By María de la Lama E
In many private schools in Lima there is an increase in the number of courses taught in English. Courses like Social Sciences, Mathematics and Literature have boosted parents’ demand for such courses like never before. The term CLIL (Content and integrated learning of languages) appeared in the nineties with the aim of integrating the learning of a foreign language with the learning of new content. In this methodology, language and content are two equally important aspects and a special effort must be made to maintain the balance that prevents one from eclipsing the other. The ultimate goal is to achieve proficiency in the language by learning new content.
What are the main benefits of the CLIL methodology? To begin with, the integration of the aforementioned content with language provides a real communicative context, one of the main foundations for the acquisition of a second language. In fact, CLIL seems to correct several problems of language teaching. In CLIL courses, students have a real interaction in the language due to their need to develop knowledge. On the other hand, in foreign language or second language courses, there is frequently a very controlled interaction between the students, enough to practice a new structure and, generally, in contexts that may not be too attractive for them. In fact, CLIL courses expose students to topics that are more relevant to them, increasing their motivation, which in turn will promote the acquisition of the foreign language.
However, the integration of language and content, which is the heart of the CLIL methodology, is not an easy task, especially due to the insufficient number of teachers. For this methodology to be applied successfully, teachers, if they are not native speakers, must have a native command of the language as well as a solid knowledge of the content to be taught. But even if the availability of teachers were not a problem, it must be asked whether students really improve their performance in the second language with the CLIL methodology compared to the results of the foreign language courses.
Research aimed at comparing the results in language acquisition with that of traditional language courses shows that CLIL students improve their listening comprehension, fluency, reading comprehension and their vocabulary range. In an excellent paper entitled “Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL): Limitations and possibilities”, written by Ena Harrop, there are some interesting research results worth to be considered. According to some authors, CLIL students’ pronunciation and writing accuracy do not show a significant improvement when compared to students that have been learning English as a foreign or second language. Furthermore, according to Cummins (1998) in CLIL courses, there is not enough focus on the form, which in may in turn cause the fossilization of grammatical errors. Finally, CLIL courses can only favor the development of receptive skills rather than the productive ones.
In summary, although CLIL courses can offer several advantages over modern language teaching approaches, it seems that the balance between content and language has not yet been reached. Much research still needs to be done to point out the benefits of this methodology compared to the results of modern language teaching approaches.
And now, your turn:
Are CLIL courses that good for boosting foreign language acquisition?
How much do our students improve their command of a foreign language when learning not the language per se, but something else through that language?
Should schools promote the teaching of subjects such as Literature, Social Science or Math in English?
DE LA LAMA, MARIA, Bachelor in Education, has a master's degree in Applied Linguistics and a Bachelor's in Linguistics, both obtained at the University of California, Davis. She also holds an MBA from Universidad del Pacífico. She currently serves as the Director of the Language Center at Universidad del Pacífico.