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Needs Analysis in a CLIL Context: A Transfer from ESP

Miguel F. Ruiz-Garrido and Inmaculada Fortanet-Gómez
Universitat Jaume I (Spain)


Needs analysis became very popular during the 70s and the early 80s (Munby, 1978; Richterich and Chancerel, 1980). These studies focused on two main aspects: target-centred and student-centred objectives, that is, the needs related to the situations where students will need the language and the knowledge and gaps students have when starting the course. Not many studies of this kind have been carried out in the latest years and, up to now, needs analysis seems to have been applied mainly to ESP (English for Specific Purposes), for syllabus design and materials development. Although there are many differences between ESP and CLIL, we believe needs analysis is a useful approach that can be easily transferred. Needs Analysis can be applied to CLIL to define the programme and to establish the needs of teacher training, materials and specific means. Finally, several important questions should be answered about the students, such as the methodology of teaching that students are used to. The aim of our contribution is to make a proposal for the use of needs analysis in CLIL programmes in Higher Education.


Keywords: CLIL, needs analysis, ESP, Higher Education, teacher training

1. From English for Specific Purposes (ESP) to CLIL: common features

ESP 1 is the term that has traditionally been used for the courses which aim at teaching the English language needed for specific situations, mainly related to academic or occupational contexts. Several works deal with the developments in the field (i.e., Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998; García Mayo, 2000; Fortanet-Gómez and Räisänen, 2008), but we would like to focus on the features that relate ESP to CLIL. One of the first and most widely accepted definitions of ESP (Strevens, 1988), states that it refers to the teaching of English which meets the needs of the learners, and is related to the content of particular disciplines, occupations and activities. Dudley-Evans and St John (1998: 9) tried to shed some light on the relationship between ESP and General English by offering a very interesting perspective, which presents English Language Teaching as a continuum that ranges from General English courses to English for Specific Purposes courses.

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Figure 1. Continuum of ELT course types (Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998: 9) 2

right arrow

Position 1 Position 2 Position 3 Position 4 Position 5
English for Beginners Intermediate to advanced EGP courses with a focus on particular skills EGAP/EGBP courses based on common-core language and skills not related to specific disciplines or professions Courses for broad disciplinary or professional areas, for example Report Writing for Scientists and Engineers 1) An ‘academic support’ course related to a particular academic course.
2) One-to-one work with business people

Recent research on CLIL clearly establishes its relationship with LSP. Greere and Räsänen in a report on a LANQUA Subproject on Content and Language Integrated Learning (2008) state that “CLIL should be seen as a continuum of various pedagogical approaches which aim to facilitate learning” (ibid: 5); they define this continuum as consisting of 6 steps:

  1. Non-CLIL: Non-concern for language learning, no pedagogical collaboration;
  2. LSP/ Discipline-based language teaching: language specialists providing discipline-specific LT to support learning, no systematic collaboration with subject specialists;
  3. Pre-CLIL (language): pre-sessional teaching of language to support student’s learning of the content, collaboration language-subject teacher, language learning outcomes specified according to content learning needs;
  4. Pre-CLIL (content): language learning expected due to exposure, but outcomes not specified, implicit aims and criteria, rare collaboration of subject specialist with language teacher;
  5. Adjunct-CLIL: language support coordinated with/ integrated in subject studies, which takes place simultaneously, joint planning between teachers and specified outcomes for both content and language; and
  6. CLIL: fully dual approach and full integration of language across subject teaching by subject specialist or team teaching.

One important part of this continuum is LSP or discipline-based language teaching, which in Figure 1 is identified as Position 5, “an ‘academic support’ course related to a particular academic course”. However, the relationship between ESP and CLIL is not something new, since already in 1997 well-known literature supported the link between ESP (or EAP, English for Academic Purposes) and CBI (Content-based Instruction), for many a predecessor (Soetaert and Bonamie, 2008), or a synonym of CLIL (Dalton-Puffer and Smit, 2007):

English for Specific Purposes (ESP) and advanced disciplinary English for Academic Purposes (EAP) contexts provide additional support for advanced level CBI programs (Grabe and Stoller, 1997:16)

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Some other studies have also pointed out the link between ESP and CLIL (Mahbudi, 2000; Huan and Normandia, 2007; Fortanet-Gómez and Raisänen, 2008). There are researchers who even state that “content and language integrated learning (CLIL) ha[s] greatly influenced the teaching of ESP as [it] incorporate[s] meaningful authentic language processing [...]” (Orna Montesinos, 2006: 645).

Needs analysis (NA) has been one of the main contributions of ESP, which has only scarcely been applied to General English (Seedhouse 1995), and due to the relationship between ESP and CLIL, we consider it can also be a good contribution to CLIL.

2. A brief look at needs analysis

Needs analysis, as a term related to language teaching, first appeared in the 1920s (White, 1988; West, 1997). However, it became popular in the decade of the 70s and early 80s by means of some major publications which were associated to ESP teaching such as those by Richterich and Chancerel (1980) or Munby (1978).

A huge amount of literature has explained what needs analysis is and how it has been worked out through the years (see Long, 2005 for an accurate revision, but also Tajino et al., 2005; Cowling, 2007, among others), although we are obviously focusing our attention on needs analysis related to language learning, that is to say, the communication necessities required in specific contexts. Dudley-Evans and St John (1998) consider NA as one of the key stages in ESP, being the others course and syllabus design, selection and production of materials, teaching and learning, and evaluation. According to their definition, based on previous works, NA is “the process of establishing the “what and how of a course” (Dudley-Evans and St John, 1998: 121). Not being unique to language teaching or ESP, “needs analysis is the corner stone of ESP and leads to a very focused course” (ibid: 122).

Several researchers have been concerned with methodological issues involving needs analysis (see Taillefer, 2007 for specific references). From a critical viewpoint, Long (2005) introduced a new methodology for needs analysis that involves using and comparing two or more sources and methods in order to add breath and depth to the analysis, which can be an important means of validating findings (Long, 2005: 63). His proposal includes sources and methods used in other studies but presented in a more accurate and systematic way. Among the sources are published and unpublished literature, learners, teachers and applied linguists or domain experts, and the methods include expert/non-expert intuitions, interviews, questionnaire surveys, ethnographic methods, etc.

Following previous approaches to the topic (see Munby, 1978; Hutchinson and Waters, 1987; or Robinson, 1991), Dudley-Evans and St John (1998: 125) propose a kind of eclectic and complete model of needs analysis in ESP which should determine:

  • professional information about learners: target situations they will use the English for;
  • personal information about learners: factors affecting the way they learn (such as previous learning experiences, motivation, or attitude to English);
  • English language information about learners: current proficiency of the language;
  • learners’ lacks: gap between their knowledge of English and their target situations;
  • language learning needs: effective ways of learning skills and language to fill in their lacks;
  • professional communication information about the language and skills used in the target situation;
  • what learners want from the course; and
  • environmental situation of the course.
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Although we do not know any research involving all these aspects or needs to be analysed in CLIL, there are examples which illustrate the research on some of those specific areas listed above. Most studies have been devoted to analyse certain specific needs of CLIL programmes in primary and secondary education. For example, de Graaff et al. (2007) report on short- and long-term effects of CLIL on target language proficiency, so focusing on the language learning needs. Similarly, Van de Craen et al. (2007) review previousliterature to support the main benefits of the CLIL approach in comparison to traditional approaches, involving learning needs but also other complementary factors to the learning process (attitude, motivation or cognition). On the other hand, Vázquez (2007) explains the situation in Germany after forty-five years of implementing bilingual or CLIL programmes. Through her analysis, she describes the pros and cons of the programmes, and calls for further needs analysis on the language used in CLIL classes and on the specific teaching methodologies for CLIL, among other proposals. Other studies from the point of view of needs analysis are reported by Mehisto (2007, 2008). After piloting some CLIL programmes in Estonia and gaining experience, he shows several concluding considerations and needs to be considered to successfully implement those programmes in the future, such as taking into account the environment in which the action tales place (involvement and support of stakeholders) as well as the learning environment, the personal information about the learners, their language needs, etc. These are just a few examples of the research carried out in primary and secondary education related to needs analysis (see Marsh and Wolff (2007) for further studies).

At the tertiary level, there seems to be a minor provision for CLIL (Dafouz et al., 2007: 90), and consequently less research has been carried out. Wilkinson (2004) and Wilkinson and Zegers (2008) include some chapters related to needs analysis. Other researchers have also reported on some studies which search for personal information about the learners in relation to their attitudes towards certain activities and skills (Kavaliauskienė, 2004) or about their attitudes and their teachers’ to the implementation of CLIL programmes in a university context (Dafouz et al., 2007), but research also refers to the learners’ professional information, such as their needs in the target situation (Flowerdew, 2005). It seems that up to now most of the studies on needs analysis and CLIL at the university are related to implementing this approach for the professional development of the learners.

NA has been proven to be highly relevant for the design and development of any kind of ESP course. In the following section we try to demonstrate that NA can become a link between ESP and CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning), and how NA may become necessary to apply a CLIL approach in higher education.

3. The context of Needs Analysis for CLIL

As commented above, there has been a development in the number of sources and methods of collecting data in the process of needs analysis for ESP. However, in previous literature there is scarcely any reference to the context, that is, people and institutions that may have a strong influence on the success or failure of the learning programme. ESP teaching is focused on the language teacher and the learner. Discipline teachers and domain experts, as well as published and unpublished literature, can provide the language teacher with valuable information to design the most appropriate syllabus for a group of learners, but have not been usually considered as stakeholders.

When dealing with CLIL, the responsibility of the learning process is no longer focused on the teacher, not even shared by teacher and learner, but affecting a much larger number of stakeholders. Figure 2 shows the relationships between stakeholders in the CLIL programme in Higher Education.

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Figure 2. Stakeholder’s relationships in a CLIL programme

Figure 2

Some of the main contributors to the success of a CLIL programme are usually policy makers and higher level decision takers, external participants of the programme. At the highest institutional level in Europe, the European Union institutions (the Council of Europe and the European Commission, mainly in this case) have been constantly issuing principles and directives since 1982 to promote multilingualism 3, and since 1993 they have approved actions and projects to support Content and Language Integrated Learning (Marsh, 1998). This has had an effect on national and regional governments which, in turn, have persuaded schools and universities to look into this matter. However, very often principles and directives show interest but offer few facts or applications.

Also essential for the successful implementation of the CLIL programme is the positive involvement of the social environment. CLIL has to be known and valued by current and future students, employers, institutions, and even teachers not directly involved in CLIL programmes. The way the programme is presented to them will very often determine its social acceptance.

Once a favourable atmosphere has been created, the CLIL programme has to be designed specifically for an institution. A coordinator is an essential participant in this process, the person responsible of collecting all the information for the needs analysis from the external and the internal participants in the programme, in order to establish the objectives, the timing, the resources needed, etc. S/he is also responsible of the follow-up and constant support, as well as the assessment and final evaluation of the programme.

As internal participants in the programme, decision takers, that is, in Higher Education university chancellors or rectors, need to be informed by experts about what CLIL is and how a programme for their institution could be developed, so that they can contribute to design the specific programme for their institution and commit themselves to support the programme.

The direct participants in the CLIL programme are teachers and students. They need to receive information and be assigned a certain role in the programme. In the CLIL environment, it can be either language or subject teachers, or both, who are involved in the programme. The decision on the teachers involved will also have an effect on the students’ needs, as well as the objective of the programme. In the next sections, the three different types of NA are explained in detail.

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4. NA for the design of the CLIL programme

As said above, the design of the CLIL programme should be the responsibility of a coordinator with a good knowledge and expertise in CLIL. The information that should be collected can come from documents such as laws and rules, which may restrict the possibilities of the programme. Other sources of relevant information can be the decision makers, the teachers and the students in the institution, without ignoring the external participants: society, future students, and policy makers. The methods of collection can range from reviewing published documents to interviews or questionnaires. The results of the NA should be the basis of the institutional programme.

5. NA for CLIL teachers

In order to guarantee the success of the CLIL programme, it is necessary to make sure the teachers are provided with the support and the training they need. NA, by means of interviews, questionnaires, language audits, tests, or class observation, can provide information about the wants and lacks of teachers. The choice of the profile of the teacher, either a language or a subject teacher, or a team including both, will be related to the learning objective decided for the programme, which can be learning content through a foreign language, learning a foreign language through a specific content, or learning both content and language with the same level of importance.

The command of the language may be a difficulty in some situations, both regarding the general language and the specific discourse of the discipline (ESP), especially when it is the subject teacher who has to teach using a foreign language. However, very often it is the specific methodology of CLIL, which involves a combination of the methodologies for subject and language teaching, which may pose most problems. In CLIL both the language and the content components are important, and more strategies to support understanding and learning have to be included. There may be a need to focus on linguistic aspects, to use visuals, or to implement repetition and consolidation exercises (Deller and Price, 2007). Though difficult to attain, a close collaboration between the subject and the language teacher, including team teaching, would be an ideal situation.

Another important factor to consider is the means and materials that may be needed to apply a CLIL approach, what Dudley-Evans and St John called means analysis (1998). The results of a complete NA will unveil teachers’ needs and wants, in order to provide them with the suitable training and support, in the case of deciding to involve in the programme existing staff. Another possibility is to recruit new teachers with a suitable profile. These new teachers should have already received pre-service training on CLIL. There are still very few countries where this specific training is provided. NA can also shed some light on what should be taken into account to design pre-service training for CLIL.

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6. NA for students in CLIL programmes

The methodological approaches usually associated with CLIL are learner-centred and related to constructivism and to social interaction (Dalton-Puffer, 2007; Lyster, 2007). Constructivism supports that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas based upon their current knowledge state (Bruner, 1990). The importance of social interaction relies on the fact that learning and teaching is founded on students-teacher linguistic communication, and that this communication is the prerequisite for later internalization of what has been said as knowledge or competence (Hall and Verplaetse, 2000). It is thus important to pay attention to three main aspects:

  • content, what students need to learn;
  • method, how they can learn it; and
  • language, the means to learn.

Regarding content, subject teachers of the discipline need to be consulted, as well as partner universities in the case of providing CLIL also for exchange students. By means of meetings and formal and informal interviews, a general agreement should be reached on which subjects are most suitable to be taught in the foreign language. This could be related to the target situation analysis proposed by Munby (1978).

Previous learning experiences were also pointed as relevant information in NA by previous literature. However, in CLIL there should be a combination of methodologies related to language learning and to discipline learning, in order to guarantee the subject is methodologically integrated in the curriculum, and at the same time it is paying enough attention to the social interaction essential for language learning. In order to raise CLIL teachers’ awareness about the different methodological approaches, we propose class observation, or the use of journals or blogs.

Thirdly, the NA related to language should observe the situation of students previous to the beginning of the course regarding general foreign language level, and specific discourse of the discipline, since a certain knowledge of both is necessary in CLIL. This could be done by means of tests and interviews.

Additionally, it will also be interesting to observe other more subjective aspects related to the motivation and attitude of both teachers and students regarding the implementation of the CLIL programme.

Going back to the triangulated methodology proposed by Long (2005) for NA, it seems to be most relevant for CLIL programmes, since it is not enough to do the three types of NA proposed so far. The results will have to be compared in order to establish the content to be taught in relation to the level of the students related to language (both general and specific), as well as the best methodology to be used. Moreover, factors such as material and human resources should also be considered before designing the programme.

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7. Final remarks

The aim of this article was to present the main developments of needs analysis as related to the ESP approach, and to see the possibilities of transferring this methodology to the context of CLIL. In order to do this, two important differences have to be taken into account: the focus in these learning approaches, English language learning in the former and both content and language in the latter; and the context in which they are implemented, whereas ESP is usually presented as isolated courses aimed to respond mainly to the language needs of a certain group of individuals, CLIL involves a much larger number of stakeholders, since contextual factors need to be considered in order to create a favourable background that can guarantee the success of the programme.

NA in CLIL can be found related either to the teachers’ needs or to the students’ needs. Although the recent developments in NA for ESP (Dudley Evans and St John, 1998; Long, 2005) in terms of sources or methods of collecting data can be easily adapted to CLIL, they have never been introduced in a frame including both teachers and students. Moreover, a CLIL programme presupposes a needs analysis including a previous negotiation with the institution which has to decide on the objectives of the programme and a positive social atmosphere as a background to its development.

Additionally, the whole programme has to follow a series of consecutive steps: the teachers’ NA should lead to a number of actions such as teacher training courses and provision of the necessary means. Only after these actions have been accomplished should students’ NA be carried out.

In summary, the planning of a CLIL programme has a complex procedure and NA is only part of it. Up to now there have been some holistic programmes such as those described by Escobar-Urmeneta and Pérez-Vidal (2004) or Mehisto (2007, 2008) for primary education, though to our knowledge, nothing has been attempted at university level. In any case, a complex procedure like this requires coordination, which should correspond to a team of CLIL experts, able to explain what CLIL consists in, to assist in decision-taking, to organise the several steps, as well as the support and follow-up of the programme, and to assess and evaluate the outcomes.

8. Further research

Much still needs to be done in terms of NA for CLIL. Our aim in this article was to establish the theoretical background, as a point of departure. In the near future it is our intention to apply NA in institutional programmes at the three levels of education: university, secondary and primary education. These NA should shed some light on the answers to questions such as the following:

  • What are the social and institutional needs that recommend the implementation of CLIL in Spain?
  • What are the needs of learners regarding CLIL?
  • Is it possible to talk about the need for a specific CLIL methodology?
  • Does the CLIL teacher need specific skills? Should they be acquired in pre-service training?
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1 Needless to say that although we mainly refer to the teaching of English as a foreign/second language, we understand the whole article can be applied to any foreign/second language. Therefore, terms such as LSP (Languages for Specific Purposes) will alternate with others, such as ESP.
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2 EGP stand for English for General Purposes; EGAP stands for English for General Academic Purposes; EGBP stands for English for General Business Purposes; ELT stands for English Language Teaching.
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3 http://www.coe.int
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