What CLIL is and how it can be used in Language Teaching?

Illustration image of language learning content for CLIL teaching approach

Are you a language teacher who, apart from your job, is extremely passionate about something else, like cooking, hiking, biology, or spreading positivity around you? If yes, this is the article for you! In this blog post, we will discuss what the very effective Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach is and how it can be integrated into your language teaching. Through CLIL you will boost your students’ excitement and teach them important life skills. Here is one more teaching method that will bring the learning results you want out of everyone.


What is CLIL or Content and Language Integrated Learning?

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and as the term suggests, this approach is used to teach students about a new subject in a language foreign to them. Through CLIL, students not only learn a second language but also learn about a topic totally new to them, for example drawing or climate change. If students are familiar with the subject then the approach is not CLIL. Therefore the success of this approach relies on the integration of the new language and the new learning content. The subject can be anything really, from painting and physics to life skills.


The benefits of using CLIL in language teaching

Think of yourself in a class, learning painting through Italian. Keep in mind you are familiar neither with painting techniques nor with the Italian language. During the first classes, you will hear the teacher mentioning the word dipinto quite often. In the beginning, you are dependent on the instructor’s body language and gestures in order to understand the tasks you need to perform. Observing their body language and the items the teacher is showing, you will soon realise that dipinto stands for painting. In other words, what you will work on during these classes is paintings!

This is a simple example of the CLIL approach. In order to learn what dipinto, paesaggio (landscape) and ritratto (portrait) mean you will only need to attend the painting lessons, observe and listen to the teacher. 


What are the challenges in Content and Language Integrated Learning?

The fact that the language is new might confuse the students at the beginning, as they have to focus on both the target matter and the foreign language. By assignments, group work and discussion in the classroom, students will eventually become part of a routine and nothing will seem abnormal or too difficult anymore. In order for the teacher to prepare suitable materials and efficiently teach, they should develop their knowledge of the target matter. This is of course a substantial time investment from the teacher especially if there are no ready-made learning content available. At the same time, the classes are best to be designed in a way that students have a good comprehension of the subject taught and of the foreign language used to teach the topic. Teachers should also be aware of the skills and difficulties of each student, and scaffold the learning activities according to the students’ learning process. Concept checking questions are a teacher’s right hand when using the CLIL approach!


The CLIL approach in foreign language teaching

Learning a language using the CLIL approach is done implicitly. Students learn the language naturally, through conversation, observation and socializing, where learning grammar is not the primary goal. Students are also focused on a subject, for example, maths or woodworking, that interests them and the fact that acquiring more linguistic knowledge will help them learn the target matter better is very motivating. 

Language teachers should not be off using CLIL just because it is used for subject teaching. The point is not to be expert in a target matter, for example biology, as you, the language teacher, can add the CLIL approach in a lesson hour. 

The elements of a successful CLIL lesson based on 4Cs curriculum (Coyle 1999) are:

  • Content – progression in knowledge, skills and understanding related to specific elements of a defined curriculum.
  • Communication – using language to learn whilst learning to use language.
  • Cognition – developing thinking skills which link concept formation (abstract and concrete), understanding and language.
  • Culture – exposure to alternative perspectives and shared understandings, which deepen awareness of otherness and self

Graph of CLIL approach in foreign language teaching


A practical example of CLIL approach in a language classroom

Based on the week’s/month’s topic, as an introductory or wrap-up lesson you can use CLIL. For example, you taught about nature and the countryside and planning a flower or gardening activity will be very exciting for your students as they will see this lesson as a game or, better say, a break time. The only difference is that for that lesson you will place yourself as an experienced gardening instructor.   

You can bring in class plants and flowers (both common and some more rarely seen items) and organise a gardening, watering and flower decoration lesson. Display the items for them to see. Do not forget to also provide the tools necessary. The reason we suggest that is the students will meet the items on lesson day (and not prior to that as they would if they were asked to bring the tools themselves), so there will be the element of the surprise for the upcoming lesson. 

If your school’s facilities allow it, you can take the students outdoors and give them a gardening class. Speak to them while you put the plants in the soil. Hold the items and repeat the word. For example, hold the plant pot and repeat “maceta”. In that way, the children will learn what plant pot means in Spanish, in our case, without you translating the words. Students will remember the vocabulary better when they can make the real visual connection to the item. As soon as you have finished your gardening lesson, always revise the vocabulary by showing the items once more with the help of your students (for example using Flashcards to do so would be a great way to help students recall these vocabulary items).


If you’re a language teacher who’s looking for inspiration to try out new language teaching methods, then check out Sanako’s Youtube Channel for instructional videos to some of the most advanced, evidence-based approaches to language teaching and the key concepts behind them.

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References used in this blog post:

B. F. KLIMOVA CLIL and the teaching of foreign languages. [Online] Elsevier Database. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com

Pearson. What is Content and Language Integrated Learning

FluentU. CLIL: What it is and why language teachers will find it delightful