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I have heard it asserted by experts that CLIL will


the language learning deficit,

the cognitive shortfall,

the low motivation towards school

the behaviour problems!


personal development

transversal study ability

conceptual analysis

analytic ability

personal responsibility for own study

life long learning

expressive ability

general comprehension


The CLIL thesis. "Previous "methods" failed because they merely taught "languages".


To understand CLIL we must re-examine the concept "Acquire", because all the hoped for breakthroughs of the last 40 years, ("Communicative Approach" and CEF/PEL and now CLIL) ran, as it were, on the substitution of "acquire" for of old clod-hopping "learn".  "Acquire" has been the siren behind "new" teaching of these past 40 years, and is where we should locate the disastrous wrong turning in language teaching which jettisoned so much of what was useful in past methods: because they were merely "learning" methods. Acquire wishes to transplant the mechanisms through which the child learns L1 to the classroom.


However, the L1 child SPEAKS SPEAKS!!! All his/her language mental operations are initiated or end with a SPEECH act!! And his L1 use, presupposes all the previous stages of gradual acquisition - 14 hours every day!! Can you justifiably just change "learn" to "acquire", and consider a few hours a week in the hurly burly of 24-30 students to one teacher in anyway comparable?


If you examine the detail of CLIL pedagogy you will find many of the "useless, mere language activities" of past methods "invigorated" by being harnessed to subject content, which supposedly transforms both language and conceptualizing abilities.  Fine, but often in the past teachers have used all sorts of fascinating content, as well as addressing difficulties of language. What percentage of a CLIL lesson responds to "language difficulties"? If 20-30%, this isn't so different to those good teachers who used L2 as much as possible and expected pupils to do the same, and gave pupils some red meat content. (meat from newspapers etc not school "subjects")

         Above all I remember all that use of Literature to teach English and I've seen excellent lessons where all was in English. Was that not vehicular subject teaching? Even my French teacher 55 years ago spoke in French and we talked in French about "global issues"! All those years ago, were we doing CLIL but didn't know it? No, because the teacher thought we had to learn by focusing on the difficulties of French rather than "naturally "acquiring" them.

         Furthermore, all through out the last 30 years, Pilgrims and Mario Rinvolucri, of Canterbury have done a huge amount to humanize the classroom with involving fun, SPEAKING activities at all levels. (website humanistic language learning). Once they were much admired. And now? Yesterday's story! What's new!

Kaplan.  "Language teaching is  more beset by fads than perhaps any other area of education. The 'best' methodology changes at incredibly frequent intervals, depending on which charismatic 'scholar' happens to have drawn attention to him or herself lately." 

This endless progression of Eurika moments and then dismissal. It's so wasteful. So much is lost. So much has to be rediscovered.


The magic power of CLIL.

It seems to me that the heart of CLIL is this belief that a normal, "boring" "subject" when taught in a foreign language becomes suddenly sexy - a quite different kettle of fish to those given as L1 lessons! Can that be really so? And must we snub my French teacher of old, as not holding the WISDOM of this "radical" novelty CLIL?  Will all those detached teenagers who reject English and reject Geography, etc, suddenly find both involving when merged, and (perforce) simplified?


I think this from a pamphlet published by experts of IPRASE of Trento - ( a sort of education authority) is an interesting example of the slight hysteria of CLIL believers; and makes doubters uncertain as to where to even begin to unravel such totalising claims.


CLIL..... "giova allo sviluppo di tutta la persona (1) ed avere influssi positivi sulla motivazione dei discenti.(2).. riguarda non soltanto L2 (3) ..bensi anche l'acquisizione di quellecompetenze traversali (4) che interessano tutte le discipline (!) (5): lacompetenza espressiva, (6) l'autonomia nel proprio processo di acquisizione (!),(7) l'assunzione di un metodo di lavoro,(8) la concettualizzazione,(9)  lacapacita' di analisi (10) e di sintesi(11) la comprensione dei contenuti (12)edei testi,(13) la motivazione all'apprendere (14). Graziie a CLIL there's student autonomy "La costruzione autonoma del sapere (p. 87) (15) and" assumere la responsabilita' della propria personalle costruzione di significato  (!) (p.88).(16)  It also promotes (enforces?) teacher co-operation(17) As if this wasn't enough, on page 72 it is asserted …. Una "promozione di un atteggiamento di base volto all'apprendimento in tutto l'arco della vita" (WOW!!) (18 benefits) .


Marvelous, that's settled then, and I must accept that my teaching skills and 40 years practice are, (in comparison to all the above), utterly ineffective. However, there is one very obvious doubt about the CLIL enterprise.


CLIL deals with academic content, so how will it be hospitable to the ordinary, banal everyday "competenze" (horrid, loathsome word) or "domains" of Portfolio, or even find the time for speaking? From this point of view, CEF and CLIL seem to be at total odds:  the "competences" and "dominions" of CEF's framework set against the academic, cognitive language of CLIL.

Furthermore, after 40 years of the once acclaimed "Communicative Approach", most English and Italian pupils tell me that during their language lessons they speak for a matter of SECONDS! Will not CLIL leave even less room for speaking! This is serious since (for me) one of the most striking pieces of research came form experimental research by Hulstijn and his team at the Kohnstamm Institute (University of Amsterdam)   "Some post-communicative methods like to oppose "lower-order thinking", which they equate to rote memorization, to "higher-order" skills. The former are to be avoided, the latter are the core objective. The Kohnstamm Institute research indicates that higher-order skills cannot function properly in the foreign language without well developed levels : LOWER ORDER AUTOMATISATION, (Hulstijn 1999).   Who is going t o see to that?

All the teaching material of this website address THAT problem.

(see C section of website )


The usual reply to this objection is "group work", with its non frontal, self discovery methodology: with students discussing and working as a team.  

The old Communicative Approach text books rightly emphasised the need for speaking /communication, and much of this was carried in pair work's  simulated "conversation". It never worked very well, either because students were too unsure and a pair of unsure students soon led to demotivation and because the "conversations" were so piloted by the text books along "every day" banalities: "what do you do when" "who is going to Sue's party" etc, that they were hardly riveting! So yes, the red meat of "subjects" is more worthwhile, but once again are the pairs/ groups able to use L2 in such a way as to not impoverish the conceptual content, and will this content inevitably have to be reduced and simplified? Already group work in subject lessons, is very difficult to organise with unmotivated students (please let us not forget the real difficulties of daily school life!) for whom the subject is of little interest and furthermore obstructed by the much publicised fall in conceptualising ability of many modern students. Also in any such "group", one student easily establishes him/herself as leader and initiator. Now transfer all that to a foreign language. Does Lazarus rise from the tomb?


The trouble is that since CLIL promises all that we have ever wanted, nothing else is now seen as useful. ALL previous ways of language teaching have been quite outflanked by CLIL's well funded Panzer division! ….

BUT if the promise is false and a language, like mathematics cannot in schools be just "acquired", "absorbed", "exposed", but needs skilled TEACHING, then….????


CLIL is WITHOUT DOUBT a moneyed lobby with political clout because it presses all the right; humanistic learning goals, and "European" buttons, and since it promises everything we have ever wished for, we would be mad to refuse it! N'est pas?


We are promised that CLIL's teaching subjects in a foreign language, transforms not only linguistic ability but COGNITIVE GRASP in those AND other lessons, and also behaviour/ discipline! In fact it transforms them from boring to fascinating. (see opening list again) Previous, once acclaimed, reforms of language teaching, (now discarded)  never had the nerve to claim that! This, you could say is the vision of CLIL, seen as "Trojan horse" within the walls of schools. (Ispettrice Gisella Lange') which FORCES teachers to change methods.

         I heard a teacher say that her 9 hours a week CLIL in an Elementary school, with 2 teachers to the class (L1 and L2) was a "revelation", but I think most teachers would do well with a trained teacher's assistance, and besides, 9 hours satisfies Marsh or whoever it was that talked of 9 hours for high quality CLIL. Also I'm sure that 9 hours in the game/activity/fun ethos of Elementary schools, combined with the children's age, is the ideal situation for CLIL

         This concept of the Trojan Horse as secret weapon to transform  school teaching/ learning, (IN ALL SUBJECTS!!) is perhaps to do with the fact that when teaching a subject in L2, teachers must simplify, rationalise, clarify, cut up, REDUCE, prepare better the subject and that they must furnish vocabulary and ready made usable conceptual language. This, as one speaker at a conference said, is a method of treating all pupils as if they were immigrants who were having difficulty with the new language. That, however does seem to be very near to what others call "dumbing-down". Listen to what Baker says: "If children are made to operate in an insufficiently developed second, language, .the cognitive system will not operate at its best: the quality and quantity of what they learn from complex curricula material, and which they produce in written and oral from may be relatively weak and impoverished"

         That, say CLIL experts, is not true. Even 3 hours a week or modules will still carry the magic elixir. (Marsh, Wolff)

         Is this enforced simplifying of the subject "effective" because young people are showing increasing inability to use their own  language? Is CLIL just a necessary dumbing down which works BECAUSE language is generally impoverished?

         So much is claimed for CLIL that head teachers are right to worry about possible mishaps, especially when experts seem to hedge their promises so heavily with "if it's done in the right way", or "in accordance with the conditions"!


         I copied the following statistic from the same IPRASE pamphlet of Trento, which apparently misquoted Marsh: (he told me); but I'm sure IPRASE is more responsible than that and maybe quoted it from an earlier book, and Marsh has now changed his previous opinion, and like Dieter Wolff, believes that even 3 hours a week or an short period "module" can still effect the CLIL magic. But there comes the unsettling thought that this trimming of the time that was previously thought necessary for "high quality CLIL" comes from the "realistic" view that if only a reduced CLIL is possible on the timetable, that must be justified so as to at least keep the CLIL bandwagon on the road!          Don't forget that CLIL is proselytised by a fairly narrow group who visit a round of European countries and conferences to spread the concept. Would they give it up if time were reduced? No, so the question I asked of Marsh is still valid, ""When is CLIL not CLIL"; what reduced time span turns CLIL into a mere verbal fossil, an acronym incantation"? By contrast, the circumstances of Wales, Catalonia or Quebec, etc with plentiful bilingual teachers, are ideal for CLIL. There, there are 50 50 bilingual lessons with a surrounding social bilingualism. Is a mere very limited "module" in Milan running on a shoe string budget similar?


This is from the pamphlet.-"Il futuro si chiama CLIL"(a little presumptuous perhaps!!) by IPRASE Trento - (a local teaching authority)


"High quality CLIL has 260 -320 hours a year.

"Very low quality has 70 hours curricula".

That is to say

3 hours each week = 3 hours X 4 weeks X 9 months =108 hours

6 hours of CLIL =216 ( ie too little)

7 hours    = 252 (still too little)

8 hours    =288  

9 hours    =324    = "High Quality"  To common sense it seems obvious that a CLIL course needs more time than "language lessons", (after all, there is the subject that is taking up space in the bed).


If we ignore some of the  Elementary school funded experiments, who in Italy is doing this 8/9 hours a week, all year without short cut, or abbreviated  "moduli"?  Also remember, in special experimental CLIL classes, with enthusiastic believers teaching, there is little wasted time. Most English and Italian pupils tell me that 30-40% (even 50%) of ordinary lessons are in some way or other "lost", so double the above required times.


I think that the anonymous comments of pupils given after our more than 50 Italian school intensive courses, are still SAYING SOMETHING that we should listen to,



Warning 1

`Swain M Lapkin 1982 "One cannot expect that just a major exposure to the language will be sufficient to "interiorize" it" ("interiorise?-ugh!) 

But in the case of all the last 40 years of disappointing novelties, one sees how a concept "acquire", functions as an all controlling intellectual paradigm which "solves" difficult problems by simply intoning the "abracadabra" word "acquire" over them.


Warning 2

The Gramsci warning. The 1920's Italian Communist was interested in experimental teaching news from England. However he rejected it, not because he didn't agree, but because he doubted sufficient state teachers could be found or the right conditions created. He feared such a large scale experiment would fail for practical reasons. So now when CLIL fails, it's always because of, "the wrong…….." etc. Gramsci preferred to not run the risk.


Warning 3

Kaplan.  "Language teaching is  more beset by fads than perhaps any other area of education. The 'best' methodology changes at incredibly frequent intervals, depending on which charismatic 'scholar' happens to have drawn attention to him or herself lately." 



Consider once again, the CLIL thesis. "Previous "methods" failed because they merely taught "languages".

BUT I think they failed for the obvious reason that they gave little time to speaking ; to focused speaking practice, that contained specific problems of pattern (=dreaded word Grammar: see my "grammar plays section) . There has been almost no concern for what Amsterdam research called "Lower Order Automarisation" (speaking!!) and instead an unrealistic, wish fulfillment dependence on the mechanisms of L1's acquisition, which could be supposedly transferred to a 3 hour environment!