Over the past few decades, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has become established in Europe as an alternative to teaching other languages using traditional methods. We’ve moved on from the basic theory of CLIL to the current practice of how CLIL methodologies are developed in the programming of activities, tasks and projects for bilingual classrooms.

A teacher in bilingual classrooms has to take on many different roles: the English teacher, the content teacher, the CLIL teacher, the tutor. By analysing the different roles of the teacher in bilingual contexts, we can better understand the role of language and build a suitable curriculum for young students.

EFL v CLIL: what are the differences?

The main purpose:

To learn English.

The main purpose:

To learn content through English.

The intended goal:

In EFL, English is the learning goal.

The intended goal:

In CLIL, English is the vehicle to achieve the learning goals.

The role of the teacher:

To help students improve their English BICS (basic interpersonal communicative skills).

The role of the teacher:

To help students learn content through a foreign language. BICS/CALP (cognitive academic language proficiency).

The role of language:

English is used for communicative purposes.

The role of language:

English is used to learn.

The assessment strategies:

To assess the language proficiency of students with reference to an official curriculum.

The assessment strategies:

To assess the content achievements with reference to an official curriculum but… do we assess the language in CLIL?

The role of language in the bilingual classroom

There are three main opinions on the need to assess language in CLIL contexts:

  • Language as a vehicle (Marsh and Frigols, 2012): no need to assess the language.
  • Language as a tool and an object of learning: both language and content should be assessed. (Ernst, 1995)
  • Eclectic – affective side is important (Llinares, Morton and Whittaker, 2012): regardless whether or not we assess language, there is an invisible role of language in CLIL evaluation.

So should we assess the language in CLIL? And if so, how could we do so?

National recommendations regarding CLIL tend to give greater importance to the language proficiency than to the subject knowledge. (Eurydice 2006, p57)

But what happens with those students who are weak in language skills but good at content? And if we assess language, which aspects of the language should be assessed? And which should be penalised?

The language should not be an invisible component in the bilingual classroom. Bilingual teachers should:

  • Be aware of the language proficiency of their students
  • Do a language demands analysis of the content they teach and provide scaffolding
  • Measure students’ progress in the foreign language at different levels and learning paths.

Language demands analysis…

How to measure CLIL language learning

In the CLIL context, two main questions may arise:

  • How can we measure the language in CLIL if there is no CLIL curriculum?
  • How can we define the learning objectives for the language if there is no CLIL curriculum?

Teachers can get help with both of these questions from the Global Scale of English (GSE). To measure the language in CLIL, you can use the learning objectives:

These should be explicitly linked to content-learning objectives and adapted to the different levels of proficiency that your students have according to those frameworks. This will help you assess the language and content in an integrated way.

Some advantages of the GSE in young learners’ language assessment are:

  • It provides Learning Objectives for each of the four skills, which is essential at primary education
  • It provides learning objectives for even below the lowest level A1 for every skill:
  • This effective tool can be used to create materials at the right level and to plan language assessment strategies in CLIL.
  • It is an excellent way to measure progress on different learning paths and, therefore, makes assessment practice fairer.

References and further reading

Content and Language Integrated Learning. In The Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics, D Marsh and M J Frigols Martín, 2012.

Fehlerkorrektur und Leistungsbewertung im bilingualen Sachfachunterricht. Praxis des neusprachlichen Unterrichts 42, no. 3: 258–264, M Ernst, 1995.

The Role of Language in Assessment in CLIL. In Authors, The Roles of Language In CLIL, A Llinares, T Morton, and R Whittaker, 2012.

The information network on education in Europe. In Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) at School in Europe, p57, European Commission, Eurydice, 2006.

“Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other matters”, Working papers on Bilingualism, 19: 121-129 J Cummins, 1979.

“Language Development, Academic Learning, and Empowering Minority Students”, J Cummins, and S McNeely, 1987.

Bilingual Education and Bilingual Special Education: A Guide for Administrators, K En Tikunoff, 1987.

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