English in Mainstream European Secondary Schools: Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
English is a popular language, in the Netherlands as well as in Europe and the rest of the world. Examples of its influence are easy to find. Particularly in areas related to commerce and popular culture, English is often the preferred language: in pop songs, cinema film titles and television programmes, names of shops in shopping centres, job titles in business and so on. In European education, too, English is predominant: it is the most popular foreign language at secondary schools throughout the EU member states (Eurydice, 2005).
At the same time, European integration, a major political development of the last few decades, has affected many areas of our economic and social life. With English as the lingua franca in the international world of business, economics and science, many European nations have given special attention to the teaching of this language, which is increasingly seen as the pupils’ second language. Its international importance has led to the introduction of CLIL, bilingual education with English as the language of instruction for a number of non-language subjects such as History, Geography, but also Mathematics and Science.
In order to gain an insight into the background of CLIL and the factors that make this type of learning so successful, we have undertaken a comparative study on the implementation of CLIL in five European countries. The aim of our research is to collect data on cross-cultural CLIL practice and pupil achievement, with a view to making a contribution to the future development of this type of bilingual learning.
Learning English in CLIL programmes
Eurostat (2008) reports an increase in the percentage of pupils learning English in upper secondary education. The latest figures indicate 100% for the Netherlands, 99.7% for Finland, 93.8% for Germany, 85.1% for Italy and 73% for Hungary, if we restrict ourselves to the countries participating in the present research. Knowledge of the English language is no longer the privilege of the elite, but a necessity for everyone in modern society. The growing mobility of the world population has had its impact on foreign language teaching. Whereas the post war grammar-translation method laid a solid basis for those engaged in international business correspondence, it turned out to be insufficient to satisfy the need for adequate spoken skills, which is why the focus on teaching formal language rules and practising translation exercises shifted to a focus on communicative skills. The functional-notional approach, introduced in the 1970s, provides a basis for practising real-life communication. However, as the classroom is a confined space, language practice is limited and relies largely on role playing.
The CLIL approach carries communication a step further: the CLIL classroom actually provides a real-life situation, a meaningful context for those involved. Pupils need the language in order to master the subject matter; the teacher needs it to convey the contents of the lesson. The interaction resulting from this negotiation of meaning is seen by many as an important prerequisite for language learning, and takes on a wider scope than is the case in the language classroom. Added to this is the longer period of exposure to meaningful foreign language, a condition that can hardly be equalled in mainstream non-CLIL curricula.
The approach has already proved its merits. Almost every country in Europe is to a greater or lesser extent moving towards CLIL. The great majority of CLIL initiatives have English as the target language. As yet, not enough is known as to exactly which factors account for its success. The combination of linguistic talent with an above average pupil motivation, in many schools some of the criteria for admittance to a CLIL programme, are frequently mentioned as a key factor. Research into second language learning has shown that positive attitudes and motivation are related to success (Gardner, 1985). Building on this, the present study will concentrate on aspects of pupil motivation and language aptitude, and evaluate cross-cultural differences.
The central aim of this study is to investigate the various CLIL approaches in the participant countries and their effects. The general hypothesis is that pupils that have taken part in a CLIL programme will have better scores in the English language tests than their peers in non-CLIL education. However, this may not be the case with all linguistic skills measured in the research and some CLIL programmes may produce better results than others.
The study addresses the following research questions:
In this paper we have given special emphasis to the description of the educational practice in the participating countries; the research design will not be discussed here.
The pilot schools are grammar schools, in The Netherlands comprehensive schools with a grammar school department. Finland can, however, be considered as an exception as the country has an integrated school type for all pupils aged 7 to 16. The CLIL provision in English begins when pupils are 13 and continues for several consecutive years. As the schools have all worked with the CLIL approach for several and in some cases many years they have developed know-how and expertise. The participant countries are located in various quarters of Europe and all have a different native language. In view of the fact that English is offered at primary school in each of the countries, some knowledge of the language among pupils at the start of grammar school is assumed.
However, as for the level of knowledge of and exposure to English, the pupils in any given country cannot be considered a homogenous group. Hours of English language instruction at the primary level varies significantly across countries. More importantly, grammar schools with bilingual programmes in English attract a diverse target group: children from families that have lived or travelled abroad for some time, and pupils with one or two Anglophone parents. Additionally, some countries have sizable international communities. In some countries, English bilingual programmes are a common phenomenon in mainstream education. Its pupils generally continue their education at secondary schools of the same type, alongside pupils from monolingual backgrounds. It is inevitable that these differences account for the uneven scores in this study on student English language achievement tests during this first round of measurement.
1. The Netherlands
In the Netherlands school attendance is compulsory for all children between the ages of five and sixteen. Children generally go to primary school at the age of four and continue in the type of secondary school that matches their abilities when they are about twelve. Even though primary schools have English as a compulsory subject on the curriculum, lesson contents and frequency vary greatly.
Content and language integrated learning is found mainly at the grammar school section of comprehensive schools, in which the approach is known as TTO, tweetalig onderwijs, bilingual education. It origins lie in international education. In 1989, one of the international secondary schools opened a bilingual department for Dutch students, who could follow the regular Dutch curriculum partly in Dutch and partly in English. This initiative led to successful introduction of TTO by means of the immersion approach: twelve-year-old pupils with very limited knowledge of English are taught 50 to 60% of their curriculum through English from the start of grammar school.
In the Netherlands, bilingual education is coordinated by the European Platform, established in 1990 by the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. The Platform is mandated to introduce and integrate the European dimension into Dutch schools. It is also responsible for supporting development of the international dimension in bilingual schools. In 1999 the European Platform and a number of CLIL schools founded a network for bilingual education, for which they developed a standard. At present there are about a hundred CLIL schools, 49 of which are accredited by the European Platform. The CLIL language of instruction is almost exclusively English.
The schools in the present research are both accredited grammar schools in the southern part of the country. CLIL was introduced in the early 2000s for about 50 to 60 % of the subjects: Music, Drawing, History, Geography, Biology, Mathematics and Physical Education. In addition to this, the schools have enhanced teaching in English, which takes the form of extra lessons, sometimes with the assistance of a native speaker teacher. Pupils in all years may, should they so choose, take either the Anglia Examination Syndicate exams or the Cambridge exams for the First Certificate and Advanced English. In both schools CLIL is offered for six years, from Year 1 to Year 6.
The federal republic of Germany consists of sixteen states, Bundesländer, each of which has not only its own educational policy, but also its own specific model for language teaching and for CLIL. The German term for CLIL is Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht. The beginnings of bilingual education can be traced back to the 1963 German - French Cooperation Treaty, which emphasised the importance of the two countries concerned each promoting the partner language. Nowadays the target language in the majority of branches is English and CLIL can be found in all sixteen states. In the German educational system secondary school teachers generally have a dual qualification; they study two subjects at university and often have a degree in both a language and a content subject, thus having a solid basis for teaching in CLIL programmes.
School attendance is compulsory for pupils between the ages of six and eighteen; they enter secondary education at the age of ten in Year 5. In most CLIL schools bilingual teaching starts in Year 7; Years 5 and 6 prepare the pupils for the programme with two extra English lessons per week. In the pilot school, a grammar school in Lower Saxony that has worked with CLIL for more than fifteen years, pupils have two CLIL lessons in History, one in Geography and two in Physical Education per week, which amounts to 15% of the curriculum. To support the learning process there is one extra non-bilingual lesson per week for Geography. Moreover, in the first term of Year 7, History is taught in German, the pupils’ native language. The CLIL provision continues until the final exam, when pupils are 18 years of age.
The second pilot school is in Berlin, a city as well as a Bundesland, a state. Berlin harbours a vast international community and consequently a multitude of heterogeneous groups of pupils in primary and secondary schools. In order to cope with this the Staatliche Europaschulen Berlin were founded; a merger of state schools with bilingual departments, focusing on CLIL learning in nine languages from pre-school to Abitur level. The language combinations are different for each school, with English, French, Russian, Spanish, Italian, Turkish, Greek, Portuguese and Polish as target languages. The pilot school joined the Staatliche Europaschulen project in 1999. Pupils in the bilingual stream are predominantly of an international background, but also German born and bred. Approximately half of the pupils and teachers are native speakers of either German or English; the other half has a variety of language backgrounds. The subjects Geography, History, Civics, Political Science, Information Technology, Biology, and Music are taught in English, which amounts to almost 50% of the curriculum. Academic skills are developed in both languages.
Between the end of World War II and 1989, Russian was the compulsory foreign language at schools in Hungary. As of 1989, in accordance with the change in political regimes, students massively opted for other modern European languages, which inevitably led to a shortage of teachers that is still felt to this day. Children start learning their first foreign language at the latest in Year 5 at the age of ten. This is not necessarily English, even though at present more than 60 % choose English, which will become a compulsory subject as of 2010. The Education Act of 1985 made it possible to carry out education in a language other than Hungarian, predominantly English, German or Russian. As a rule, the education system in Hungary produces dually qualified secondary school teachers; often in a combination of a foreign language and a content or science subject, which prepares them for teaching in CLIL schools.
Compulsory education in Hungary encompasses the six to seventeen age groups. The admittance age of pupils to the majority of Hungarian secondary schools is generally in Year 9 when they are fourteen. In Year 9 CLIL classes the language curriculum is specified. In most schools it is a preparatory year, popularly known as ‘zero year’, to learn the CLIL target language. For this purpose, the usual class of 36 pupils is divided into three groups of twelve for intensive and frequent language training. The bilingual teaching of CLIL subjects starts in Year 10 and is carried out over at least four years. Upon successful completion of the final secondary school exams pupils receive a bilingual certificate of secondary education plus a C1 stage language certificate.
The pilot schools started with CLIL in the late 1980s. The first school is a Gimnázium with two bilingual sections, one with English and one with German as the language of instruction. In general there are four classes in a year, two bilingual English, one bilingual German and one non-bilingual regular Hungarian class. The English language is studied in Year 9 in sixteen lessons per week plus one lesson for the specific terminology of each particular content subject of the following years: Mathematics, Physics, History, Geography and Biology. By the end of Year 9, students usually reach the level required by the Cambridge First Certificate Exam.
The second pilot school, a Magyar-Angol Tannyelvü Gimnázium, a Hungarian-English Bilingual Grammar School, has bilingual classes only, and for all classes English is the target language. The school has a student hostel, housing 338 youngsters from all over Hungary. Five subjects are taught in English, including World History, Mathematics, Biology, British Culture and Civilization and American Culture and Civilization.
The term most frequently used in Italy to explain the English acronym CLIL, which is now also commonplace is insegnamento veicolare - vehicular teaching. This educational approach was first seen in the licei internazionale, international secondary schools that introduced the teaching of history and geography through a foreign language in the 1980s. The experiment gradually opened the way for other CLIL projects; however, the approach is still fairly new and limited. The most commonly used form is the modular approach: projects generally do not imply that a subject on the curriculum is taught completely in English, but only that some CLIL modules involving a series of lessons in a particular subject are implemented in the course of one or more school years, not necessarily in all years. The most common CLIL languages today are English, and to a lesser extent French or German.
The Italian educational system has compulsory education from six to eighteen years old. English is a core subject in the primary school syllabus. Pupils are fourteen when they enter the type of upper secondary school of their choice, after completion of the Scuola Media or lower secondary school. The Ginnasio and Liceo are upper secondary grammar schools; the Liceo Classico has a curriculum with predominance for languages and in the Liceo Scientifico special emphasis is put on science.
The participant schools are both Licei Scientifici, five-year academic mainstream upper secondary schools, which started CLIL in 2003 and now have CLIL modules in all school years. Both schools belong to the regional CLIL network for Friuli Venezia Giulia, which provides coordination and support in designing standardised modules. The first school has a coordinating role in the province of Trieste. CLIL subjects make up 20% of the curriculum and include Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Philosophy, History, Geography and occasionally Latin. The school also offers possibilities to study subjects in German and Spanish. The second school is one of the four Licei in the region experimenting with advanced CLIL, having all subjects except Italian and English involved in CLIL lessons to some degree. Pupils in the pilot first year have 10 to 20% of their curriculum taught in English; CLIL subjects are Mathematics, Physics, History, Geography, Latin, Physical Education, Art and Drawing and Religious Education. In their second year the percentage will gradually rise. If the results are sufficient the future final exam class is expected to have 60% in English and 40% in Italian. The development of teachers’ training is a key question; systematic training and qualification is provided in both regions by the Ca’Foscari University of Venice.
The Finnish school system provides compulsory education in comprehensive schools, comprising Years 1 to 9 and intended for the whole age group from seven to sixteen years old. In Year 7 pupils move from the classroom teacher system to a subject teacher system; Years 7 to 9 are seen as lower secondary level. Students normally have English lesson as of Year 1. The skills of Finnish students are reported to be among the best in all domains assessed in PISA surveys in 2000, 2003 and 2006; experts have pointed to Finland's philosophy of education as the driving factor behind such high levels of scholastic performance. The Finnish way aims at helping all pupils, including those in special-needs classes, and develops their abilities in small-group instruction. In addition to this, teachers are highly qualified: they are required to have a Master’s degree including when teaching at the primary level and teacher education includes teaching practice. Finland has turned itself into a major educational power and at the same time developed into an economy focussing on technology and internationalisation, in which the teaching of foreign languages plays an important role. European developments triggered the expansion of CLIL, in which English has increasingly become the target language.
In Finnish education CLIL is often the result of an individual teacher’s initiative. In the pilot school, the principal launched the idea in 1991, and it was then introduced in a very rudimentary form. At present, the school has three CLIL classes, kaksikielisillä luokilla, consisting of a total of 95 pupils in Year 7, and ten in the rest of the years. About 30% of the lessons are in English. The pupils are about thirteen when they start the CLIL class in Year 7, and they continue in the bilingual stream for three years. Their bilingual subjects are History, Geography, Biology, Physics, Mathematics, Chemistry, Music and Art. The basic subject matter and concepts are always taught in both English and Finnish and in some cases, oral teaching and the written material may be in two languages. Apart from CLIL in English, the school has a limited bilingual programme in French. At the upper secondary level pupils prepare for the Finnish matriculation exam, the International Cambridge A-level exam or a combination of both.
Societal and Scientific Relevance
The present study is relevant for several reasons. To begin with, the introduction of CLIL into mainstream schools is a relatively new development. Research into its effects will bring to light possible shortcomings and provide guidelines for improvement. Some years ago a major study into the didactics and effects of bilingual education in English was carried out in Dutch grammar schools (Huibregtse, 2001). The research findings indicated that pupils in CLIL programmes achieved a better level of performance in English than did their peers in non-bilingual classes. However, only Dutch schools took part, so that basically only one CLIL approach was evaluated. The present study will present an international survey, in which various approaches and their measures of success are compared. Participant schools will have the opportunity to learn from each other and share know-how and experience.
Secondly, the present study reflects recent trends in the Netherlands and abroad. The number of CLIL schools has increased greatly since 2001, and new lesson materials have been developed. Teacher training colleges have anticipated the demand for CLIL teaching skills and developed modules geared towards teaching in a foreign language. Finally, the multifactor analyses will bring in data as to the influence of aptitude and motivation on the learning of English in both CLIL and monolingual classes. At the CLIL Conference held in Helsinki in 2006 a set of recommendations was proposed for future action (Marsh/Wolff, 2007). The undertaking of cross-European comparative CLIL action research on student achievement and educator professional development was one of the development goals. The research outcomes of the present study aim at contributing to this goal.
Huibregtse, W.P.: 2001, Effecten en didaktiek van tweetalig voortgezet onderwijs in Nederland, Dissertation IVLOS, University of Utrecht.
Gardner, R.: 1985, Social Psychology and Second Language Learning: The Role of Attitudes and Motivation, Edward Arnold, London.
Marsh/Wolff (eds): 2007, Diverse Contexts – Converging Goals: CLIL in Europe,
Web based references
European Platform: TTO, Landelijk Netwerk voor Tweetalig Onderwijs:
Eurostats: Pupils learning English:
Eurydice, The information network on education in Europe: