Three ways to make sure your students do not learn a new language

May 1, 2023


To determine what would be the best way to go about language learning in a CLIL context, we often focus on what ‘should’ be done. This can result in a long list of ‘should’ and ‘must’ items.

Instead, in this post I want to focus on what we are sure will go wrong if we look at it from another perspective.

1. Language without context

Language is all around us. I think we can all agree on that. (Just as mathematics by the way, as referenced in the intro of ‘Numb3rs’).

And it is always about context. There is always a reason to use language.

Yet in class, we sometimes focus on language for language's sake.

Like focussing on grammar and explaining the rules, instead of showing how it works within a certain context.

For example: do you explain the past tense as a language teacher using texts from the history book?

And do you explain historical events as a history teacher, referencing the fact you are using the past tense?

Now I am not saying subject teachers should be able to explain all kinds of grammatical structures.

That is what English language teachers are trained for. It is their expertise.

But you can reference it, to make sure students realise they are using the grammar and language skills from English language class during other subjects as well.

2. Learning without engagement

Do you learn a language by reading about it, or by practising it?

Asking the question is answering it, I guess.

If students are not actively participating in class, implementing the language learned, how can you expect them to learn a new language at all?

With every activity you do, think about: how do I make sure that students are active.

  • What should they do while they listen to your instruction?
  • What should they do if they don’t understand a question?
  • What should they do if they work together in a group?

And I don’t mean the actual activities, but from a language perspective: do they have to write, speak, listen or read?

Of course, scaffolding is key here. However, I would argue you start with the basics first.

Focus on language output with every task you ask students to do.

3. Output without feedback

Making mistakes is not a bad thing.

Not learning from them is.

And let’s just say, students might be slightly reluctant to do this on their own.

I was quite surprised last week when I asked a 15-year-old student if she had checked the answers to her homework and her response was: no, do I have to?

This was a student that was new in the class and I had not taught before, but I can’t imagine my colleague who taught her before had never mentioned this.

So for some reason, this student did not realise she might want to make sure the answers were correct, so she could learn from whatever she did correct or wrong.

The same applies in classroom situations. I have mentioned this before, but whenever a student says ‘tree’ instead of ‘three’, I start drawing trees.

Timely, formative feedback. The students always immediately know what I mean.

For the record: I do not mean one should test and grade students every single lesson. Then you are training students to learn for a test instead of teaching them to become lifelong learners.


What do you think? Do you agree with these three statements? Are other things often going wrong? Curious to hear what you think! 

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