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TO CLIL OR NOT TO CLIL

An efficient method to teach foreign languages or a selective one and a cost-effective political choice driven
by ideology?

ABSTRACT

The aim of this article is to demonstrate that Content Based Instruction (CBI) of
foreign languages is indeed effective and as I will show, it is already fully
implemented in Italian Secondary schools and has been practised traditionally
for quite a long time, what does need to be modified to make it even more
efficient and up to date to meet today’s challenges is, first of all wide-spread
awareness that it does actually work and secondly, increased funds to allow
students to have the necessary opportunities to have access to the right
amount of language exposure and the sufficient time to let it seep in.

The initial discourse about CLIL, more than 15 years ago, still meant to involve
foreign language teachers alongside the subject specialist teachers in a team
work setting, mainly because it was intended as a means to encourage
teachers’ mobility around Europe. Afterwards instead CLIL was conveyed as a
teaching practice that totally ruled out any involvement of foreign language
teachers and introduced the exclusive presence of subject specialist teachers
which is one of the main reasons why I don’t fully agree with this didactic
method and I will explain my perplexities. It is especially quite puzzling why the
expertise of so many dedicated professionals should be discriminated against
and penalised despite their high competence and the excellent results
achieved.

Keywords: language exposure, CLIL, CBI, Bilingual Immersion, Foreign


Language Teaching

INTRODUCTION

The aim of this article is to demonstrate that Content Based Instruction (CBI) of foreign languages is indeed
effective and as I will show, it is already fully implemented in Italian Secondary schools and has been
practised traditionally for quite a long time, what does need to be modified to make it even more efficient
and up to date to meet today’s challenges is, first of all wide-spread awareness that it does actually work
and secondly, increased funds to allow students to have the necessary opportunities to have access to the
right amount of language exposure and the sufficient time to let it seep in.

In this sense the old European Erasmus program has worked wonders, especially in the past. At the same
time this article means to underline that today’s idea of CLIL is, perhaps, cost-effective, but in the long-run

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it will prove counterproductive both in the development of student’s language skills and in their content
academic achievement.

WHAT IS THEN CLIL? THE DEBATE BETWEEN TRADITIONAL TEACHING AND CBI FOR FOREIGN LANGUAGES

The acronym CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning, meaning the teaching of the
content of a chosen school subject, partially or entirely, through a foreign language or target language. In
1999 Coyle developed a holistic conceptual framework for CLIL, the so-called 4Cs’ model: Content (subject
matter), Communication (language to learn and use) Cognition (learning and thinking) and Culture (social
awareness of self and others). According to this method CLIL teachers are expected to carry out an extra
role in that they need to ensure that the content they teach is understood by students through the medium
of a foreign language, that is, they are language teachers and at the same time they are teachers of a
specific subject matter (Coyle, Hood & Marsh, 2010).

The debate is not as new as it may seem and way back between the 16th and 17th centuries first, a Czech
scholar, A. Comenius (1592-1670), paid great attention to effective language teaching, and then the Slovak,
M. Bel (1684-1749), focused on raising students’ interest in the cultural context of languages, including:
historical, geographic and legislative texts and their vocabulary in his lessons.1

But in the 40s, 50s and early 60s of the past century the focus of language teaching was still on the
development of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing across the three domains of
pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, as Collier states, “a two dimensional, relatively simple
perspective”.2 This methodology was mainly carried out through formal compulsory classroom lesson by
language teachers, with main emphasis on grammar to produce perfect writings, while comprehension of
spoken language and speech were considered less important, as also claimed by Kari Nieminen referring to
traditional language teaching in his country, Finland3.

This approach is probably a legacy of the past coming mainly from the study of the classical languages such
as Greek and Latin, languages that are no longer spoken but which are still considered relevant to study
their literatures which are even today considered the basis of Western culture and civilization, particularly
in Europe. However the study of those languages, as it is still today, was and is based on developing the
necessary skills to translate literary passages written in the original languages. Basically it consists of much
more of an academic exercise to learn the structures of those languages and be able to interpret the
writings and their subtleties rather than meeting the need to learn to speak those languages.

1
History of CLIL, Dana Hanesová – DOI:10.1.17846/CLIL.2015.7-16 in, CLIL in Foreign Language Education: e-textbook for foreign
language teachers, Pokrivčáková, S. et al. (2015) – Nitra: Constantine the Philosopher University. 282 s. ISBN 978-80-558-08895, p.
8. http://www.klis.pf.ukf.sk/dokumenty/CLIL/CLILinFLE-01Hanesová.pdf

2
“The Canadian Bilingual Immersion Debate” – A Synthesis of Research Findings, V. P. Collier – George Mason University.
http://www.thomasandcollier.com/assets/canadian-bilingual-immersion--.pdf

3
“Aspects of Learning Foreign Languages and Learning WITH Foreign Languages: Language Immersion and CLIL, K. Nieminen –
Development Project Report, July 2016. https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/21-01-
2014/nieminen_language_immersion_and_clil.pdf

2
Needless to say that the study of foreign languages today has altogether different purposes and the such
were already perceived in the late 60s and early 70s of the 20th century when new research, as pointed out
by Genesee and reported by Collier, had already detected new fields of study that began to “describe the
need to develop communicative competence including : socio-linguistic appropriateness, discourse
strategies in oral and written formal thought patterns and (...) a third dimension of language which is the
acquisition of knowledge both of structure (oral and written form) of each meaningful unit of language, and
of meaning associated with that structure (semantics)” but there are also additional dimensions which
account for “specific registers (metalinguistic awareness) or fields and contexts in which the language is
used” and, as highlighted still by Collier, “each year of added maturity and life experience adds yet another
dimension to the complexity of language development”4, so as to underline that it is an ongoing process
enriched by experience and personal growth.

It is approximately during this time that traditional language teaching and content based instruction (CBI)
or bilingual immersion, as it was defined in Canada and the U.S., in those years, came significantly into
conflict as the public began to perceive a widespread “dissatisfaction with the outcomes of school-based
foreign language learning and a somewhat stereotypical view of foreign language lessons as a series of
mechanistic grammar drills” as Dalton-Puffer states. Therefore, continues Dalton-Puffer, “whether a
concrete program is referred to as Immersion, CBI or CLIL often depends as much on its cultural and
political frame of reference as on the actual characteristics of the program”5.

Finally, we can say that Content Based Instruction, Immersion or bilingual teaching are all different labels
that today can be gathered under the large umbrella that goes under the name of CLIL. As of today and
despite the many years of experimenting around this didactic method there still isn’t a set framework but,
on the contrary it may be applied in different ways in classroom lessons, so for instance in some cases the
lessons can be carried out all exclusively in the target language (L2), just as in some other, depending on
the complexity of content, lessons can be delivered in both languages (L1/L2) because it is important for
students to learn specific vocabulary in their mother tongue related to the specific content as well, and it is
also essential to ensure that they have truly grasped the meaning of content conveyed regardless of the
language used6. In a Spanish case study, for instance, there is also the presence of a native speaker teacher
alongside content specialist teacher in classroom activity.7

THE EU 1995 WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND ITS POLITICAL BIAS

Before analysing in detail the CLIL method we must bear in mind what intentions and conclusions were
drawn by European Union member countries at the Cannes European Council of June 1995 through its

4
http://www.thomasandcollier.com/assets/canadian-bilingual-immersion--.pdf
5 Content – and – Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles?, C. Dalton-Puffer in: Annual Review of Applied
Linguistics (2011), 31.182-204 © Cambridge University Press, 2011, 0267-1905/11 $ 16.00 DOI:1017/S026719051100092.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/dalton-
puffer_content_and_language_integrated_learning_from_practice_to_principles.pdf p. 183

6
“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W.
Admiraal & A. Berry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004

7
“Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Sevilla.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/bruton_is_clil_so_beneficial_or_just_selective.pdf

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White Paper on Education and Training. Right from its foreword the document states that: “This
investment in knowledge plays an essential role in employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. This
White Paper whilst looking forward to the Madrid European Council meeting, draws upon the conclusions
of the Cannes European Council of June 1995, which state that: Training and apprenticeship policies,
which are fundamental for improving employment and competitiveness, must be strengthened
especially by continuing training” and continues “...while respecting the principle of subsidiarity, the White
Paper sets out the action to be taken in the Member States and the support measures to be introduced at
Community Levels”8. What strikes the reader immediately is that this EU White Paper of 1995 stresses
especially the links and cooperation necessary between the education sectors of each member country and
its respective business sector, thus emphasizing that education must be equipped to fulfil the specific needs
of industries and businesses in general. In other words education is no longer viewed as a means through
which the individual can achieve emancipation, rather as exclusively a qualification needed for
employment. Therefore something quite different than what was intended by “the Bildung tradition” which
“emphasizes learning as emancipation, independence, self-awareness and maturity9”, as well developed by
Uljens.

Indeed the White Paper of 1995 highly encourages vocational training schools as opposed to general
education because, as the EU points out, it is trough life-long training and apprenticeship that employment
can be ensured to most, even to those that for some reason or another do not complete any schooling
providing them with paper qualification from regular schools. This is why the EU is in favour of changes to
the education system that will grant those who drop out of school to acquire recognition for the
development of their skills in more informal ways and not necessarily through formal education.

It is then in this overall picture that the EU’s efforts to push for multilingualism must be taken into
consideration. As a matter of fact the language proficiency that the EU encourages is once again stressed in
view of this project which is a project meant to favour the individual’s ability to be an asset to his or her
future employer rather than developing these skills for personal enhancement. This idea becomes quite
clear if we consider what is reported in the White Paper regarding this specific matter: “In order to make
for proficiency in three Community languages, it is desirable for foreign language learning to start at pre-
school level. It seems essential for such teaching to be placed on a systematic footing in primary education,
with the learning of a second Community foreign language starting in secondary school. It could even be
argued that secondary school pupils should study certain subjects in the first foreign language learned.”10

On a political level this is the first time that content language integrated learning is mentioned even if only
covertly and it is viewed with an idea of uniformity throughout the whole of the EU regardless of the
education system of each member country and its specific characteristics which are also emblematic of its
cultural and historical backgrounds.

8
WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – Teaching and Learning –Towards the Learning Society
http://europa.eu/documents/comm/white_papers/pdf/com95_590_en.pdf
9
“The hidden curriculum of PISA – the promotion of neo-liberal policy by educational assessment”, M. Uljens.
http://www.vasa.abo.fi/users/muljens/pdf/the_hidden.pdf , p. 7

10
http://europa.eu/documents/comm/white_papers/pdf/com95_590_en.pdf , p. 47

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HOW CAN CLIL IMPROVE LEARNING

From a general stand point it would be absolute nonsense to say that learning foreign languages or that
multilingualism isn’t useful or beneficial. Actually even scientific studies 11support that bilingual children
have better cognitive results in school and in developing many different skills than children who master
only their native language. So, this is not the point of this article, on the contrary what I intend to underline
here is the exact opposite, the study of languages can in fact trigger, especially in very young children,
several positive effects and even help to build up their self-confidence. Nevertheless it is important to avoid
common mistakes that may have negative consequences on their development and hinder their growth,
such as for instance burdening children with expectations that are beyond their reach and thus result in
certain failure in spite of their efforts jeopardizing their still frail self-esteem especially at an age during
which learning should be approached step by step at the individual’s best timing without forcing it beyond
his or her personal ability.

Nowadays, in our highly competitive culture, it seems that growing up is some kind of race to which
children must live up to keeping up excellent performances at all times and are no longer allowed to enjoy
their childhood and the simple pleasure of discoveries. Adults, in fact, tend to push them further and
further ahead as if growing up quickly were the ultimate goal rather than growing up healthy and happily.
The achievement in itself, of late, is less important than how quickly and well it is mastered. Ultimately this
puts great pressure on students of all ages reducing thus the probabilities of achieving the hoped for
positive outcomes12.

Thus the scope of this article then is to point out that teaching methods are just as important as the
contents taught and both should go hand in hand taking into great consideration the student’s stage of
development so as to make the learning experience one of personal enhancement that will in due time
improve their skills and bring forth their natural talents. That is why if on the one hand a bilingual approach
is strongly encouraged from a very early stage in life, on the other the method adopted to succeed needs
extra care and attention. The key word to success then is undoubtedly: exposure.

As already stated teaching young children another language may not pose much of a problem thanks to
their natural ability to absorb almost anything and immigrant children’s households are just the perfect
example. It is well known that in such specific settings children naturally switch from their parents’
language to the outside one without almost any effort at all, at the same time teaching a foreign language
in school may need to be presented to pupils as a playful challenge best achieved by a mother-tongue
teacher with specific training for children. Needless to say that in such cases the method should focus on
what’s known as language acquisition rather than language learning13. The former, in fact, is characterised
by natural and informal wide exposure to the target language, exactly as it happens when learning to speak

11
“Why being bilingual works wonders for your brain”, Gaia Vince.
https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/aug/07/being-bilingual-good-for-brain-mental-health
12
“We need to stop pushing our kids”, Tanyth Carey. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/oct/04/we-need-
stop-pushing-our-kids-parents

13
“The CLIL debate articles”, in 2005 The Guardian hosted a debate in association with MacMillan Editions and OneStopEnglish, the
experts called for the debate were: David Graddol, David Marsh and Gisella Langé.
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/feb/09/guardianweekly.guardianweekly1

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the native language. The latter, on the other hand, is a formal teaching that requires, on the part of the
student, a serious cognitive effort.

THE PROS OF CLIL

Those who are strongly in favour of CLIL seem to genuinely believe that teaching content in a foreign
language can in fact contribute to produce a setting in which learning would be/seem natural both in terms
of content and of language, because, they say, focusing on the content would relieve students from the
pressure of performance in the foreign language, thus re-creating that sort of childhood feeling of learning
in a playful way while limiting painstaking effort.

The CLIL advocates sustain that this method needs to be implemented in concise content modules, well
prepared and programmed, adopting clarifying key-words, scaffolding, short summaries to memorize
better vocabulary, brain-storming and cloze exercises to allow students to test their own progress
concentrating more on content learning and less on formal language because, they say, the language
proficiency will, in due time, show on its own and it is meant to provide the so-called natural learning
setting to enhance the learning experience and develop in students stronger self-esteem due to their
success.

Another factor that is meant to ensure success through CLIL, according to its supporters, is that it must be
carried out by content teachers who have been also trained in the target language in order to guarantee
quality teaching in specific subjects. The foreign language teachers then will only provide minimum support
strictly regarding the language but with extra care on output rather than on grammar or syntactic
preciseness. As a matter of fact this is exactly what language teachers seem to be blamed for world-wide,
the fact that they stress language formal precision which discourages students from speaking or using the
target language in any practical way due to a non-natural learning setting which instead can be achieved
through CLIL.

At a first glance it might appear that the main concern shared by most CLIL supporters lays within the
feasibility of teaching both foreign languages and content in a painless style and perhaps even resulting in
an entertaining activity, so much so that great emphasis is put on role-play exercises to loosen up tension
and allow students to overcome their natural embarrassment and fear of being judged harshly by their
peers.

However, can the psychological aspects be limited to learning a foreign language and especially its output
be overrun simply by using such tricks as simplifying content and overlooking language proficiency? Is this
truly the only possible answer?

THE CONS OF CLIL

As far as the psychological aspects are concerned it is interesting to note though that inasmuch this
approach may be successful if dealing with very young children, as previously pointed out, it may, on the
other hand, prove frustrating for young adults who are legitimately aiming at an education, especially if the

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content is complex. Moreover, it might even vex teachers due to their own lack of language proficiency,
which happens to be one of the most recurrent points raised14.

In the case study regarding China, mentioned in the debate about CLIL on “The Guardian” in 2005, the
psychological issue was strongly felt to the point that the headmaster of the school that took part in the
research firmly refused any further experimenting due to the negative outcomes experienced by students
belonging to a minority community group whose academic achievements drastically dropped after
attending CLIL lessons in English. The main disappointment registered was related to the fact that their
entry English proficiency level wasn’t as high as other groups of students thus, despite the extra effort, they
still were unable to succeed and their self-confidence dropped too.

But frustration both on the part of students and of teachers alike was also commented on by the Dutch
case study. During their interviews students claimed that they avoided asking questions or further
explaining for fear of being misunderstood or because they didn’t feel confident enough in speaking15.

Similarly the teachers voiced their own misgivings about their extent of language knowledge that prevented
them from delivering fulfilling lectures or providing further information and content or even answering
question adequately due to their limited vocabulary in the target language.16

In such cases then the learning experience and the teaching rather than facilitating a natural approach
would, by contrast, be the cause of much irritation and aggravation on all concerned.

Another interesting feature highlighted by the Dutch research which was carried out on 297 teachers – 217
of those were CLIL teachers whereas 79 were regular ones, including language teachers – is that in most
cases English teachers scored higher, for instance in literacy approaches, language input and with lower
input of scaffolding -. In addition the test revealed that for the language approach English and other foreign
language teachers scored significantly higher than teachers from Mathematics and Sciences and Social
Sciences as well17.

This confirms what those who do not share the same enthusiasm about CLIL sustain, that this method
produces mostly confusion and that content learning particularly due to the module approach that
considerably simplifies and reduces content is well below average resulting in poor quality teaching,
furthermore CLIL instead of improving it actually thwarts language learning and it even pins down errors

14
“The CLIL debate, questions and answers.
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly13; “Content and language
integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W. Admiraal & A. Berry.
https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004 ;”Coping with CLIL: Dropouts from CLIL Streams
in Germany”, C. Apsel – University of Hamburg (Germany). www.icrj.eu/14/article5.html
15
“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W.
Admiraal & A. Berry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004

16
Ibid.

17
Ibid.
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rather than correcting them. In the end, they conclude, this method is in point of fact harmful and it
hampers both content and language learning18.

The other detail that may be considered as a drawback is related to assessment. Should students’
evaluation be connected strictly to content and in that case should it be carried out in L1, or should it be
linked instead to language and therefore in L2? But, in this latter case could they be assessed by the
content teachers who don’t have enough proper training in language and who, as they have stressed
themselves, lack language proficiency? This issue has been puzzling experts since 2005 when an open
debate on the CLIL matter was held, as already mentioned, on “The Guardian” and in association with
MacMillan Edition and OnestopEnglish. At the time both Langé and Marsh – the two experts advocating
CLIL – agreed that the decision was best taken country by country, according to each single perspective.
The Dutch research, afore mentioned, opted for assessment in Dutch and only in content while language
teachers evaluated language proficiency during their regular courses19.

CLIL: AN EFFICIENT OR SELECTIVE METHOD

Finally, one last characteristic has been brought to light while analysing CLIL on the whole, whether or not it
is selective. A Spanish and a German study have raised the question and in both cases there’s wide
agreement supported by their findings which concur in emphasizing that most likely students who enrol in
CLIL programs are highly motivated because, first of all CLIL is presented as a highly efficient method that
will enable students to master the language studied, secondly they are strongly encouraged by parents who
value multilingualism as an important asset for their children to be employable in the future. If on the one
hand the Spanish study though doesn’t present enough statistics data regarding students’ entry level in
language proficiency, Bruton, can nevertheless infer his theory from their upper socio-economic
backgrounds, Apsel, on the other hand, states that students can enrol in German CLIL programs only if they
already possess a good language basic knowledge. Moreover, he states that the drop-out figures need
further research since they may betray a drop in motivation caused by a low level of language proficiency in
spite of the entry requirements20.

Even though there is no clear evidence, of yet, pointing directly to a selective characteristic embedded in
CLIL it is still worth noting, as done by Bruton in the Spanish research, that in many countries, especially
those with a strong emphasis on welfare, the public education system is conceived to ensure quality
instruction to all its students regardless of their social or economic background and a highly selective

18
“Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Seville.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/bruton_is_clil_so_beneficial_or_just_selective.pdf; “Spoken
Everywhere but at what cost?”, D. Graddol, on “The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly11

19
“The CLIL debate, questions and answers.
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly13
20
“Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Seville.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/bruton_is_clil_so_beneficial_or_just_selective.pdf; “Coping
with CLIL: Dropouts from CLIL Streams in Germany”, C. Apsel – University of Hamburg (Germany). www.icrj.eu/14/article5.html

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didactic method would certainly be in contrast with the basic idea of providing everyone with equal
opportunities21.

BILINGUAL IMMERSION IN CANADA, THE U.S. AND ELSEWHERE

In 1965 a group of English speaking parents of the Québec region in Canada succeeded in exercising
pressure on the school board to implement bilingual teachings in French and English. However, it must be
underlined that this was a specific political choice to favour cultural unity in a country that had a heritage
partly French and partly English22. In addition, although many CLIL studies refer to this successful practice to
support their cause23, it is instead the perfect example that can be brought forth to object to their creed
about CLIL. Canada has two official languages, French and English, and the implementation in schools of
bilingual teachings sustained what was already a peculiar social characteristic above all in Québec, the
exposure to English, particularly in urban areas was quite common allowing students to be in direct contact
with both languages. Perhaps less so in rural areas, as claimed by the English Canadian interviewed in
Nieminen’s article, who openly doubts that students living in remote areas of his country might have had
such opportunities in school, especially in the 60s, in any event, he continues he truly learned French when
he was accepted for a doctorate in France, although he deems very beneficial the six weeks he spent as a
guest of a Québec family who spoke only French while still in high school24, again the keyword here is:
exposure.

Canada is not the only country with two or more official languages, there’s Belgium with three: Dutch,
French and German, plus a number of other minority languages; there’s Switzerland with French, German,
Italian and Romanish; Italy where in some northern regions there are bilingual communities (Italian and
German, Italian and Slovenian). Speaking of CLIL in such areas is not entirely appropriate, just as it wouldn’t
fully apply in specific U.S. areas where the Spanish speaking population is significantly large. What all these
cases have in common is that the bilingual immersion teachings implemented in school curricula simply
comply with the outside reality and all these students live in contexts in which the various languages are
regularly used therefore they enjoy plenty of exposure and can practice them as they please. Again the key
word is: exposure.

We must also bear in mind that bilingual immersion has at times been introduced to keep alive a linguistic
as well as a cultural identity as it was, for instance, in 1983 in specific isolated geographic areas of Catalonia
where Catalan was not largely spoken. Yet during General Franco’s dictatorship Spanish was the only

21 “Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Sevilla.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/bruton_is_clil_so_beneficial_or_just_selective.pdf

22
https://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/11-630-x/11-630-x2016001-eng.htm

23
“The Canadian Bilingual Immersion Debate” – A Synthesis of Research Findings, V. P. Collier – George Mason University.
http://www.thomasandcollier.com/assets/canadian-bilingual-immersion--.pdf

24
“Aspects of Learning Foreign Languages and Learning WITH Foreign Languages: Language Immersion and CLIL, K. Nieminen –
Development Project Report, July 2016. https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/21-01-
2014/nieminen_language_immersion_and_clil.pdf

9
language allowed and for the opposite political reasons, to quench any resisting linguistic and cultural
identity different from Spain’s25.

POLITICAL BIAS

Needless to say then that language teaching cannot be considered altogether neutral, on the contrary, as
shown in the previous paragraph, it carries along with it substantial political and economic weight despite
the fact that there has been ample discussion about multilingualism, especially in EU official documents in
which it is stated that “The European Commission believes that it is necessary to make proficiency in at
least two foreign languages at school a priority, as is proposed in the second part of this White Paper”26, yet
what has been mostly implemented is a bilingual teaching in which the main target language chosen is, in
fact, English; therefore as suggested by Dalton-Puffer, it would much more be appropriate to refer to this
method as Content English Integrated Learning. Not that it would come much as a surprise, considering
that English is today’s acknowledged Lingua Franca and parents, who are naturally concerned about
providing their children with the best future employment opportunities, are indeed highly motivated to
have their children master the language privileged and sought after in world-wide business settings27.

But that’s not all; in fact, in the above mentioned European White Paper of 1995 we can also read:
“Europe's weakness does not lie in a lack of creativity. Far from it. But European inventors and industrialists
are seriously hampered by the high degree of fragmentation of the market caused by the cultural and
linguistic diversity of Europe28”, again there’s reference to political bias, the country’s cultural identity must
be sacrificed to the sole advantage of Europe’s entrepreneurs whose interests can be favoured only by
developing a single language for the whole continent.

CLIL AND ITS COST-EFFECTIVE PREROGATIVE

The last significant aspect in regards to CLIL is the fact that it is considered cost-effective and policy makers
are known to be usually very susceptible when it comes to the opportunity of cutting expenses in the public
sectors. It would explain why then CLIL is so strongly encouraged and in some cases - as in Italy since 2015 –
has been made compulsory in some secondary schools.

As clearly demonstrated CBI is not all that new, what is new, thanks to CLIL is that language teaching is no
longer a language teacher prerogative as it has been traditionally world-wide, but through CLIL it will also
(but for how much longer?) be for both language and content specialist teachers. It goes without saying
though that having two professionals for the same position, or almost, surely cannot be considered cost-
effective. Nonetheless it might be in a not too far off future, as G. Langé highlighted in the 2005 debate on
“The Guardian”. Langé, in fact, claimed that the Italian government’s ambition was to have within 15 years
from then a sufficient number of well trained content teachers in several European languages. As of yet this

25
Ibid.
26
WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – Teaching and Learning –Towards the Learning Society
http://europa.eu/documents/comm/white_papers/pdf/com95_590_en.pdf, p. 13.

27
Content – and – Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles?, C. Dalton-Puffer in: Annual Review of Applied
Linguistics (2011), 31.182-204 © Cambridge University Press, 2011, 0267-1905/11 $ 16.00 DOI:1017/S026719051100092.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/dalton-
puffer_content_and_language_integrated_learning_from_practice_to_principles.pdf
28
h WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – Teaching and Learning –Towards the Learning Society
ttp://europa.eu/documents/comm/white_papers/pdf/com95_590_en.pdf, p. 18
10
scheme hasn’t produced the hoped for results which would be able to discard language teachers
completely. That would certainly prove cost-effective as stated to by Marsh as well, during the same debate
afore mentioned.

Yet at whose expenses would this be? The Dutch teachers as well as the Finnish and German ones
interviewed for each respective case study have pointed out that their involvement in CLIL has also
considerably increased their workload. Indeed this didactic approach entails a great amount of time to
prepare lessons in the target language and to prepare didactic material for their students. Extra work and
extra time which goes unpaid29.

SOME CONCLUSIONS

So far the only evidence that can be drawn, and it applies to the Dutch, Chinese, Spanish and German
researches, is that there is no absolute truth to be gathered from any of the case studies analysed, just as
there isn’t any broad agreement on how to carry out CLIL class lessons, how to proceed about assessment,
whether or not teachers should be native speakers, foreign language or content teachers, nor is there any
agreement as to whether CLIL favours or hampers content learning.

In reference to language proficiency there are also noticeable qualms. Indeed many concur in claiming that
teaching a foreign language must be a process that flows as naturally as possible in order to establish a
relaxed learning environment without neglecting though its proficiency to avoid reiterating errors. CLIL
instead tends to perpetuate students’ mistakes, furthermore, as pointed out particularly in Apsel’s
research, if on the one side students’ mastery improves in written assignments they often don’t possess, on
the other, the ability to use the various language registers properly, especially between the polite and
formal ones and the familiar and colloquial, consequently they lack self-confidence and tend to hold back
during class activities and shy away from lesson discourse30.

Finally, they all agree that content teachers are not well trained themselves in language proficiency thus
encountering many hardships during lessons and experiencing tension and frustration shared by those
students who don’t have an acceptable level of basic knowledge of the language, be it English or any other
target language.

29
“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen,
W. Admiraal & A. Berry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004; “Towards an Evidence Base CLIL
– How to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative as well as Process, Product and Participant Perspectives in CLIL Research”, A.
Bonnet www.icrj.eu/14/article7.html; 29“Aspects of Learning Foreign Languages and Learning WITH Foreign Languages: Language
Immersion and CLIL, K. Nieminen – Development Project Report, July 2016.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/21-01-2014/nieminen_language_immersion_and_clil.pdf

30
“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen,
W. Admiraal & A. Berry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004; “Towards an Evidence Base CLIL
– How to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative as well as Process, Product and Participant Perspectives in CLIL Research”, A.
Bonnet www.icrj.eu/14/article7.html

11
IS CLIL TO BE RULED OUT THEN?

As stated in the opening paragraph, it is precisely because we support the importance of multilingualism
and the benefits provided on cognitive development by learning foreign languages that we oppose today’s
idea of CLIL. However, not sharing this blind faith in CLIL does not mean that we do not pursue any research
regarding improvement on language teaching; on the contrary we are engaged in a constant quest that, in
point of fact, has produced positive results. One of the factors stressed by empirical findings is that good
language proficiency is achieved by exposure, the more the students can enjoy exposure to the target
language and the more intense is such exposure the greater success they achieve. Another interesting
element observed is the type of exposure, especially if the student has acquired the language basics in
grammar and syntax, therefore, for instance being in the country or countries in which the target language
is spoken forces the student to overcome natural resistance to employ it because it is the only way they will
be able to communicate with others, furthermore the perceived need is emphasized to the point that the
student will disregard his or her desire to excel and will focus instead on expressing him or herself knowing,
even if only on a subconscious level, that only through practice he or she will master the target language in
a natural process of effortless absorption. This the only natural setting possible, intense exposure which
also allows the student’s ear to get accustomed to the sound of the target language thus recognizing it
immediately upon hearing it while simultaneously activating all the cognitive elements acquired till then.
Last but not least, learning to master a foreign language also takes time as the skills involved are of
different types and all need adequate and gradual development especially if learned in school and not in a
familiar, informal environment, but even in this case it may be easy to learn to speak the language yet it still
requires a certain degree of effort to learn to read and write, as it happens for our native tongue even if at
a very early stage in life.

It goes without saying of course that merely learning the grammar does not provide language proficiency
and that is precisely why the Italian approach to foreign language teaching in school and notably in
secondary schools seems to be a rewarding method. True enough it is scarcely appreciated and even less
acknowledged by Italians, it is worth a closer look.

THE ITALIAN MODEL

I will analyse briefly what has been done in the most representative type of Italian secondary school, the so
called Liceo which focuses on an academic course of study, or to be more precise the humanities and as
such foreign languages are taught through the literature of the chosen language meaning that not only
literary currents are analysed but also a certain number of writers and their works on a general outlook and
even by reading and comprehending excerpts of chosen anthology. The textual analysis is carried out by
comparing writing styles and structures of various writers belonging to different historical times so as to
observe the actual development of the chosen target language pointing out foreign influences and
historical ones as well. It is important to keep in mind that Italian students also undergo oral assessments.

This means that they are required to demonstrate orally what they have learned and this practice is
tremendously good exercise to mastering a language, in fact they need to pay attention not only to
contents but also to language proficiency therefore it is very important that they choose the proper
vocabulary, that they take extra care in sentence structure; they must understand the questions that their
teacher ask them and answer accordingly, so there is a great degree of interaction, it cannot be a merely
mechanical output for which they learn the lesson by heart and they just reproduce what they have
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memorized. They are required to reason on their own and this implies a decent understanding of the
language first of all and, secondly, the skill to use the language to convey a somewhat complex message
showing their level of learning. Some may object that discussing literary contents reduces to that specific
field of study the vocabulary learned which turns out to be of little use in a more informal setting in which
perhaps it would be more useful to employ a more updated colloquial language register, however, it is
important to point out that literature is, to some extent, the representation of life and its discourse
revolves entirely around life with its daily hardships; it entails the deep investigation of feelings, of
emotions, thoughts and beliefs so what better way to learn a language than through a deep immersion in
its culture and development; moreover this approach to learning a foreign language allows students to
acquire the mechanisms of the language and once that mental process is established they will have little
difficulty applying it naturally to any type of different speaking register. Likewise it is exactly, or almost,
what CLIL advocates pursue except that rather than focusing only on content while almost neglecting
language proficiency this method grants the two aspects to go hand in hand while neither is forsaken to
favour the other.

This method is not exclusively implemented in the afore mentioned humanities course of studies which is
traditionally considered preparatory for higher education, on the contrary it is also carried out in more
vocational schools with due emphasis on specific vocabulary, meaning that, for instance, in a course for
future accountants the language is taught by analysing and therefore learning general portions of various
subjects in the target language. In other words in the last three years of secondary vocational schools
students study the target language through modules of economics, laws pertaining to business
management, the different types of businesses or companies’ structures, macro and micro-economics,
political economy or economic policies. Basically everything that goes under the umbrella of business
language and the same happens for any other course of study, be it Tourism Management, Fashion,
Winemaking, agriculture in general, be it a course of study for future various engineers (civil, electronic,
mechanical etc.) construction, medical technicians and so forth.

A BRIEF LOOK ON THE ITALIAN EDUCATION SYSTEM

To fully comprehend the peculiar set up of the Italian education system it must be underlined that, unlike
many others, especially those of the UK and U.S. education systems, in Italy there are several different
types of secondary schools that range, as already said, from the Liceo that comprises at least three main
branches, the oldest being the Classico that focuses on classical studies and in which Greek and Latin
languages and literatures are studied; later on the Scientifico was introduced stressing the study of science
and mathematics, the third most popular is the Linguistico which centres its attention on three foreign
language taught for all five years. The other subjects that all have in common and that are compulsory as
well are: Italian language and literature, Latin language and literature (in the Linguistico only for the first
two years), History, Philosophy, Art History, Mathematics, Physics, Natural Sciences and Physical Education.
There are other branches of the Liceo too which I will not go into here because the above mentioned three
give an adequate idea of the variety of choices Italian students enjoy.

In this paper it is important to underline that the Italian education system also ensures other opportunities
such as the vocational schools that are not less prestigious than the previous ones because they also
guarantee a diploma that gives full access to higher education but, what’s more, each specific study course,
as the few described previously, provide Italian students with the expertise and knowledge that in other

13
countries can be obtained by students only after at least two years of undergraduate education, whereas in
Italy the same level can be reached after five years of secondary school. This means that an Italian 19 year
old, with his or her diploma can be a certified electronic engineering technician, a computer engineering
technician, a civil engineering technician, an optician, a dental technician, a graphic designer, an
accountant, a wine maker, a tourist manager and so on.

With further reference to the Italian education system students are required to study English from primary
school, later two European languages in middle school, while in secondary school, unless they choose to
major in languages, they can choose to study one foreign language. Language teaching in primary school is
carried out through an informal method stressing the communicative approach; in middle school the study
of languages entails grammar and syntax for three years and in the first two years of secondary school as
well. Beyond that though, as clearly demonstrated, the target language is taught through content in
accordance with the course of study.

WHAT CAN ACTUALLY BE SUCCESSFUL AND COST – EFFECTIVE

In conclusion as we have outlined so far CLIL is certainly the best method to teach a target language,
however its best results can be achieved only if the content and the language are assigned equal
importance and dignity and this means that CLIL can be implemented only by language teachers who can
convey a proper and deep language knowledge while teaching summary contents of other subjects
emphasizing the target language learning, incidentally foreign language teachers in Italian schools due to
their CBI approach cannot avoid employing all those pedagogical methods mentioned in previous
paragraphs such as key words, scaffolding, cloze exercises etc.

What is surprising is that while the EU has been making great efforts to have all its member countries shift
to CLIL its high officials have never even contemplated the possibility of adopting the CBI method employed
in Italy, perhaps this is due to the inability of Italian politicians to suggest such an approach, or it may be
due to their incompetence regarding the school system of the country they represent. At any rate this
proposal could avoid the backdrops underlined by most CLIL opponents, in other words the superficial and
inadequate content teaching which naturally arises from language barriers. It would also greatly reduce
frustration both on the part of students who complain that that they are not learning contents as they wish
and are rightly entitled to and on the part of teachers who obviously cannot master the target language
enough to deliver contents in the same depth they would in their native language, regardless of the
amount of training in the target language they may have received.

Success can be ensured, whatever the teaching method chosen, only through high exposure to the target
language favouring mobility, throughout the continent, not only for employment reasons but to improve
and enhance language skills for students and teachers too, it is a known fact that only through practice and
periodical refreshing can those skills be updated constantly.

This type of CLIL along with mobility would also ensure cultural development and, in the long term, favour
that social and cultural cohesion so dearly valued by EU officials, but not only, indeed this type of
implementation of CLIL would save an enormous amount of tax payers’ money and could indeed be cost-
effective.

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ADDENDUM

The present article is work-related and it covers years of professional study and analysis for I am an English
teacher in an Italian Secondary school and I have twelve years of experience in this field of work, prior to
teaching I worked as translator and interpreter for the U.S. Navy, but, apart from of all this I am bilingual
and I have been since the age of nine. I personally learned English by attending a bilingual class for a year
and a half in a New York City public school in the late 1970s. This to say that I have a twofold perspective by
direct personal experience and as a teacher of English as a foreign language.

I have an Italian Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, with a major in English Language
and Literature; I have also studied American Literature and French Language and Literature. Finally, in NYC,
where I lived till my High School Diploma, I also studied Spanish for two years. Therefore I can say that I
have nearly spent my entire life pondering on the mechanisms and dynamics connected to learning and
teaching foreign languages as I have a life-long acquaintance with languages in general.

It is for all these reasons that the very first time I came across the so-called CLIL teaching method in 2005,
the year I started my teaching career, I welcomed it enthusiastically; however the way the CLIL practice has
been politically implemented since one of the many Italian education system reforms carried out in 2010
has changed considerably the early design conceived back then. In 2005, in fact, it was still meant to involve
foreign language teachers alongside the subject specialist teachers in a team work setting, afterwards
instead CLIL was conveyed as a teaching practice that totally ruled out any involvement of foreign language
teachers and introduced the exclusive presence of subject specialist teachers which is one of the main
reasons, as I believe, to have already explained in depth, why I don’t fully agree with this didactic method.
It is especially quite puzzling why the expertise of so many dedicated professionals should be discriminated
against and penalised despite their competence and the excellent results achieved.

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REFERENCES:

WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – Teaching and Learning –Towards the Learning Society
http://europa.eu/documents/comm/white_papers/pdf/com95_590_en.pdf

“The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005; http://www.onestopenglish.com/methodology/teaching-


articles/debates/the-clil-debate/

“Spoken Everywhere but at what cost?”, D. Graddol, on “The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly11

“CLIL Debate: questions and answers”, “The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;
https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2005/apr/20/guardianweekly.guardianweekly13

Content – and – Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles?, C. Dalton-Puffer in: Annual Review of Applied
Linguistics (2011), 31.182-204 © Cambridge University Press, 2011, 0267-1905/11 $ 16.00 DOI:1017/S026719051100092.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/dalton-
puffer_content_and_language_integrated_learning_from_practice_to_principles.pdf

History of CLIL, Dana Hanesová – DOI:10.1.17846/CLIL.2015.7-16 in, CLIL in Foreign Language Education: e-textbook for foreign
language teachers, Pokrivčáková, S. et al. (2015) – Nitra: Constantine the Philosopher University. 282 s. ISBN 978-80-558-08895, p.
8. http://www.klis.pf.ukf.sk/dokumenty/CLIL/CLILinFLE-01Hanesová.pdf

“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W.
Admiraal & A. Berry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/13670050.2016.1154004;

“Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Seville.
https://www.unifg.it/sites/default/files/allegatiparagrafo/20-01-2014/bruton_is_clil_so_beneficial_or_just_selective.pdf

“Coping with CLIL: Dropouts from CLIL Streams in Germany”, C. Apsel – University of Hamburg (Germany).
www.icrj.eu/14/article5.html

“Towards an Evidence Base CLIL – How to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative as well as Process, Product and Participant
Perspectives in CLIL Research”, A. Bonnet www.icrj.eu/14/article7.html

“Reconsidering the Practice of CLIL and ELT” in: Studia Humaniora et Pedagogica Collegii Narovensis , Narva College – University of
Tartu, ISBN: 978-9985-4-0967-1; https://www.narva.ut.ee/sites/default/files/nc/studia_2016_web.pdf

“Why to CLIL? Effects of CLIL on Reading Comprehension”, Nekane Equiluz Jiménez, Directora: M. Victoria Zenotz Iragi; Universidad
Pública de Navarra (UPNA), Master de Formación del Profesorado de Secundaria; https://academica-
e.unavarra.es/bitstream/handle/2454/9743/Why%20to%20CLIL%2CThe%20effects%20of%20CLIL%20on%20reading%20comprehe
nsion.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

For further information on the Italian Education System the following link is in English:

http://www.indire.it/lucabas/lkmw_img/eurydice/quaderno_eurydice_30_per_web.pdf

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