Language use and language learning in CLIL Classrooms

Language use and language learning in CLIL Classrooms. Ed. by Christiane Dalton-Puffer, Tarja Nikula, and Ute Smit. (AILA applied linguistics series 7.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. ix, 295. ISBN 9789027205230. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by I. M. Laversuch Nick, University of Cologne

Not surprisingly, perhaps, some of the best chapters in this volume are offered by the editors themselves. The introduction, for example, ‘Charting policies, premises, and research on content and language integrated learning’, is superbly written, highly intelligent, and thought-provoking. Its uncommonly well-organized structure provides an excellent framework for the entire volume. Similarly impressive is the editors’ conclusion, ‘Language use and language learning in CLIL’. It draws attention to issues that remain contentious in the field; offers useful recommendations for language policy and planning; and suggests many new, much needed areas of future research. One such area is content and language integrated learning (CLIL), which utilizes languages other than English. As the editors warn: ‘CLIL in multiple languages is unrepresentative of the European student population and their language success; […] CLIL in English has too narrow a language base from which to extrapolate findings to language more generally’ (287).

Ironically, as the editors admit themselves, all of the contributions in this volume fall within the category of content and English integrated learning (CEIL). Nevertheless, several of the chapters also take non-English languages into consideration. For instance, in Ch. 2, Francisco Lorenzo and Pat Moore compare the Spanish and English writing skills of Andalusian school children in two different curricula types: (i) CEIL courses in social and natural sciences; and (ii) traditional English as a foreign language (EFL) courses. Ch. 8 presents another study that compares student skills in a non-English language. Using a systemic functional framework, Heini Marja Järvinen compared the syntactic intricacy and thematic organization in secondary student essays written in both English and their native/first language, Finnish. Taken together, these comparative investigations come to a similar conclusion: the medium of instruction alone does not determine students’ level of linguistic attainment. The method of instruction also plays a crucial role.

This being the case, one of the highlights of the present volume is its emphasis on the communicative relationship between the CLIL instructor and student. Two outstanding examples of this appear in Chs. 6 and 12 by Tarja Nikula and Glenn Ole Hellkjaer, respectively. Importantly, the focus of these investigations was not to assess whether the participants used English ‘correctly’, but to determine if using a foreign language significantly altered in-class interaction. The short answer to this question was ‘yes’. However, as these and other researchers in this volume stress, these changes were not entirely negative. In fact, communication in CLIL environments was often found to be far more creative and cooperative. To uncover how these potential benefits of CLIL can best be maximized, it is imperative that future research consider the effects of language choice, teaching methodology, course level, and subject area. This work is an excellent first step.