The definition of CLIL explained

May 25, 2015


This blog, the CLIL magazine, the CLIL Challenge. They all focus on one theme: CLIL. But what is CLIL? Does everyone implement CLIL in the same way, as an universal method that is the same for everyone?

The answer to this question is no.

CLIL is being implement in a lot of different ways all over the world. From Japan to The Netherlands and from Italy to Denmark, CLIL is used in many different countries and when I checked some presentations and publications regarding CLIL in these different countries I quickly realized they share quite a lot, but sometimes differ even more.

The obvious: The abbreviation

CLIL is short for Content and Language Integrated Learning. I think we can all agree on that, right?

So what does this imply? Does it simply mean you have to translate your lesson from your first language to the target language? Or do you need to do more?

If we just look at the abbreviation itself, I conclude that CLIL is about Integrating. Forging a link between the content and the language and allow for effective learning so students learn the subject through a second language and learning a language at the same time.

Is that all? No, there’s more!

What do the books say?

In order to figure out once and for all, I did a little research on the subject. Here’s what I found:

One of the renowned experts on CLIL, David Marsh, describes CLIL like this: Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) refers to any dual-focused educational context in which an additional language is used as a medium in the teaching and learning of non-language content.

Mind the word ‘any’. This does not indicate a specific method or approach, rather a broad approach. Also, the word ‘medium’ suggests that CLIL is a tool, not a goal.

In the book ‘The roles of language in CLIL’ (Llinares, Morton and Whittaker) it is stated: “Many writers on CLIL use a wide definition of the phenomenon”. It is also mentioned that CLIL and immersion have often been used interchangeably.

Do Coyle’s “4 C’s of CLIL”, being Content, Cognition, Culture and Communication, is a popular model for many CLIL discussions, as it provides a more detailed description of the important aspects of any CLIL lesson.

Okay one more: Mehisto, Frigols and March (2008) state that CLIL is an umbrella term covering a dozen or more educational approaches.

Confused yet? I know I am! If the experts use different definitions, how can we be sure that we are using the correct one?

What works for me?

So, in order to simplify things I decided to come up with my own definition of CLIL. This is by  no means the ‘best’ definition, it is simply a definition that works for me.

CLIL is used to teach students in a target language and motivate them to engage with this language. To do this a teacher should provide activities that motivate the use of the language and challenge the thinking skills.

Or, if you like the shorter version: CLIL is motivating students to speak English.

That’s all it is right? Getting the students to communicate, to work together and to learn from me and each other. The second language will quickly stop being a barrier and I have experienced quite a lot of occasions where students were not even aware that they were speaking English.

That is what I want. That is what I think is what CLIL is all about.


What do you think is CLIL? Do you agree with me? Let me know using the comments below!

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