Academic journal article Babel

Defining Content and Language Integrated Learning for Languages Education in Australia

Academic journal article Babel

Defining Content and Language Integrated Learning for Languages Education in Australia

Article excerpt


While there is much that Australia has done well with respect to languages education, many problems still persist in terms of mainstream provision of quality languages programs, attaining real outcomes and gains in language learning, and in relation to retention of students studying languages through to the senior years of school. The success of new approaches focused on integrating language with the mainstream curriculum across schools in Europe suggests new possibilities for dealing with the challenges of languages in the Australian schooling context. This paper considers key aspects of the Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) approach as developed in Europe over the past two decades to help clarify and establish a shared professional conversation for advancing the approach amongst teachers of languages in Australia interested in its possibilities. The paper includes core ideas underpinning the CLIL framework, an awareness of its benefits as well as challenges, and guidance about 'first steps' on implementing CLIL based on trials in the Victorian context, together with how effectiveness of such a program might be determined.


CLIL, content and language integrated learning, languages pedagogy, languages curriculum, languages policy, bilingual language learning


Content and Language Integrated Learning, or CLIL, has been established as a mainstream option for languages teaching and learning throughout Europe since the term was first used some 20 years ago (Marsh, 1994). Traction has been especially strong in the last 10 years since the European Commission's 2004 Action Plan, Promoting language learning and linguistic diversity, recognised that CLIL had 'a major contribution to make to the Union's language learning goals' (European Commission, 2003, p. 8).These goals include Europe's 'one plus two' strategy, which encourages proficiency in at least three languages: each citizen's national language, as well as two others from the wider EU community (often including English as the common lingua franca). In Italy, for example, the Ministry of Education has now mandated CLIL as the teaching approach for all non-language subjects in the final year of secondary school, regardless of whether students are undertaking an academic or vocational pathway (L'Associazione Professionale dei Docenti Italiani, 2014).

In the last three to five years, interest in CLIL has begun to expand rapidly beyond Europe, Including to settings as diverse as Japan (Sasajima, Ikeda, Hemmi, & Reilly, 2011), Singapore (Hanington, Devi Pillai, & Kwah, 2013), and the Middle East (Riddlebarger, 2013). Likewise, Australia has also begun to explore the possibilities of CLIL within local settings, and how the approach might offer new solutions to longstanding problems that have troubled languages education in mainstream Australian schools (e.g. Victorian DEECD, 2014; see also Fielding & Harbon, this issue). These challenges for languages in Australia include quality program development and teaching, sufficient time for worthwhile gains in language use, and student retention through to advanced levels of study in the senior secondary years (Turner, 2013).

With the growing expansion of CLIL into contexts beyond and for which it was originally developed comes uncertainties about how the approach might be most successfully 'exported' into new education settings and jurisdictions. As the global transfer of education policy and curriculum has taught us, what works well in one context does not always guarantee the same results elsewhere (Carnoy & Rhoten, 2002; Lingard, 2010). The eventual outcomes can be disastrous; with the effect being very different from what was originally intended, including lower gains in achievement as well as in target language development (Valdes, 1997; Walter, 2008).

For CLIL to have a genuine chance of take-up in the Australian context, the imperative for its immediate future is first to better clarify and establish a shared professional understanding of what CLIL is, and what it is not. …

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