Discussion 14: Re-defining CLIL (Defining CLIL again)

This discussion is a revisit to CLIL terminology, methodology and contexts based on developments over the last two years of Café CLIL discussion.

17.11.10 (17.00-18.00 Central EU time)


Phil and Paul couldn't make it but we'll keep their profiles for future reference.

Profile for Phill Ball (

Phil works for the Federation of Basque Schools (Ikastolas), based in San Sebastián. He has a degree in English Literature and Language, a PGCE in English, and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Essex University.  He began teaching in the late 1970’s in an English Comprehensive School, moved to a bilingual immersion school in Lima, Peru, then taught in Oman before ending the journey in Spain, where he has lived in the Basque region since 1991.  He taught Phonetics and Linguistics at the University de Deusto for six years before moving into materials writing and teacher-taining for the Basque Government and then for the Basque Federation of Schools, and has been closely involved with their successful plurilingual project, ‘Eleanitz’, now up and running since its inception in 1991.  He is also a distance tutor on the Funiber MA TEFL, and has recently written a CLIL module as part of the degree materials.  He has been involved in several European projects, has written five CLIL textbooks for the Basque Schools’ social science syllabus (studied in English), and co-written and performed the music for the award-winning primary project, ‘Story Projects’.  His book about his early teaching experiences in an English Comprehensive have been recently published in England (‘The Hapless Teacher’s Handbook’) and he is currently working on an adjunct scheme to publish English language materials which form a support syllabus for CLIL subject teaching.

 Profile for Paul East (

Paul East is the founder and Managing Director of the Pyramid Group which is based in Ulm in southern Germany. Pyramid´s main focus is on ESP, e.g. legal, technical and healthcare as well as offering translations and interpreting in 58 languages. Other areas of The Pyramid Group include the French Academy, online training programmes and EU-sponsored projects, e.g. Tempus. Website: Paul is Joint Coordinator of IATEFL BESIG, President of IATET (International Association of Technical English Trainers) and on the board of EULETA (European Association of Legal English Trainers).

There has been a growth in the area of CLIL over the last two years in many respects (publications, methodologies, blogs, events, interpretations of CLIL). This discussion brings a redefining of CLIL back to the table. Unlike previous discussions on defining CLIL, this discussion has very specific questions which come below.

You will be able to listen to a full recording of the discussion in the embedded player here or you can download the file (13mb):

Participants in Café CLIL 14:

Egbert Weisheit (Germandy)
Peach Richmond (Switzerland)
John Clegg (UK)
Lauretta D'Angelo (Italy)
Keith Kelly (Bulgaria)
Colleagues were given the prompts below for this discussion. The decision to table this discussion is from conference discussions, e-group discussions, blog postings describing CLIL methodology in a variety of forms. The Café CLIL discussion group will attempt to clarify some of that description in the one hour's recording to be posted above.  

Prompt discussion points given to colleagues were:

1) What is CLIL? I’ve kept this deliberately broad so that we can
differentiate between what language CLIL teachers and content CLIL teachers are looking for and need and what is being described as CLIL for them in the CLIL literature.

‘The more we talk, the more diverse CLIL becomes’

‘CLIL is organic’

‘There is a clear differentiation between ELT CLIL and Content CLIL’

Reference to Eichstatt – give link to OSC

and to factworld


‘It’s the C and L that define CLIL’

‘CLIL has become everything to everyone’

‘To insist that CLIL is an umbrella term is not correct anymore’

and to IES Sanchez Lastra

It’s the ‘through’ not the ‘in’ that is CLIL


‘With this definition, we exclude a lot of subject teaching in English.’

2) How important is culture in CLIL methodology?


Following on from current FACTWorld group discussion.

‘Some subjects force you to focus more on culture than others’

There was balanced opinion with slightly more weight for culture not being a fundamental pillar of CLIL methodology, but rather an useful awareness in teachers working through FL.

3) What are the main / key dimensions of a CLIL methodology?
This point was dealt with among all the issues raised during the whole discussion.

4) What resources have come out in the last 2 years since the Cardiff debate, since Café CLIL started which we might call ‘real’ CLIL stuff.
Here, I could scan some published CLIL resources with a view to constructive discussion of them as CLIL resources.

Two articles are mentioned which are useful for understanding the implications of integrating content and language.

(i) Linguistic Knowledge and Subject Knowledge: How Does Bilingualism Contribute to Subject Development? Laurent Gajoa, Université de Genève, Genève, Switzerland

(ii) Integrating Language and Content - Teaching through Collaborative Tasks, Merrill Swain

(iii) TKT CLIL has been useful for clarifying concepts in CLIL and TKT CLIL vocab is highlighted in onestopclil each month:

(iv) More researched based literature has appeared such as:

Content and Language Integrated Learning, Evidence from Research in Europe, Ed. Yolande Ruiz de Zarobe and Rosa Maria Jimenez Catalan. Multilingual Matters, 2009

(v) The Oxford Content and Language Support, Geography and Science, 2010, OUP series is mentioned, focuses on grammar in content, issue with productive skills.

(vi) The Vocabulary Practice Series for Geography and Science, Macmillan, 2008-2009 is also mentioned.

Here, discussion returned to definitions:
A subject teacher who was fluent in English teaching to students fluent in English who made no reference to language, would this be CLIL? No.

There is a suggestion that CLIL methodology by default is more visual.

Total immersion isn’t CLIL, because identifying language demands and making decisions about what to do about that language, what tasks to build in to support that language is what defines CLIL.

Eichstatt CLIL Conference 2010, presented colleagues who speak of CLIL as immersion, and colleagues who speak of CLIL as language focused.

In conclusion, there is a suggestion that like a doctor diagnosing a patient we need a check list for identifying a methodology as CLIL.

I’d also invited Phil Ball to join us but he couldn't make it sadly, we'll get him another time! He has written extensively in educational media about the need for a clear definition. You can read a lot of what he says at
I'm also posting here a summary of a recent discussion in the FACTWorld yahoogroups list, and while I hope I've provided a broad spread of opinion and comment the cutting of the texts is completely my responsibility.  

What is the role of culture in CLIL methodology?


I posted a review of a paper - Developing Material for Physical Education Lessons in CLIL, Meike Machunsky 2007 - and I questioned the central role in it given to culture in CLIL methodology, which has also been proposed by a number of important texts, books and articles (CLIL - Hood, Marsh and Doyle) and the official EU line as well. I disagree that culture has a central role in CLIL, or even shares an equal role to the other pillars of CLIL, namely language and content.  It may be an extra, but isn’t generic CLIL methodology. Some argued that as a part of language education, CLIL cannot be without a culture dimension, others argued that culture shouldn’t be there by default:


‘Why should CLIL be founded on 'themes in language education' since it's actually about PE in English, or Physics in English, so it's about the subject rather than the history of the language methodology?’


‘Culture can not be apart from education or teaching, and I don't think CLIL must be something neutral or inert.’


‘Physics is Physics, Maths is Maths whether it's in a mother tongue or in a foreign language.’


‘CLIL, as one suspected might happen, is suddenly everything to everyone, when all it really is is a subject-based methodology that attempts to teach efficiently through another language, other than the mother tongue.’


‘CLIL is not some sort of mysterious life-force. If you have to teach photosynthesis, there seems to be no overriding requirement to bring in 'culture'. Content is content. The curriculum is what it is. If cultural aspects are brought along in CLIL's wake, either directly or indirectly, then fine. But what we need to avoid is the *reductio ad absurdum* of 'culture', where absolutely anything in classroom practice could be defined as such. Has there been a class since the dawn of mankind that has *not*contained some content, some culture, some communication and some cognition? These things occur by default in an educational context. The quality of their occurence is the concern of curriculum planners and materials writers, but not exclusively of those of us who work in CLIL.’


Culture defining CLIL methodology:


It’s a mistake to want to get culture into a CLIL lesson by hook or by crook. CLIL is mainly subject teaching in L2: the teacher’s business is to teach the subject – make sure their kids get grades in maths or geography or whatever it is. That’s crude but it’s the truth. And I hope not too many teachers are anxious about somehow squeezing culture into a maths lesson when what they need to be doing is maths. It may be, as Do Coyle suggests, that culture, in some shape or form, must be present in any didactic unit or sequence, but that doesn't make it CLIL.


A single definition of CLIL is pretty much impossible once we begin to take the dimension of Context into account. I assume that this dimension was included in Do's model, precisely because of the variety of CLIL/ content-based teaching models that exist, thus reflecting the context-dependent nature of what we do ( even if the aspiration is to create common and shared parameters).... Similarly, by promoting the inclusion of plurilingualism / culturalism in content, we pass on skills and positive attitudes for the business of living in a diverse and dynamic world. In this way, 'we do culture' (as opposed to teaching culture as one would teach/objectify content) and we ensure that this 'baffling word' is not just a token element of a CLIL programme, simply because it has to appear in any educational context.


There was a warning: Are we prescriptivists in determining what CLIL must be?


‘A cultural aspect in every lesson makes that harder to juggle and doesn't necessarily help teach the subject either.’


‘I think that Culture is somewhat "forced" into the CLIL curriculum. Many teachers struggle to find a cultural point in anything (as photosynthesis), and it doesn't have any sense to do it.’


Culture and language and the curriculum:


I think Culture is part of CLIL, either we wish it or not. In my opinion when we use a different language we are not doing something "neutral", as we are introducing a "new" or "different "culture in our lesson. It is not only a question of being semanticists (we can't avoid it anyway), but culture is dynamically crystalized in the way a language "builds" a concept, transforms it, presents it.


… and …


The discussion on culture doesn't come from the Biology curriculum, it has come from somewhere else, I suspect from colleagues with language learning in mind. Hard CLIL is about the subject first, language second, culture perhaps, but not essentially.


Specific references to culture and language:


English is linked to many cultures (British, North American, Australian, Indian, Maltese...), we must not forget that, but language shouldn´t be treated as mathematical language it DOES have a cultural dimension. Not having a deep knowledge of a language should not be an excuse for us teachers to use the language exclusively as a code, we must make an effort to deepen our knowledge of the cultural aspects of the language we use for CLIL and bring them up when useful or as curiosities which can enliven our lesson.

When you teach a content in a different language, and you use a material tha has been produced - let me say - for an English kid, you are guiding him/her towards a different way of elaborating knowledge.


An invitation to visit: the ConBaT+ website at the ECML - The aims of this project are about integrating the plurilingual and pluricultural dimensions into content to promote positive attitudes to languages and their speakers, including teachers' attitudes.’


There were opinions about publishing:

The publishers are taking CLIL and 'softening' it, because they can't make any money out of 'hard' CLIL.


There were attempts at defining:

There are four types of content: *Conceptual, procedural, linguistic* and * attitudinal*. Culture can be a transversal component of any of these, but it cannot define CLIL.


It was a great discussion, and if you’d like to read any of the discussion in full, you’ll need to join or write to me and I’ll add you to the group.

I'm also posting here a number of references to the literature which may help feed our discussion in Cafe CLIL 14. See you there!  

Language and Literacy in Science Education

Jerry Wellington and Jonathan Osborne
Open University Press, 2001
This book is dedicated to describing language and supporting language for learners in the science curriculum. It makes no reference to culture.

Uncovering CLIL

Peter Mehisto, Maria Jesus Frigols, and David Marsh
Macmillan, 2008

This book was one of the first ''CLIL teacher guide books'' to be published on CLIL. It gives 30 core features of CLIL methodology on p. 29-30 and makes no reference to culture. The matrix of principles given to 'drive the CLIL model' are cognition, community, content and communication.

cognition, community, content and communication

CLIL - Content and Language Integrated Learning

Do Coyle, Philip Hood, David Marsh
CUP, 2010

This book has a strong focus on culture in CLIL and lists it as one of the key factors in a CLIL methodology, but does add 'it is content which initially guides the overall planning along the learning route' (p.55).

Key factors in CLIL methodology
There is a clear diagram for visualizing the 4Cs in CLIL on p. 41
4Cs in CLIL
... and a nice example of a planning map is given on habitats on p. 66
Culture in CLIL planning map

SLA Content and Language Integrated Learning
Evidence from Research in Europe

Edited by Yolanda Ruizo de Zarobe and Rosa Maria Jimenez Catalan
Multilingual Matters, 2009

There are many interesting articles in this book, but Christiane Dalton-Puffer writes specifically with reference to culture in CLIL on p. 210-211 in a discussion about communicative competences leaving culture as a PS.

Cultural dimension of CLIL communication
Multilingualism in Mathematics Classrooms
Global Perspectives

Edited by Richard Barwell
Multilingual Matters, 2009

There is a wealth of discussion and information about culture in the maths classroom. Not all discussion of culture in this book but a large amount of it is with reference to minority populations learning through the medium of English and in this context culture focuses on the 'home' culture in the context of the English-medium learning culture.
This distinction is made here only because it is relevant to our discussion in Cafe CLIL 14.