity.

Nor do you need to balance between content and language in a CLIL lesson.

You implement subject activities with added language components

Sure, CLIL students might find this challenging when you just start out.

And you might still at times find creative ways to implement a series of new, difficult phrases.

But that is not a CLIL teachers’ job.

That is every teachers’ job.

Practical lesson ideas

I have written a previous article on some practice lesson ideas you can use to integrate language in your subject lessons. 

And if would like to see me share these ideas with you for creating engaging online CLIL lessons, you can sign up for the CLIL Challenge 2021 here:

{"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}