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The role of language teaching in the CLIL classroom

Over the past few decades, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) has become established in Europe as an alternative to teaching other languages using traditional methods. We’ve moved on from the basic theory of CLIL to the current practice of how CLIL methodologies are developed in the programming of activities, tasks and projects for bilingual classrooms.

A teacher in bilingual classrooms has to take on many different roles: the English teacher, the content teacher, the CLIL teacher, the tutor. By analysing the different roles of the teacher in bilingual contexts, we can better understand the role of language and build a suitable curriculum for young students.

The role of language in the bilingual classroom

There are three main opinions on the need to assess language in CLIL contexts:

  • Language as a vehicle (Marsh and Frigols, 2012): no need to assess the language.

  • Language as a tool and an object of learning: both language and content should be assessed. (Ernst, 1995)

  • Eclectic – affective side is important (Llinares, Morton and Whittaker, 2012): regardless whether or not we assess language, there is an invisible role of language in CLIL evaluation.

So should we assess the language in CLIL? And if so, how could we do so?

National recommendations regarding CLIL tend to give greater importance to the language proficiency than to the subject knowledge. (Eurydice 2006, p57)

But what happens with those students who are weak in language skills but good at content? And if we assess language, which aspects of the language should be assessed? And which should be penalised?

The language should not be an invisible component in the bilingual classroom. Bilingual teachers should:

  • Be aware of the language proficiency of their students

  • Do a language demands analysis of the content they teach and provide scaffolding

  • Measure students’ progress in the foreign language at different levels and learning paths.

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