Back to the future…


Hi again,

Blogging is supposed to be a very addictive habit. That doesn’t seem to be the case with me, so thanks for your patience. Looking at what I’ve blogged about this past year, a recurring theme seems to be technology, and how this is juxtaposed with a fascination of how we used to do things in the past. As readers will know, I consider the abundance of technology at our disposal today as being a primary driver in the development of 2nd language learning, particularly in terms of the acquisition of English as a 2nd language.

Yet…. the future of 2nd language learning more than likely resides in the past; well, the past in terms of more traditional structures and systems. I’m talking here about CLIL which is Content and Integrated Language Learning. CLIL entails the teaching of some traditional subjects, for example, geography, history and science in state schools by the usual teachers of the subject. I’m not talking about a specialist 2nd language teacher like myself, but about teachers in primary, middle and high schools who teach subjects not in their mother tongue language but in a 2nd language, whatever that language may be.

The term CLIL was coined by David Marsh, University of Jyväskylä, Finland (1994): “CLIL refers to situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language.”

The key lies in the competency of the (geography, history, science) teacher using the 2nd language simply as a vehicle to improve proficiency in a chosen 2nd language, while imparting the same content as requested from a syllabus point of view. This means of course that teachers who have spent their professional lives teaching through Italian, will have to work hard to bring their English up to a level where they can teach the same content through English. The process should ideally start at primary school and work its way up.

It puts the whole industry of English teaching in particular into perspective. The dedicated hour or two a week on a chosen language from primary to high school has generally proved to have a limited impact in terms of language proficiency. It creates a base yet not a lot more. Private schools have entered the fray and offer so-called ‘specialist’ extra curricular courses which promise to cure all ills, although in the majority of cases are simply offering a re-regurgitated (although smaller class size) version of what 6-18 year old students find at school. The same grammar, the same books, the same syllabus and the same approach in 90% of cases.

The industrialization of English has been progressing strongly over the past 30 years and it’s possible that an apex is being reached as regards the levels of proficiency that can be achieved. It is this evolution that has led to the examination of how 2nd language learning can become less 2nd language centered and more 1st; the proposal of a model which requires students from 4-18 to enter a state school structure which demands bilingual learning instead of simply desiring it; a system which makes the same demand of its teachers. We all remember how boring some lessons at school can be. Research has shown that studying the same subject / content in a 2nd language increases stimulation levels, as students are not only required to absorb content, but to do so while grappling with the complexities of a language which is not their own. Research has also shown that the process of learning itself is enhanced as a result of this two-way interaction, and school results where CLIL is evolved and practiced have reflected this fact.

The following video is related to this concept. Looking to the past to improve the future. The speaker is American and has a southern accent. This accent is one of the most difficult encountered by English language students, yet when softly spoken, as is the case in this video, it’s a delight.

American Tintype from Matt Morris Films on Vimeo.