“CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of content and language with the objective of promoting both content and language mastery to predefined levels.”
(Marsh, et al., 2011)


1.What is the difference between CLIL and ESP?

Indeed, Language for Specific Purposes (LSP), like CLIL, strongly favours the role of content in language teaching. Richards and Rodgers (2001: 207) define LSP as “a movement that seeks to serve the language needs of learners who need language in order to carry out specific roles (e.g. a student, an engineer)”. Since learners are to carry out specific roles in their future, it is vital to give them the proper language. Rather than master the language for its own sake, they need to acquire content and particular skills. “The primary goal in teaching LSP is to provide the student with practical use of language revising the knowledge built earlier” (Kitkauskienė, 2006: 90).

One of the main branches of this approach was English for Science and Technology (EST). Its main role was to teach students how to write or read science academic papers, for example in chemical engineering. This programme has given rise to other programmes such as English for Specific Purposes (ESP), English for Occupational Purposes or English for Academic Purposes. What they had in common was that they were using a foreign language as the medium for teaching content. This content was later to be practically used by the students in different fields of their lives (Gramley, 2004: 156). Therefore, the learners were expected to take part in different situations connected with their present or intended occupation (McDonough and Shaw, 1993: 217).

It is commonly accepted that CLIL and ESP share some common ground, at least with regard to language teaching. Both approaches take a similar view of the purpose of teaching and learning, the roles of the teacher and learner, and the importance of non-linguistic components (subject content and target language culture). To begin with, both approaches are student-centered and try to base curriculum according to learners’ needs. Although ESP methods tend to analyse learner needs using more elaborate methods, being aware of the students’ lacks, the desired learning outcomes, and the range of language necessary for class participation is seen in both approaches as a fundamental condition for effective structuring and scaffolding of the target (or CLIL) language, which ultimately leads to the achievement of the course objectives.

Secondly, both CLIL and ESP are communicative approaches and are concerned with the student as a current and/or future user of the target language in a specific context. Hence, communicative proficiency required for the performance of specific communicative tasks is highly valued by both approaches. Moreover, ESP and CLIL teachers agree that the transformation of language learners into proficient language users may only be possible with learner involvement which is a necessary factor for the development of linguistic, pragmatic and socio-cultural competence. Furthermore, in both CLIL and ESP learning process is seen as arising from exposure to authentic input and meaningful interaction with other language users. As a consequence, language instruction is focused on meaning rather than form, or on the form-meaning relationship, but never on form alone.

Thirdly, both approaches tend to favor communicative or eclectic methods and frequently employ interactive classroom activities which ‘require a learner to act primarily as a language user and give focal attention to message conveyance’ (Ellis, 2003: 4-5) as opposed to linguistic form. Still, it is worth mentioning that while content-driven CLIL has been task-based or problem-based from the start, the idea that learning is most effective when done by participation in both authentic and cognitively involving communicative acts is relatively new in ESP. The pedagogic value of tasks in dual-focus education (CLIL) is indeed hard to overestimate because they simultaneously allow for the acquisition of the target language through authentic communication and for the learning of non-linguistic content.

Fourthly, both approaches view the need to develop learner cultural awareness as a necessary element of communicative proficiency, which would allow them to ‘communicate appropriately with native speakers of the language, get to understand others and get to understand themselves in the process’ (Kramsch, 1993: 183). It is generally accepted that being familiar with a foreign culture is always required, whether for the proficient use of the target language or its specialist variety, and may only be achieved by being exposed to authentic texts (because of authentic pragmatic, social and cultural markings they possess).

Although the connotation of ‘culture’ may be different ( the national culture in CLIL and an international specialist culture in ESP), both approaches seem to agree upon the words by Schuman, who stated that ‘the degree to which a learner acculturates to the target language group will control the degree to which he acquires the second language’ (Scuman,1986: 334). Last but not least, one of the most important areas of convergence between CLIL and ESP concerns presence of non-linguistic or subject content in language instruction. Still, while in CLIL the place of subject content is clearly defined, the issue of subject content in ESP is largely ignored. This situation might be explained using  the approach’s original founding assumption, namely that ESP should be single-focused (focused  on the target language despite its relation to concrete non-linguistic areas). Having analysed the fundamental assumptions of  English for Specific Purposes, we can state that although ESP has become one of the most important foundations for CLIL, it cannot be considered, in the purest sense, an example of CLIL.

2. What are the benefits of CLIL?

Content and Language Integrated Learning is seen as a way of improving the standards of education in Europe. Firstly, it paves the way for the integration of European citizens. Secondly, it values content teaching, since it underlines the importance of a learner in his/her process of learning. Thirdly, it can improve contemporary language programmes. Let us consider these dimensions in turn and analyse possible benefits of implementing CLIL into educational settings.

As Pérez-Vidal (2009) has suggested, they can be grouped in the three different categories used to describe the rationale behind CLIL. The author enumerates:

  • Linguistic benefits
    • Increases the number of hours of exposure to the target language.
    • Promotes authentic communication.
    • Extends the number of domains and functions of language being used.
    • Stimulates interaction.
    • Communication becomes meaningful.
  • Educational and pedagogical benefits
    • A cross-sectional approach to language learning is enforced.
    • Increases motivation.
    • Spurs didactics.
    • Improves studying skills.
    • Stimulates intrinsic motivation to communicate.
  • Social benefits
    • Promotes linguistic diversity.
    • Promotes intercultural approaches to education.
    • Promotes European citizenship.

Pérez-Vidal’s list requires empirical confirmation. Several areas have already been examined, for instance pragmatics and discourse in the classroom (see for example Dalton-Puffer and Nikula, 2006; Dalton-Puffer and Smit, 2009) or linguistic benefits (Lasagabaster, 2008; Moore, 2010; Lorenzo, Casal and Moore, 2010).

Social benefits

Content and Language Integrated Learning seems to be highly justified in foreign language teaching, for both social and linguistic reasons.

With respect to social factors, it should be noted that we are living in the era of globalization. Increasing contacts between countries directly evoke the need to communicate in a foreign language. People not only have a chance to work but also study abroad. In order to do it, they are expected to reach an appropriate level of advancement in a second language. This expectation has been stated by The European Commission: “The European Commission has been looking into the state of bilingualism and language education since the 1990s, and has a clear vision of a multilingual Europe in which people can function in two or three languages” (

There is a strong need to create certain conditions for foreign language learning, in order for people to function in a foreign language or even enter a foreign society. Content and Language Integrated Learning provides such conditions and prepares the learners for the internationalization process. There is a need for teaching school subjects by means of a foreign language as soon as possible, especially in the case of people who link their future life with living or studying abroad. In addition, other sources maintain that using CLIL in the classroom enables the students to learn, for example, about specific neighbouring countries, regions or minority groups, since it introduces the wider cultural context (Papaja, 2010: 29). Streeter (2000: 4) adds that CLIL provides ”constant comparison of and reflection on a student’s own country and culture in historical, geographical or social contexts with those of foreign societies”.

Furthermore, Mehisto, Marsh and Frigols (2008: 12) state that teaching content and language at the same time, gives the learners a possibility to obtain necessary social skills and habits which are necessary in order to become successful “in an everchanging world”. At this point, we may also refer to the concept of language users as acteurs sociaux introduced in The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages  and defended by Byram (2010). A successful acteur social is a norm-accepting user. As Byram observes, the “intercultural dimension” in language teaching should be aimed at guiding learners to become intercultural speakers or mediators. Thus, language teaching with an intercultural dimension enables learners to acquire the linguistic competence, but also to develop their intercultural competence, e.g. the ability to ensure a shared understanding by people of different social identities, the ability to interact with people with different multiple identities and their own individuality. In other words, developing the intercultural dimension in language teaching involves recognising that the aims are:

  1. To give students intercultural  competence as well as linguistic competence;
  2. To prepare them for  interaction with people of various cultures;
  3. To enable them to understand  and accept people from different cultures as individuals with other  distinctive values, perspectives, and behaviours;
  4. To help them to notice that such interaction is an enriching experience.

Therefore, the role of the language teacher is to develop skills, attitudes and awareness of values just as much as to develop a knowledge of a given culture or country (Byram, Gribkova, Starkey, 2002). In the light of the above, Content and Language Integrated Learning seems to be a highly justified approach in foreign language teaching, since it promotes values and skills conducive to multilingualism and multiculturalism in Europe.

Linguistic benefits

Linguistic benefits are another group of profits mentioned at the beginning of the subsection. To begin with, according to Richards and Rodgers (2001:208) “linguistic units should create coherence and cohesion within speech and texts and not be limited to the level of sentences or phrases”. The authors believe that language is text and discourse-based and in order to achieve an appropriate level of a foreign language we should be able to get into contact with “the textual and discourse structure” of written texts.

Written texts are also highly valued during CLIL classes, since CLIL treats a second language as a vehicle for learning content. In order to master the content, we need “linguistic entities longer than single sentences” (Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 208). The CLIL approach builds on and transfers the range of reading strategies for example the use of contextual clues, including non-verbal features such as layout, punctuation and graphical illustrations, reading between the lines (inference), summarising main ideas or visualising (DoCoyle, Holmes and King, 2009).

What is more, Content and Language Integrated Learning seeks to combine language with learner’s knowledge and thinking skills. The role of a foreign language in CLIL has already been defined as a medium in teaching school subjects. Since students “do not start as blank slates” (Richards and Rodgers, 2001: 211) but bring important knowledge and experience into the classroom it is essential to make the best use of this knowledge. Activating learners’ knowledge is one of the methods of building „scaffolding‟ in the classroom.

As mentioned above, CLIL activates learners’ thinking skills. While learning school subjects, especially related to science, there is a great need for active thinking. Content and language integrated learning implements these recommendations, since during CLIL classes, for example chemistry through English, students are given cognitively demanding tasks. There are many classroom methods to activate learners’ minds and this process is perceived as highly beneficial. As Stern puts it: “A living language is a language in which we can think. Language is bound up with meaning and thinking. Learning a language involves learning to think in that language.” (Stern, 1983:109)

Stern is convinced that activating learners’ minds should be a natural process in foreign language learning and only by meaningful practice students will be able to successfully use this language in their future. CLIL approach also attaches great importance to cognitive thinking and tries to familiarise students with thinking in a foreign language from the very beginning. Other positive aspects of applying Content and Language Integrated Learning in the classroom are: higher motivation to learn on the part of the students, wider range of vocabulary, greater certainty in using foreign words as well as being more eager to speak in a foreign language. Moreover, the visible results are also excellent skills in using foreign language dictionaries together with independence and persistence in work (Stryczek, 2002: 235).

It is worth adding that CLIL classrooms are seen as “a huge language bath” (Dalton- Puffer, 2007: 3) which encourages naturalistic language learning as well as the development of communicative competence. Since the lessons are constructed around “real‟ topics, there is no need to design individual tasks. As Dalton- Puffer (2007: 3) states, CLIL “itself is a one huge task which ensures the use of the foreign language for authentic communication”. Deller and Price (2007: 7) add that there is no need for a teacher to think about some appropriate and interesting subject to gain learners’ attention. It is also more likely that learning subjects which already are part of a school curriculum will act as a highly motivating factor. An obvious proof for such a relation to exist would be students’ final marks.

Finally, Content and Language Integrated Learning provides also many benefits for the school itself. As Papaja (2009: 34) notices, the schools implementing CLIL are seen as modern and their teachers as “promoters of an international way of life”. The author adds that as an innovative approach, CLIL has a potential to break down “outdated pedagogical ideas” and can change the present school system in Europe.

3. What is the value of CLIL methodology?

First of all, it is important to realize that CLIL should not be treated separately from some other “standard‟ forms in education. Its task is simply to enrich the learning environment and it can easily complete the parameters established by the regional curriculum (Mehisto and Marsh, 2008: 27). During a CLIL lesson a teacher can apply his or her favourite strategies. The fundamental difference is, however, for the teacher to have a three way focus on content, language and thinking skills. Thus, the teacher is responsible for giving the students the proper language, the language dictated by the subject (Deller and Price, 2007: 9).

In the subsequent chapters of their book, Mehisto and Marsh (2008: 29) enumerate the core features of CLIL methodology: multiple focus, safe and enriching learning environment, authenticity, active learning, scaffolding and co-operation.

The framework underpinning CLIL is based on four key ‘building blocks’ (Coyle, 2006: 9), referred to as the 4Cs Framework:

Content: The subject matter, theme, and topic forming the basis for the program, defined by domain or discipline according to knowledge, concepts, and skills (e.g. Science, History, Arts);

Communication: The language to create and communicate meaning about the knowledge, concepts, and skills being learned (e.g. stating facts about the dissociation process, giving instructions on using software, describing emotions in response to music);

Cognition: The ways that we think and make sense of knowledge, experience, and the world around us (e.g. remembering, understanding, evaluating, analysing, reflecting, creating);

Culture: The ways that we interact and engage with knowledge, experience, and the world around us; socially (e.g. social conventions for expressing oneself in the target language), pedagogically (e.g. classroom conventions for learning and classroom interaction), and/or according to discipline (e.g. scientific conventions for preparing reports to disseminate knowledge).

Figure 1 The CLIL 4Cs Framework (Coyle, 2006 in Coyle, 2007, p. 551)

According to Coyle, the 4Cs Framework suggests that effective CLIL takes place through progression in knowledge, skills and understanding of the content, engagement in associated cognitive processing, interaction in the communicative context, developing appropriate language knowledge and skills as well as acquiring a deep intercultural awareness through the positioning of self and ‘otherness’. From this point of view, CLIL involves learning to use language appropriately and, at the same time, using language to learn effectively (Coyle: 2006,9). It is vital to mention that while methodology relies heavily on specific conditions for successful implementation (e.g. see Baker, 2006, for a list of ‘core’ and ‘variable’ features of immersion), CLIL is instead guided by six relational (and therefore more contextually sensitive and flexible) pedagogical principles that work across different contexts and settings, in order to integrate language and content (Coyle, 2007:550-551). At the same time, all four key elements underlying the 4Cs framework are incorporated:

1. Subject matter means much more than acquiring knowledge and skills. It is about the learner constructing his/her own knowledge and developing skills which are relevant and appropriate (Lantolf, 2000; Vygotsky, 1978).

2. Acquisition of content, skills and understanding involves learning and thinking processes. In order to enable the learner to construct an understanding of the subject matter, the linguistic demands of its content as the “conduit for learning” must be analysed and made accessible (Met, 1998).

3. Cognition requires analysis in terms of its linguistic demands to facilitate development (Bloom, 1984).

4. Language needs to be learned in context (i.e. learning through the language), which requires reconstructing the subject matter and its related cognitive processes through a foreign language e.g. language intake/output (Krashen, 1985; Swain, 2000).

5. Interaction in the learning context is fundamental to learning. ‘If teachers can provide more opportunities for exploratory talk and writing, students would have the chance to think through materials and make it their own’ (Mohan, 1986, 13). This seems to be essential when the learning context operates through L2.

6. The interrelationship between cultures and languages is complex (Byram, 2001).

The framework views culture as the core while intercultural understanding pushes the boundaries towards alternative ideas such as transformative pedagogies, global citizenship, student voice and ‘identity investment’ (Cummins, 2004).

The results of such changes are educational experiences that support greater opportunities for authentic and purposeful meaning-making through language. Furthermore, such experiences facilitate the development of new communicative skills while learning new content. Consequently, CLIL provides the basic conditions under which humans successfully acquire any new language: by understanding and then creating meaning (Lightbown & Spada, 2006). If we consider our first language acquisition, children are gradually exposed to new language in their first years of life, matched against corresponding levels of early cognitive development. In contrast, traditional second language classes focus mostly (often exclusively) on elements of language like: grammar, vocabulary, spelling, pronunciation, etc. and at the same time,  deliberately tend to avoid exposure to what might be perceived as difficult or challenging. While this conventional separation of language/content seems to be reasonable, we should also bear in mind that that the learners’ ability to use new language is often rudimentary in comparison to what they can understand and do in their native language. If we allow for separation of the CLIL 4Cs, basic building blocks for language acquisition may be displaced. As a result, we observe a hindrance, rather than successful language acquisition.

As a pedagogical approach, CLIL certainly provides a comprehensive framework that recognizes the complex but necessary interrelationship between language and content for genuine language development. The approach entails a theoretically rich and robust set of principles to help guide teachers on how this can actually be achieved in practice, across various educational settings.

4.Why CLIL in VET?

Research carried out over the past years has shown that knowledge of foreign languages is recognized as a key competency in the labor market. It is therefore obvious that vocational schools should focus on improving pupils’ language skills in order to meet the obligation to prepare young people for work, especially in the context of the globalization process. This should apply not only to individual professions or professional fields, but also to professions in the field of healthcare, social services, hospitality, industry, technology, business or administration. Content and Language Integrated Learning enables vocational schools to meet the needs of the economy by improving general and specialist language skills of employees, as well as by increasing the competences of professionally active people.

It should also be noted that the British Council organised four Regional Policy Dialogues in Europe between May 2013 and March 2014. The Dialogues examined the contribution of languages to vocational education and training (VET). The institutions participating considered the relationship between content and language integrated learning (CLIL) and VET and concluded that the two are compatible in their shared concern for promoting an ability to use language in real life situations. The talk basically suggested that CLIL is the natural ally of vocationally-oriented education, with regard to both its hands-on approach and to its facilitation of multilingualism. It also compared and contrasted CLIL with Vocational English, and suggested that CLIL’s focus on procedural knowledge makes it the ideal vehicle to fulfill the aims of the EU’s strategic Europe 2020 initiative (Borg, 2014: 14).

5. How do we plan units of CLIL?

Do Coyle (2005) suggests the 3As tool for CLIL lesson planning. Whilst there is clearly some overlap between the tools, their suggested use is significantly different. The 3As tool operates in 3 stages. The 3As are used with specific content.

Stage 1: Analyse content for the language of learning

Stage 2: Add to content language for learning

Stage 3: Apply to content language through learning

To start with, the content focus for a period of teaching ( a lesson or a short series of lessons) needs to be defined. Once defined, then the content can be analysed for the language needed in order for conceptual learning to take place. This systematic content analysis should be done in order to identify those key words, grammatical functions or phrases which lead to concept formation and comprehension.

The second step is directly related to the student. The CLIL teacher should take the students’ language experiences into consideration and “introduce” them  into the lesson plan, which will enable the student to operate effectively in a CLIL setting (e.g. strategies for reading and understanding a difficult text). Among the strategies used at this point, we may enumerate: meta-cognitive or learner strategies, classroom talk, discussion, task demands or language forms applied for scaffolding. This is a crucial stage if the content and the language are to be truly integrated and if the learners are to fully realise the potential of CLIL.

The final stage, the application stage, is one where the language which emerges through the learning context is built on to assure that there is cognitive and cultural capital. At this point, the learners are given the tasks and opportunities which enable them to extend their cognitive skills and which make cultural awareness more transparent to the students. This would involve the attempts to incorporate thinking skills and high level questioning into the lesson plan in order to advance the learning process. At this stage, the teacher should rethink and decide upon task types and learning activities. Moreover, the final phase of the model demands cultural awareness. Coyle (2005) mentions that proper attention given to this process assures the learner‘s progression.

Do Coyle’s 3As model has been accepted and is implemented on a regular basis in various CLIL courses. During CLIL classes written texts such as reports, book chapters or letters are frequently used in order to convey meaning and information. For instance, a chemical text taken from a scientific web page could be applied to teach learners about the structure of an atom. The text analysis allows the students to become familiar with the atomic structure, which would be impossible by depending only on separate words or phrases. The above example explains the nature of CLIL built around different texts as well as the need for using this approach in foreign language teaching.

In different CLIL settings, teachers decide to focus on different objectives, giving priority to both elements: content and language at the same time or simply favouring one of them. In order not to neglect none of the mentioned goals (teaching content and language), the teacher is obliged to find balance between the two methodologies: the methodology of the content subject and the methodology of the foreign language. According to the information provided by Goethe Institute on, since the “promotion of language skills always takes place incombination with subject- related tasks”, these tasks determine which linguistic processes and strategies as well as linguistic means will be included in the lesson. Thus, when planning a CLIL lesson and particular CLIL activities, a teacher is fully responsible for teaching both a content school subject and a foreign language (Lewis, 2007: 12). Mehisto and Marsh (2008: 33) state that a typical CLIL lesson plan usually includes the following stages:

  • Holding a warm-up discussion or playing a game connected with the subject of the lesson
  • A discussion with students about the language, content and learning skills outcomes
  • Discussing what the students already know and helping them to organize this knowledge, as well as to elicit from the students what else they would like to learn about the particular topic
  • Asking the students to read a short text and to look for some specific information
  • Working in pairs or groups, comparing the results and creating a new material e.g. a diagram, a plan, a list
  • Asking two or three groups to describe how the students could improve the result of their group work
  • Presenting one chosen outcome and asking the class to add any information they consider important, working on a single class outcome
  • The review of the lesson’s outcomes and deciding about the level of achievement of these goals. A discussion about the next steps.

The above plan is only a general concept for a CLIL lesson. It does not offer all of the possible strategies and it should not be treated as a model of an ideal CLIL lesson, which in fact does not exist. It has been mentioned that there is no single CLIL lesson model and teachers may modify the activities according to specific classroom conditions and learners’ needs.


Europe is fascinated with CLIL. What is the specific reasons for that fascination?

What are the specific CLIL adaptations for your country?

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