Having read “Reviewing the puzzle of CLIL” by Sophie Ioannou Georgiou I find I have more questions than I have found answers.


Ioannou-Georgiou’s article offers a solid summary of CLIL; its widespread adoption; its strengths and weaknesses and its key principles. Its interesting that she feels the need to define CLIL over a decade after its acceptance by European (and further afield) governments and education systems. CLIL is then, it seems,  like EAP and ESP – in constant need of definition.

CLIL (content and language integrated learning) is an approach that Ioannou Georgiou argues is a natural stage in the development of communicative language teaching and task based learning. Its strength being in its ability to engage students in learning as their learning is active, meaningful and authentic. Its benefits for many involved include the idea that “CLIL … transcends the isolation that sometimes characterizes the language learning field by strengthening its connection with general education theories” (p.496).

CLIL has risen to its present fashionable status in Europe due to the backing and promotion it has received from policy makers. According to the Council of the European Union it “can contribute to individual and collective prosperity” and  can “strengthen social cohesion” (quoted by Ioannou-Georgiou p. 496). The success of CLIL is also attributable to the support it receives from parents who value the importance of foriegn languages. CLIL has benefitted too from disillusioned teachers who seek professional fulfillment (Ioannou Georgiou argues that involvement in CLIL brings with it professional development).

One criticism of CLIL identified by Ioannou Georgiou is that the approach has been misapplied  or the content factor watered down (p. 497). Without sufficent training and guidance teachers are not able to deliver CLIL programmes effectively. As with all teaching, communication and sharing good practice are key. CLIL is also local and as such one programme cannot be exactly replicated to fit another context. Herein lies another problem, commercially produced materials often fall short of the needs of the teachers.

Due to the varied nature of the contexts in which it is applied, CLIL, in Ioannou Gerogiou’s opinion, needs to have its basic principles definined (as far as it is possible to do so).  There are three. Firstly, CLIL is content driven, so the outcomes of a CLIL course are twofold; achievement of set goals in a content curriculum and acquistion of a second language to a level that befits the successful completion of the former. Content and language are equal partners in the programme. Secondly, delivering CLIL requires a  “fusion of methodology used for language learning and the specific methodology used for the teaching of the particular subject that is taught through CLIL” (p. 499). The teacher therefore needs to be grounded in language teaching pedagogy AND the content epistemology. Thirdly,CLIL should not lose sight of the 4Cs framework – Communication and Content have been adressed above – Cognition and Culture are the defining features of this third principle. It is “imperative that the goals of the content curriculum are fully achieved through cognitively stimulating and appropriately challenging student engagement with the subject content” (p.499).

Ultimately, Ioannou Georgiou asks whether CLIL works. The answer seems to be that we don’t really know. Further research into its effectiveness is needed. Dalton-Puffer seems to have collated what studies have been done into CLIL and some have shown that language acquistion improves (but Ioannou Georgiou points out the students on CLIL programmes have more exposure to the second language so you would expect this outcome) and achievement of learning outcomes for the content component are no lower than non CLIL programmes (which again is encouraging argues Ioannou Georgiou as CLIL should be equal to its non CLIL counterpart). In order to fulfill its potential, CLIL needs to abide by its (clearly defined) principles at all costs, realise its limitations and above all else retain a sense of individuality, refusing to be content based, demanding to be content driven.

I am very interested in CLIL. While it seems to have been adopted to a relatively large extent in schools, I wonder how far it could be a success in HE. There are many parallels between CLIL and ES/AP – a need to be defined, a need for key principles to be agreed, a need for in-house produced materials as commerically produced ones never quite fit, a need for teacher training, support, sharing and collaboration. For me, a marrying of content with language is something to strive for.

I am unashamed in my conviction that to be useful teachers of ES/AP we need to have content knowledge and feel that the closer ES/AP gets to CLIL (initiatives like Donohue’s co-delivered Film Studies course) the more beneficial the experience for the students. I would really like to see an ES/AP course that could be delivered either by a language teacher or a content specialist. But I fear that this is never really going to be a reality. For some reason language teaching does not seem to be considerd to be on a par with content teaching (a belief perpetuated by both practitioners and academics). Even Ioannou Georgiou uses the word isolation when refering to language teachers, like we are not part of a greater field of education. Is this why content specialists are notoriously reluctant to engage in ES/AP and CLIL programmes? Ioannou Georgiou reflects that “in areas of both research and practice … content specialists are mainly absent” (p. 502). One criticism of CLIL is that it employs “unprofessional research in order to promote its postive image” (ibid). I wonder whether the research is deemed unprofessional because it has been done by language teachers in the classroom.

Why too are content specialists absent in practice? Is it because the CLIL approach was borne from language teaching rather than content teaching? Is it simply that such debate is not in the sphere of the content soecialist? Should it be made so? I am keen to discover whether content specialists spend much time reflecting on how best to educate their non native speaking students. In the UK many postgraduate students are from overseas so they are encountering their content course through a second language and making this as cohesive as possible is surely a positive thing. Certainly given the time constarints we face a more CLIL type approach could be incredibly efficient. I might have the opportunity to try something out along these lines next semester – its an exciting thought…

Ioannou Georgiou, S. (2012) Reviewing the puzzle of CLIL. ELT Journal. 66 (4) 495-504.


5 thoughts on “Puzzled by CLIL

  1. Pingback: Novedades Diciembre : CLIL, Profesorado Inglés, Convocatoria Programas y Ayudas Europeas 20013. Practica tu Inglés y algo de Literatura. « Zona CLIL

  2. This is very good, but I find the constant reliance on the 4Cs model rather disappointing. As a package it lacks coherence, although its constituent parts are valid. The problem with the notion is that all the 4 elements are ‘content’ of one type or another, converting the isolation of the word ‘content’ as the opening element as a redundancy in the overall scheme. And the further problem is that the uncritical acceptance of the 4Cs, rather like Krashen’s I + 1, has meant that we have failed to identify the TYPES of content that constitute CLIL. Marsh makes the same mistake when he writes incessantly about ‘content’ without ever specifying what he means.

    It might be more useful to look at content as conceptual, procedural and linguistic, and see CLIL as a way to manipulate and mix these three – as Marsh also says, to ‘accommodate’ them when and where the need arises – in a class, in a program, even in a curriculum.

    I don’t think the 4Cs work. And the three-pronged definition of language is far too confusing. I can never remember what the damned prepositions stand for, given their semantic emptiness. P Gibbons has much better ways of describing CLIL-based language (content).

    Phil Ball

    • This is not the first time I’ve heard criticism of things like the 4Cs voiced — but it remains largely voiced (even if voiced virtually). That is, while I’ve scrounged about for published academic criticism of the 4Cs, “language triptych”, etc., I haven’t found a great deal. Do you know of any? Perhaps the “CLIL debate” is not yet as multi-voiced as it needs to be ….

      With reference to Pauline Gibbons, I am guessing you refer to “Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning”?

  3. Hi Phil. Thank you very much for your comments, and I apologise for the tardiness of my reply!
    I have to say that my understanding of CLIL is limited. I like what I have seen so far and feel it has the potential to transform ESAP. Having said that, I need to research it more and will certainly follow up on some of the sources you have made reference to. There is always the risk I guess that in defining something we over simplify it and essentially render it meaningless.
    Your point of our failure ‘to identify the TYPES of content that constitute CLIL’ has resonated with me most and is something I’d like to explore more.
    Are you involved in EAP or ESP Phil?
    Thanks again, certainly food for thought.


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