Is CLIL the latest bandwagon and should we be wary of jumping on? #ELTCHAT summary 13/04/2011

A PLN for ELT Professionals

Is CLIL the latest bandwagon and should we be wary of jumping on? #ELTCHAT summary 13/04/2011

Ty is   @TyKendall on Twitter and this summary was first posted on his blog “Not another teaching Blog



Perhaps one of the more unusual ELT chats in that nobody seemed to agree on anything, we were unable to reach a consensus on a satisfactory conceptual definition and the effects of IATEFL were felt as you could practically hear the tumbleweed at 9pm with only a handful of participants (luckily it picked up after 9:05).


Given that a definition was in question throughout the chat, I’ll borrow one from Mary Spratt, writing in English Teaching Professional (Issue 72:January 2011:Page 4).


Spratt’s defines the difference between CLIL and ELT as having divergent aims.  In CLIL both language and subject are the focus, although the main focus is the subject. She also states that “language is used as the medium for learning subject content, and subject content is used as a resource for learning the language.” (2011:4). So she hints here at a reciprocity that exists in CLIL, but is absent in ELT where the focus and aims revolve around language alone (although I think this could be another debate in itself).


Here are some of the main themes from the discussion:


  • CLIL is the future and conventional ELT teachers should retrain…..or retire!
  • Very few participants had ANY experience of CLIL itself.
  • Quite a few participants didn’t even know what CLIL was. (Clearly the CLIL lobby need to improve their PR!)
  • What about countries (such as Malaysia, Korea and others) that have tried CLIL and are now backtracking the decision. Malaysia is reverting to L1 instruction after 2012 for example.
  • CLIL in Malaysia was badly implemented as that’s the reason it failed.
  • Even at primary level CLIL can be difficult (for teachers).
  • CLIL will suffer as it is rare to find sufficient amount of teachers who are proficient in the language and subject specialists.
  • How is it any different from regular bi-lingual education?
  • A teacher of CLIL doesn’t have to be subject experts, they can absorb and exploit the subject knowledge of the students.
  • Is there a difference between CLIL and ESP?
  • Perhaps it is better to learn lessons from dogme and have CLIL-moments rather than enforcing entire CLIL syllabi.
  • Will the students ever be in an environment where they will need to speak about their specialist subject in English? If not, is CLIL somewhat redundant?
  • Do the students actually want CLIL? Or is it being imposed from above?
  • Need to distinguish between “soft” CLIL  (basically ELT with added content emphasis) and “hard” CLIL (priority of content).


You will notice that there are a fair few questions in there, which kind of sums of the essence of the chat. There were far more questions than answers and when answers did emerge, they were vehemently contested.


@SueannaN  summed the mood up perfectly when at 9:51 she said

“Are we any closer to answering the question that we started with?”.

Though @Shaunwilden offered a ray of hope when he commented that even though the chat had ended without a clear resolution, he had found it informative nonetheless.

Though many were unsatisfied with the unanswered question, I think it is better to adopt the philosophy of Tennessee Williams:

“Life is an unanswered question, but let’s still believe in the dignity and importance of the question”.



Jeremy Harmer’s blog “to teach English is human, to teach CLIL is divine?”

Onestopenglish CLIL definition

Debate: CLIL: Complementing or Compromising?


Here is a selection of some of the comments:


Despite the fact that there were many more on offer, these are some of the most eye-catching comments in the chat:


“I have attended many CLIL talks but never 100 percent sure what it is” (9:09:23).

“I think it shows how confusing the area of CLIL is that ppl have linked to several different definitions, all a bit confusing” (9:31:15).

“A friend once said “my daughter can tell me these things in English but has no clue what they are in her L1” – is that a good thing?” (9:33:08).


“CLIL is content first, then language. Isn’t EFL the other way round?” (9:12:29)

“I’m training a group of teachers at the moment who are supposed to be CLIL teachers, they’re pretty confused” (9:14:04)


“Is CLIL effective, or are the teachers muddling along with dodgy language skills?” (9:16:43)


“What about the argument that English is encroaching onto L1 territory and we are helping to marginalise local languages further?” (9:17:30)


“Think this is still the problem – we’ve been chatting for 35 minutes and haven’t got a definition yet!” (9:35:53)


“it’s pushed on language teachers because we’re cheaper than the experts” (9:40:48)


“CLIL is more than language teachers can do!” (9:41:33)


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What do you think? Leave a comment!

by Ty Kendal


3 Responses

  1. Chiew Pang says:

    It was a shame I’d missed the chat – the timing is very bad for me at the best of times. Perhaps I could have contributed to the topic as I was involved in CLIL for 2 years; indeed, my blog started as a platform for CLIL teachers/students.

    The idea of CLIL is simple – to expose more of the learning language to the students, so why don’t we teach curriculum subjects in English? The idea isn’t exactly new – you’ll find that in a lot of ex-British colonies, Singapore, for example, a lot of state schools taught in English, even though the L1 wasn’t English. Of course, the term wasn’t invented then.

    Does it work? Yes. With patience and dedication. It’s a long-term project. How the project is carried out here in Spain is by employing language assistants to help the subject teachers in their classes. Sadly, the majority of these assistants are only interested in their pay packet at the end of the month and not much else.

    The organisers of the project? Well I’d better not say too much!


  2. Dyah Argarini says:

    I am sorry, I don’t even know what CLIL stands for (‘funny’, isn’t it?) However, after reading the summary I guess it is like ‘RSBI’ in my country. RSBI (International Standardized School) is a kind of program in which the school should follow an international curriculum (I really have no idea with this). There, Math and Science are taught in English by Non English teacher who have been trained for couple of months..only couples of months. Of course, the result can be easily predicted… a mess. The students can achieve neither the subject nor the language. A year is not enough to make it work.

  3. ElizabethA says:

    I totaly agree with Tyson when he says
    “What about the argument that English is encroaching onto L1 territory and we are helping to marginalise local languages further?”
    Surely Halliday has been really clear when he disserts on the symbiotic nature of language and development – on how a child construes the world with and through language.
    Gallileo, Newton, De Broglie and other scientists have all explained clearly the necessity of working in their own language, and these are people who extend their (and everyone’s) construal of the world !
    It seems to me that CLIL is not only helping to marginalise local languages, but is a serious handicap to the academic development of the people who are provided with their initial instruction in this way.
    and I couldn’t have said that in 140 characters 🙂

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