Article 26 - Speaking English in Finnish content-based classrooms

Articles which are about CLIL

26 Speaking English in Finnish content-based classrooms


The author sets out not to analyze formal aspects of language use, but 'how English is used in Finnish biology and physics CLIL classrooms… social and interpersonal aspects of language use'.

  This study says some very good things about English language use in the groups under investigation ‘CLIL students claim ownership of English by the way they confidently use it as a resource for the construction of classroom activities.’ p.206

While not traditionally one of the languages of bilingual Fins, English is described as the first foreign language for all students. This is hardly surprising given the wide range of publications on English-medium CLIL which come out of Finland (see other articles on Finnish CLIL in this site for example).

It's also interesting to hear about the scale of CLIL in Finland and we can see this in this simple statement about how children get involved by choice or compulsorily: ‘In Finland student participation in CLIL is voluntary whenever a substantial part of instruction is given in a foreign language. Should a teacher decide to teach only limited part(s) of his/her subject through English, then all children may be required to participate.’ p.208

The author also contributes to our ongoing definition of CLIL when she offers us some characteristics typical of CLIL instruction: 'in Europe and Finland students are usually non-native speakers of the language of instruction and share the native language’ … ‘they contain aims relating both to language learning and to content learning.’ p.208 - I agree wholeheartedly with this last part, aims in CLIL methodology focus on BOTH language and content development.

The focus moves us from the bricks and mortar (words, concepts and skills) of learning through a foreign language to the decor and furnishings (social interaction through the foreign language) ‘The approach of the project can be described as discourse-pragmatic as it is informed by pragmatics and discourse analysis in particular when exploring the interpersonal and social aspects of language use in classrooms. This means that instead of focusing on formal aspects of the English Used by the students and teacher, i.e. how they master vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation, attention is paid to social and interpersonal aspects of language use, e.g. how roles and relationships, speaker rights and obligations are negotiated in interaction.’ p.209

Observations on use of English

‘One of the contexts where students’ persistence in using English is somewhat unexpected in the light of earlier studies is in situations where they are working in small groups or as pairs without the teacher present.’p.210 - This is an aspect of interaction which has frequently come up in the Cafe CLIL discussions and the general conclusion has always been that L1 is acceptable in small group work where students need to return to it to communicate and deal with concepts in discussion. Here the suggestion is that these Finnish students tend to choose the L2 - English.

‘…they produce their turns in a very rapid succession, partly echoing each other’s suggestions, which implies a certain naturalness and ease in their use of English: it is clearly not something they have to stop and think about before speaking, but can produce ‘online’ as they go on with the activity.’ p.211

There is reference to talk in situations which are generally considered as not being officially part of the lesson, and that in these situations language of choice is L1, in this data, using English in such situations is common. p.211

‘ …English in CLIL lessons is certainly not forced upon the students.’ p.213

The findings show that there are Finnish teenagers who are perfectly capable of carrying out meaningful, goal-oriented interaction in English. p.213

Code switching

‘When everybody shares an L1, it would seem likely that students would easily resort to their mother tongue when their L2 knowledge fails them. Contrary to such expectations, the students’ code switching in the present data seems to be mainly motivated by factors other than lack of knowledge in English.’ p.214 - Switching to English is a choice, a positive one which reflects aspects of the interactions other than just language knowledge.

‘The present data suggest that switches into Finnish fall, broadly speaking and defined, into two main categories: those in which the switch is in itself meaningful and motivated by interactional or social reasons, and those where the co-occurrence and concurrent use of two languages is meaningful, rather than particular switches serving specific interactional functions.’ p.214

‘… language choice thus seems to have the function of demarcating peer talk from teacher-student talk.’ p.215

‘Switches into Finnish also occasionally seem to have affective functions, i.e. they signal some changes in speakers’ affective stance.’ p.215

‘… it is possible to talk about emerging bilingualism among the students.’ p.220

‘These present findings suggest that CLIL Instruction could well serve as an arena for students to the put their skills into practice and act as active participants in classroom interaction. Moreover, the findings give reason to believe that when there is no explicit focus on students’ language skills, they seem to use English quite willingly.’ p.221

All of the above just go further to add to the stereotype I have of education in Finland being first class. We're not just talking about an elite system, we're talking about CLIL as a system which is accessible to all students, some by choice, some compulsory. Perhaps one pre-requisite for CLIL is actually that, get the educational system right first in order to guarantee success in CLIL.