Cafe CLIL Discussion 18: Moving to English-medium Education

Discussion 18: Moving to English-medium Education

Recent developments around the world in terms of English-medium education, the question of 'legality' when young people are taught through another language, and tips and advice for anyone (read any school systems) thinking of going English-mediu.

06.12.11 (17.30-18.00 Central EU time)

You can listen to a recording of this discussion at this YouTube link.


 KK - Keith Kelly (Host - Bulgaria)
 PT - Patti Trimborn (Spain)
 PB - Phil Ball (Basque Country)
 LD - Lyubov Dombeva (Bulgaria)
 LS - Lida Schoen (Holland)
 N C-S - Noreen Caplen-Spence - (UK)
 DN - Dennis Newson (Germany)

There were three points on the agenda:

1) Recent developments and events and issues arising (Austria,  Holland, Switzerland)
2) Africa,  Rwanda (general questions and issues)
3) Advice, tips for systems undertaking EMI

1) Recent developments
Austria, Holland,  Switzerland are mentioned and a reaction from subject teachers to CLIL is described from experiences in each of these coutries. 

'I don't really see what this CLIL thing is all about'

The group talked about where this reaction has come from and what the possible background to it in these counties may be. It is stressed that CLIL can get 'personalised' by a national agenda and this agenda will differ from country to country.

Q - 'Would you say that there is a level of language, beyond which CLIL does become redundant?'
A - In terms of CALP, no, in terms of BICS, yes.

(BICS - Basic Interpersonal Communication and CALP - Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)

On one hand, teachers do complain about language aspects of their students performance (How can I get them talking more?) so rejecting CLIL, which is about finding a way 'to get students talking more', is rejecting an approach which solves the problem. 

There is a question about the delivery of CLIL training which may result in rejection of CLIL. CLIL has become an umbrella term and so if training offers an all-encompassing curriculum, it will by default cover areas which teachers may already be aware of and therefore have a tendency to reject.  

There is a suggestion that CLIL training should focus on 'language awareness' and 'task design'. 

With reference to  Holland - The Dutch speak English well, and they don't see the benefits of CLIL, for these teachers the talking isn't a problem, but talking about the subject is the problem.

With reference to Bulgaria - CLIL is about methodology, if you have the right sequence, it doesn't matter what language you are teaching in. Lots of teachers feel that teaching through English is absolutely different, they don't see the point. Some students feel that teaching through English doesn't provide good quality education, they don't get good education when learning through English.

The question of teacher confidence for dealing with CLIL is discussed. Confidence is related to awareness of language and awareness of task.

With reference to Spain - You could call it a CLIL success story in Spain, the rest of the system is a catastrophe. CLIL has been a way of sneaking things into the classroom, but we don't know what will happen now with cutbacks and cuts in teacher training.

Roles and relationships between the content and english teachers is discussed with respect to the Basque project. The average English teacher isn't trained to cope with CLIL and though there are some places where coordination happens, and when it works it works well, but it is a logistical nightmare.

There is mention of a school in Spain which bases its language curriculum on what goes on in the content classrooms. (This is the  IES Sanchez Lastra School, in Asturias)

An example is given from the Basque country which is resource led. This means that the textbooks for the language classroom are based on what is going on in the subject curriculum. Books are produced for language teachers alongside the social science curriculum that the english teachers can take into their classrooms, and they will be looking at the skills and procedures from the content classroom. 

The Bulgarian English Teachers' Association Conference is mentioned, where the pre-conference event will produce a booklet of ideas for language teachers, following content procedures (BETA Conference Information here).

2) Africa example

An example is given of a move to English-medium education in Rwanda, and the question is raised about the resources needed, the preparation and the planning for this kind of move and discussion comes back to Europe.

3) Advice and direction

A warning is given for systems moving to EM eduaction not to get stuck in a lexical - grammatical hierarchy in a CLIL course, which collleagues can get dissatisfied with for this very reason because they don't see the competences mentioned above.

There are resources claiming to be CLIL, but they are led by the language.

'The most important part of CALP is the general academic language that students need.'

So, one suggestion is find a role for the language teachers based on the same concepts and procedures as the content teachers. You have to identify the sort of things subject teachers do well. The  Teaching Other Subjects Through English book is mentioned, 

- 30 years of EFL practice and not one page says 'this is what subject teachers do well'

There is a danger that what subject teachers do is not great, when it is reading text and comprehension questions again and again, if it is just getting textbooks in English and just doing as it would be done in the mother tongue. There is a danger in importing mother tongue textbooks which does happen in a lot of contexts, because 'Native speaker textbooks tend not to be second-language learner friendly or concept-learning friendly'.

Suggestion - publishers providing teachers with all the raw source material that the teachers can edit, Word, PPT, audio, video along with a textbook. This would enable teachers to adapt more easily what they buy ready-made in textbooks.

(There is mention of a resource bank in Andalucia -

The agenda is set:

 The theme – Moving to English Medium Education (E-M Education)

 1) I’m just back from three training events in Austria, where the government has legislated for all technical high schools (eventually, 3 years from now if I remember correctly) to offer compulsory E-M subject teaching and learning, 2 lessons per week for Year 3 onwards.

 One interesting question, among many, from one of the teachers being asked to do this concerned the legality of this move to compulsory EM subject learning. Specifically, the teacher was concerned that her own level of English may not be adequate to give an appropriate evaluation of her learners, and her point hence was that students may not essentially be getting their legal right to an education.

 2) Am also at the end of a significant self-study resource writing project for Rwanda where teachers are now being asked to learn the language of their subjects in English, in order to be able to teach it through English.

 I think the broad theme is useful as it will allow us to discuss all manner of useful issues including:
 - why do it (CLIL as opposed to MT)?
 - what about resources (materials, teachers, time)?
- are there good examples where it has been introduced painlessly and what lessons do they offer (personally, think of Spain – though hardly painless – Holland, moving from TTOs to wider audience)?

 3) Advice for systems considering moving to English-medium education
 I think this is such a good suggestion, we can usefully brainstorm tips and advice for school systems considering going down this route. Practical ideas, broad general principles, a ‘don’t do it’ list, any suggestions and ideas of good and bad practice which might make things easier, and more effective in the long run.