CLIL – Content and Language Integrated Learning – What is that?

Hello Exam Seekers,

How many of you have already come across this acronym? Do you know what it is or why it has become so popular lately?

CLIL Times Comic


CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. It is an approach that works with a second – or foreign – language as a means of instruction as well as with content. That means that a teacher will prepare a class of a specific subject – or subjects – in another language.

Different from language courses, which contextualize what they want to teach so that it can integrate all skills in a unit, the focus of CLIL is on learning the language through content, with the intention of making the acquisition of the language happen more naturally. Thus from early on, the students will receive input on both content and language – which is graded so that students can make sense of it and facilitate learning to develop the two areas in parallel. This approach is perhaps one of the most talked about in the English teaching field, especially among school teachers and schools in general.

In other words, teachers choose a subject to teach (eg. Independence Day, The history of Van Gogh, How to sum numbers, etc.), using the second language. Grammar and vocabulary are part of the lesson, not the focus of the lesson.

Soft CLIL x Hard CLIL

Well, this is perhaps only one of the manners which people use to describe how CLIL is implemented and how different the focus can be. What is known as soft CLIL is the type of course that is more language-led rather than subject-led. That is, it looks more like a language course with some exposure to curricular topics. On the other hand, hard CLIL is more subject-led, which takes the curriculum of the school and chooses what to teach in the target language.

CLIL Times Comic

CLIL and the 4 C’s

The approach uses four parameters as a guide: Cognition, Communication, Content, and Culture. Perhaps not all four aspects will be present in every CLIL lesson, but they are going to integrate a unit of classes.

  • COGNITION: reflects the thinking skills developed in class. During CLIL lessons, students are inclined to face challenges and therefore build reasoning, creative thinking, and evaluating skills. LOTS – Low Order Thinking Skills – and HOTS – High Order Thinking Skills – are both present and combined in CLIL lessons, such as when students need to remember and order things – LOTS – or predict and evaluate issues – HOTS.
  • COMMUNICATION: it is essential to think about the language the students need to know to improve both oral and written language. Additionally, learners also need interaction with each other to be effective, so the more opportunities they have to express themselves, the better.
  • CONTENT: is about the subject you are working with. It can include maths, physics, history, geography, art, P.E., etc.
  • CULTURE: is also known as citizenship. It is about the cultural background that students get in touch with. Students develop positive attitudes as well as awareness of global and local citizenship.

What’s the role of language?

In CLIL, there is something called the language triptych. That means that language takes three different roles. There is the language OF learning, which is the target language in itself and what you want to teach. The second one is the language FOR learning, which is the one you are going to use to explain that content or even language. And the last one is the language THROUGH learning, which is the language students bring to the classroom, the ’emerging’ language.

CLIL Times Comic

Well, I’m a bit suspicious to say anything about it since I tend to say that once you start working with CLIL, there is no turning back. I was first introduced to this concept back in 2015, when I took the CELTA Course. Thus, since I had just heard about it, I didn’t have any chance to put it into practice or go much further in the matter back then. Besides that, I don’t know about you, but I come from an ELT field and learned English more traditionally – and completely different from what is in the market today. So the first time I heard about CLIL, I didn’t have much confidence in its effectiveness. However, I had only heard about it and learned the concepts without actually being in touch with real examples and outcomes, as I mentioned before. Therefore, it was difficult to truly understand the concepts behind them.

Nevertheless, once I needed to work with it, teaching got a new meaning to me. It completely changed my view of language acquisition and even the process of learning itself. Fortunately, I had the chance to experience CLIL at the beginning of the year. It was an experience that raised many questions and challenged my teaching in many ways. It happened because it made me question how I had been working with language in schools and how children had been taught English recently. The CLIL approach not only helps acquisition happen more naturally but also shows how integrated language and content are in the end, which is something extremely positive in many ways. For instance, the output you get when the approach is put into practice is quite impressive, and classes get a lot more interactive since students are constantly doing hands-on activities and are much more in charge of their learning.

How about you? What is your view on CLIL? Have you ever taught using this approach? Comment in the comment section. Also, if you want more information about CLIL, let me know!


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Have a great week,
Patricia Moura


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