I spoke to him recently and got many interesting insights which I have summarised here. You can also listen to and download the full interview here, where you can hear more details and many fascinating anecdotes that I couldn’t fit into this article.
What's your job at the moment?
I spend most of my time writing CLIL materials, but when people ask me what I do, I say I’m a teacher – working part-time in a school in Bulgaria. I also do consultancy and speaking about CLIL.
How did you get into CLIL?
I started as a French and German teacher in the UK, then I moved to Bulgaria to teach “pure” English for the British Council in the early 90s. My boss was interested in supporting subject teachers teaching in foreign languages. I got the job of coordinating these teachers in a Language Across the Curriculum project. I got to know many teachers working in the field, particularly in the beginning science teachers. I’m a language teacher, but since I got involved in CLIL about 15 years ago I’ve never looked back.
Can you describe a typical CLIL teacher?
I don’t think there is a typical CLIL teacher – they’re so diverse, because CLIL is so diverse, with diverse methodologies. I work with subject teachers, looking at the language of their subject and working out how to support that language for the learners. In recent years the English teaching world has embraced CLIL, so now many language teachers are now using CLIL techniques.
What are the difficulties for students and teachers?
Resources. Teachers spend a lot of their time making resources – finding materials on the internet, importing native speaker books that they have to adapt to their learners. There are very few resources available at the moment. The major publishers haven’t really produced many books for CLIL teaching. That’s why training is so important – spending time looking at how to adapt and write resources.
There’s a very good opportunity for publishers to get involved – adapting their native speaker books for CLIL contexts. There are now some supplementary books becoming available now, and there’s the possibility to provide online support.
Language. One of the problems I see is that governments around the world want to introduce CLIL type programmes, but they don’t always have enough teachers with the level of language needed. In some countries there are programmes for language development while teachers are already practising CLIL. The Netherlands is one example of this. Ongoing language development for teachers is essential.
Methodology. We’re still waiting for clear descriptions of a CLIL methodology and that debate is ongoing, but that causes problems for teachers in the classroom. Some teachers have a crisis of identity – not knowing what a CLIL teacher really should be.
Students. There are some students who drown when they’re in a total immersion classroom. Some students just switch off, sit at the back and do their homework and not get involved. The question is – are the students really involved? In many contexts students are being dragged along rather than being put at the forefront of the process.
Can you think of any examples of good CLIL and bad CLIL?
I would say that total immersion is a bad example of CLIL because CLIL is about investigating language, identifying language and then creating instruments to support that language within the curriculum. If that isn’t there then it isn’t CLIL. Total immersion may work for some children, but it isn’t CLIL and it wouldn’t work for everybody.
The Spanish projects I’ve seen are offering the possibility of learning subjects through foreign languages to the masses – not just elite schools. That entails making decisions about methodology that doesn’t happen in total immersion contexts.
Holland is another good example. What good programmes offer is that they are very well managed, very well structured, very well resourced and they are very well investigated. I’m taking it out of the classroom, but that’s what good CLIL has to be. The results of investigation can feed into the classroom. If you get it wrong then they’ll close it down. Perhaps that’s what’s happened in Malaysia where the government has turned its back on English medium science and maths.
My advice is to start small and manageable with a cluster of schools and then cascade it out over a long-term managed process.
Rich input, guided input, supported output and opportunities to interact in the foreign language and communicate about content are some vague general principles for good CLIL.
Have you got any practical tips for a CLIL teacher?
Yes, absolutely. I’ll divide them into subject teachers and language teachers as they are very different groups with different needs.
Subject teachers: Improve your foreign language – do a course, maybe work with your language teaching colleagues. Look for techniques to support language within the subject. One place to look is the EFL (English as a Foreign Language) resource books for samples of speaking activities. See if you can apply these to the subject classroom. Websites too such as onestopenglish.com and onestopclil.com and teachingenglish.org.uk are very rich sources of information and resources. Join e-lists such as email@example.com to network with colleagues.
Language teachers: Dip into the content curriculum – have a look at what it says in the curriculum guidelines (here www.teachernet.gov.uk/ for example) and find links to resources that you can adapt to the language classroom. If you don’t have any subject teaching friends in your school then try to make some and find out what they do in their classrooms and see if you can adapt those ideas.
What is the future for CLIL?
I think that there’s going to be a lot of pain where teachers and students may be forced to work in a foreign language where the foundations for CLIL haven’t been prepared properly, such as language development for subject teachers, resourcing and methodological training for teachers. Whole school preparation is very important, too. If it’s just one teacher then it doesn’t work very well. A whole school approach to CLIL is essential. I think that there’ll be a lot of pain, but there will be improvement. Spain is a very good example – it’s not just a national project, but the regions have their own projects and that’s the secret of their success. The regions have teams of trainers and advisers who work with small groups of schools. This works much better than some national projects as it’s much more manageable on a regional level.
There will be growth world wide, too in the private sector as well as in state schools. We’re still waiting for the ideal CLIL books to come out, on methodology, materials design and classroom practice.
Is CLIL worth the effort and why?
The effort is often underestimated – the idea of CLIL sounds really great, but the effort in terms of training, resourcing and staffing is substantial. Having said that, I meet former students of mine and they’re off with multiple languages and very successful careers. I’ve sat in classrooms and heard pupils really communicating in English and could sense the joy in those classrooms and sense the language success in those children, so yes, CLIL is worth the effort.
Chris Baldwin and Keith Kelly