“If it would have been English, it would have been CLIL”

March 30, 2021


This sentence mentioned by a colleague I was coaching last week surprised me a little. I knew CLIL is often (if not always) used in a second language acquisition setting, but I genuinely think CLIL works in any context.

Estimated time to read this article: < 1 minutes

Is CLIL for second language learners only?

Before I explain why I think CLIL is suitable for any learning context, let me share my take on CLIL:

CLIL is motivating students to be actively engaged with a second language.

Notice I do mention ‘second’ language (L2) here.

The first couple of times I presented this take on CLIL, I actually placed this between brackets.

But this created more confusion rather than actual understanding of the topic, so I decided to remove this.

Another way to describe my take on CLIL is:

  1. 1
    All students are engaged
  2. 2
    There is language involved, preferably output

Using this approach, there is no need for mentioning ‘second’ at all.

With regard to the CLIL in L1 discussion and putting it in this context, I wonder:

  1. 1
    Shouldn’t all teachers aim at making sure students are engaged with the content?
  2. 2
    Isn’t language always part of your teaching?

Key Take Away

Ask yourself two questions:

  1. 1
    Are all students engaged?
  2. 2
    Is there language involved, preferably output?

Is the answer yes?

You are probably already using CLIL!

What I did to apply CLIL in L1 lessons

When I changed schools a couple of years ago I had to teach in Dutch again.

Something I had not done for years.

I was afraid I had to redesign my lesson plans.

My carefully crafted scaffolding ideas.

The focus on language that was often present in my lessons.

But I was wrong. Luckily.

My Dutch students really appreciated me providing structure and scaffolding in the lessons.

The theories on the thinking skills and scaffolding do not apply only to second language acquisition after all, do they?

And even the focus on language really paid off.

I would make sure students actually understood me before I would explain something more difficult.

Key Take Away

CLIL can be applied in L1 settings as well.

I know this for a fact. 

Because I did...

Some more ideas on using CLIL with not just second language learners.

This concept of CLIL not being second-language-domain-only is not new.

There have been previous publications mentioning this, for example by Rick de Graaff in CLIL Magazine back in 2016 in his article “The art of riding a bicycle”

As he visits schools he would even “meet teachers who indicate that teaching CLIL has also changed their way of teaching in Dutch”.

He concludes “If subject learning is about travelling through and discovering new territories, then language would be the transport type we can use for this purpose”

This sounds a lot like the “Language as a vehicle” concept as mentioned in the excellent CLIL book “Putting CLIL into Practice” by Phil Ball, Keith Kelly and John Clegg.

Key Take Away

This topic has been discussed in various publications before and as such is not really new or revolutionary.

Practical examples of using CLIL in a first language CLIL lesson

Okay, this is al nice and such, but how does this work in class?

I hear you!

Again, let me speak from my own experience:

By scaffolding the learning and implementing tasks around (first!) language acquisition in my lessons, my mathematics students did a great job.

I would use various activities I would normally use in a bilingual lesson as well:

And many more!


I don’t think that CLIL only works in a bilingual or second language acquisition setting.

It works in any kind of teaching, as it involves many elements already often used.

Don’t be afraid CLIL is something ‘big’ and involves a lot of change.

You are probably already implementing elements of CLIL already.

What do you think? Can CLIL only be used in L2 settings?

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