An efficient method to teach foreign languages or a selective one and a cost-effective political choice driven by ideology?

The aim of this article is to demonstrate that Content Based Instruction (CBI) of foreign languages is indeed effective and as I will show, it is already fully implemented in Italian Secondary schools and has been practised traditionally for quite a long time, what does need to be modified to make it even more efficient and up to date to meet today’s challenges is, first of all wide-spread awareness that it does actually work and secondly, increased funds to allow students to have the necessary opportunities to have access to the right amount of language exposure and the sufficient time to let it seep in.
The initial discourse about CLIL, more than 15 years ago, still meant to involve foreign language teachers alongside the subject specialist teachers in a team work setting, mainly because it was intended as a means to encourage teachers’ mobility around Europe. Afterwards instead CLIL was conveyed as a teaching practice that totally ruled out any involvement of foreign language teachers and introduced the exclusive presence of subject specialist teachers which is one of the main reasons why I don’t fully agree with this didactic method and I will explain my perplexities. It is especially quite puzzling why the expertise of so many dedicated professionals should be discriminated against and penalised despite their high competence and the excellent results achieved.
Keywords: language exposure, CLIL, CBI, Bilingual Immersion, Foreign Language Teaching



The aim of this article is to demonstrate that Content Based Instruction (CBI) of foreign languages is indeed effective and as I will show, it is already fully implemented in Italian Secondary schools and has been practised traditionally for quite a long time, what does need to be modified to make it even more efficient and up to date to meet today’s challenges is, first of all wide-spread awareness that it does actually work and secondly, increased funds to allow students to have the necessary opportunities to have access to the right amount of language exposure and the sufficient time to let it seep in.
In this sense the old European Erasmus program has worked wonders, especially in the past. At the same time this article means to underline that today’s idea of CLIL is, perhaps, cost-effective, but in the long-run it will prove counterproductive both in the development of student’s language skills and in their content academic achievement.


The acronym CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning, meaning the teaching of the content of a chosen school subject, partially or entirely, through a foreign language or target language. In 1999 Coyle developed a holistic conceptual framework for CLIL, the so-called 4Cs’ model: Content (subject matter), Communication (language to learn and use) Cognition (learning and thinking) and Culture (social awareness of self and others). According to this method CLIL teachers are expected to carry out an extra role in that they need to ensure that the content they teach is understood by students through the medium of a foreign language, that is, they are language teachers and at the same time they are teachers of a specific subject matter (Coyle, Hood & Marsh, 2010).
The debate is not as new as it may seem and way back between the 16th and 17th centuries first, a Czech scholar, A. Comenius (1592-1670), paid great attention to effective language teaching, and then the Slovak, M. Bel (1684-1749), focused on raising students’ interest in the cultural context of languages, including: historical, geographic and legislative texts and their vocabulary in his lessons (1).

But in the 40s, 50s and early 60s of the past century the focus of language teaching was still on the development of the four skills: listening, speaking, reading and writing across the three domains of pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary, as Collier states, “a two dimensional, relatively simple perspective” (2). This methodology was mainly carried out through formal compulsory classroom lesson by language teachers, with main emphasis on grammar to produce perfect writings, while comprehension of spoken language and speech were considered less important, as also claimed by Kari Nieminen referring to traditional language teaching in his country, Finland (3).

This approach is probably a legacy of the past coming mainly from the study of the classical languages such as Greek and Latin, languages that are no longer spoken but which are still considered relevant to study their literatures which are even today considered the basis of Western culture and civilization, particularly in Europe. However the study of those languages, as it is still today, was and is based on developing the necessary skills to translate literary passages written in the original languages. Basically it consists of much more of an academic exercise to learn the structures of those languages and be able to interpret the writings and their subtleties rather than meeting the need to learn to speak those languages.

Needless to say that the study of foreign languages today has altogether different purposes and the such were already perceived in the late 60s and early 70s of the 20th century when new research, as pointed out by Genesee and reported by Collier, had already detected new fields of study that began to “describe the need to develop communicative competence including : socio-linguistic appropriateness, discourse strategies in oral and written formal thought patterns and (…) a third dimension of language which is the acquisition of knowledge both of structure (oral and written form) of each meaningful unit of language, and of meaning associated with that structure (semantics)” but there are also additional dimensions which account for “specific registers (metalinguistic awareness) or fields and contexts in which the language is used” and, as highlighted still by Collier, “each year of added maturity and life experience adds yet another dimension to the complexity of language development” (4), so as to underline that it is an ongoing process enriched by experience and personal growth.

It is approximately during this time that traditional language teaching and content based instruction (CBI) or bilingual immersion, as it was defined in Canada and the U.S., in those years, came significantly into conflict as the public began to perceive a widespread “dissatisfaction with the outcomes of school-based foreign language learning and a somewhat stereotypical view of foreign language lessons as a series of mechanistic grammar drills” as Dalton-Puffer states. Therefore, continues Dalton-Puffer, “whether a concrete program is referred to as Immersion, CBI or CLIL often depends as much on its cultural and political frame of reference as on the actual characteristics of the program” (5).

Finally, we can say that Content Based Instruction, Immersion or bilingual teaching are all different labels that today can be gathered under the large umbrella that goes under the name of CLIL. As of today and despite the many years of experimenting around this didactic method there still isn’t a set framework but, on the contrary it may be applied in different ways in classroom lessons, so for instance in some cases the lessons can be carried out all exclusively in the target language (L2), just as in some other, depending on the complexity of content, lessons can be delivered in both languages (L1/L2) because it is important for students to learn specific vocabulary in their mother tongue related to the specific content as well, and it is also essential to ensure that they have truly grasped the meaning of content conveyed regardless of the language used (6) . In a Spanish case study, for instance, there is also the presence of a native speaker teacher alongside content specialist teacher in classroom activity (7).



Before analysing in detail the CLIL method we must bear in mind what intentions and conclusions were drawn by European Union member countries at the Cannes European Council of June 1995 through its White Paper on Education and Training. Right from its foreword the document states that: “This investment in knowledge plays an essential role in employment, competitiveness and social cohesion. This White Paper whilst looking forward to the Madrid European Council meeting, draws upon the conclusions of the Cannes European Council of June 1995, which state that: Training and apprenticeship policies, which are fundamental for improving employment and competitiveness, must be strengthened especially by continuing training” and continues “…while respecting the principle of subsidiarity, the White Paper sets out the action to be taken in the Member States and the support measures to be introduced at Community Levels” (7). What strikes the reader immediately is that this EU White Paper of 1995 stresses especially the links and cooperation necessary between the education sectors of each member country and its respective business sector, thus emphasizing that education must be equipped to fulfil the specific needs of industries and businesses in general. In other words education is no longer viewed as a means through which the individual can achieve emancipation, rather as exclusively a qualification needed for employment. Therefore something quite different than what was intended by “the Bildung tradition” which “emphasizes learning as emancipation, independence, self-awareness and maturity ”, as well developed by Uljens (8).

Indeed the White Paper of 1995 highly encourages vocational training schools as opposed to general education because, as the EU points out, it is trough life-long training and apprenticeship that employment can be ensured to most, even to those that for some reason or another do not complete any schooling providing them with paper qualification from regular schools. This is why the EU is in favour of changes to the education system that will grant those who drop out of school to acquire recognition for the development of their skills in more informal ways and not necessarily through formal education.

It is then in this overall picture that the EU’s efforts to push for multilingualism must be taken into consideration. As a matter of fact the language proficiency that the EU encourages is once again stressed in view of this project which is a project meant to favour the individual’s ability to be an asset to his or her future employer rather than developing these skills for personal enhancement. This idea becomes quite clear if we consider what is reported in the White Paper regarding this specific matter: “In order to make for proficiency in three Community languages, it is desirable for foreign language learning to start at pre-school level. It seems essential for such teaching to be placed on a systematic footing in primary education, with the learning of a second Community foreign language starting in secondary school. It could even be argued that secondary school pupils should study certain subjects in the first foreign language learned.(9)

On a political level this is the first time that content language integrated learning is mentioned even if only covertly and it is viewed with an idea of uniformity throughout the whole of the EU regardless of the education system of each member country and its specific characteristics which are also emblematic of its cultural and historical backgrounds.


From a general stand point it would be absolute nonsense to say that learning foreign languages or that multilingualism isn’t useful or beneficial. Actually even scientific studies (10) support that bilingual children have better cognitive results in school and in developing many different skills than children who master only their native language. So, this is not the point of this article, on the contrary what I intend to underline here is the exact opposite, the study of languages can in fact trigger, especially in very young children, several positive effects and even help to build up their self-confidence.

Nevertheless it is important to avoid common mistakes that may have negative consequences on their development and hinder their growth, such as for instance burdening children with expectations that are beyond their reach and thus result in certain failure in spite of their efforts jeopardizing their still frail self-esteem especially at an age during which learning should be approached step by step at the individual’s best timing without forcing it beyond his or her personal ability.

Nowadays, in our highly competitive culture, it seems that growing up is some kind of race to which children must live up to keeping up excellent performances at all times and are no longer allowed to enjoy their childhood and the simple pleasure of discoveries. Adults, in fact, tend to push them further and further ahead as if growing up quickly were the ultimate goal rather than growing up healthy and happily. The achievement in itself, of late, is less important than how quickly and well it is mastered. Ultimately this puts great pressure on students of all ages reducing thus the probabilities of achieving the hoped for positive outcomes (11) .


Thus the scope of this article then is to point out that teaching methods are just as important as the contents taught and both should go hand in hand taking into great consideration the student’s stage of development so as to make the learning experience one of personal enhancement that will in due time improve their skills and bring forth their natural talents. That is why if on the one hand a bilingual approach is strongly encouraged from a very early stage in life, on the other the method adopted to succeed needs extra care and attention. The key word to success then is undoubtedly: exposure.

As already stated teaching young children another language may not pose much of a problem thanks to their natural ability to absorb almost anything and immigrant children’s households are just the perfect example. It is well known that in such specific settings children naturally switch from their parents’ language to the outside one without almost any effort at all, at the same time teaching a foreign language in school may need to be presented to pupils as a playful challenge best achieved by a mother-tongue teacher with specific training for children. Needless to say that in such cases the method should focus on what’s known as language acquisition rather than Language learning (12) . The former, in fact, is characterised by natural and informal wide exposure to the target language, exactly as it happens when learning to speak the native language. The latter, on the other hand, is a formal teaching that requires, on the part of the student, a serious cognitive effort.


Those who are strongly in favour of CLIL seem to genuinely believe that teaching content in a foreign language can in fact contribute to produce a setting in which learning would be/seem natural both in terms of content and of language, because, they say, focusing on the content would relieve students from the pressure of performance in the foreign language, thus re-creating that sort of childhood feeling of learning in a playful way while limiting painstaking effort.

The CLIL advocates sustain that this method needs to be implemented in concise content modules, well prepared and programmed, adopting clarifying key-words, scaffolding, short summaries to memorize better vocabulary, brain-storming and cloze exercises to allow students to test their own progress concentrating more on content learning and less on formal language because, they say, the language proficiency will, in due time, show on its own and it is meant to provide the so-called natural learning setting to enhance the learning experience and develop in students stronger self-esteem due to their success.

Another factor that is meant to ensure success through CLIL, according to its supporters, is that it must be carried out by content teachers who have been also trained in the target language in order to guarantee quality teaching in specific subjects. The foreign language teachers then will only provide minimum support strictly regarding the language but with extra care on output rather than on grammar or syntactic preciseness. As a matter of fact this is exactly what language teachers seem to be blamed for world-wide, the fact that they stress language formal precision which discourages students from speaking or using the target language in any practical way due to a non-natural learning setting which instead can be achieved through CLIL.

At a first glance it might appear that the main concern shared by most CLIL supporters lays within the feasibility of teaching both foreign languages and content in a painless style and perhaps even resulting in an entertaining activity, so much so that great emphasis is put on role-play exercises to loosen up tension and allow students to overcome their natural embarrassment and fear of being judged harshly by their peers.
However, can the psychological aspects be limited to learning a foreign language and especially its output be overrun simply by using such tricks as simplifying content and overlooking language proficiency? Is this truly the only possible answer?

the globe


As far as the psychological aspects are concerned it is interesting to note though that inasmuch this approach may be successful if dealing with very young children, as previously pointed out, it may, on the other hand, prove frustrating for young adults (13)who are legitimately aiming at an education, especially if the content is complex. Moreover, it might even vex teachers (14) due to their own lack of language proficiency, which happens to be one of the most recurrent points raised (15).

In the case study regarding China, mentioned in the debate about CLIL on “The Guardian” in 2005, the psychological issue was strongly felt to the point that the headmaster of the school that took part in the research firmly refused any further experimenting due to the negative outcomes experienced by students belonging to a minority community group whose academic achievements drastically dropped after attending CLIL lessons in English. The main disappointment registered was related to the fact that their entry English proficiency level wasn’t as high as other groups of students thus, despite the extra effort, they still were unable to succeed and their self-confidence dropped too.

But frustration both on the part of students and of teachers alike was also commented on by the Dutch case study. During their interviews students claimed that they avoided asking questions or further explaining for fear of being misunderstood or because they didn’t feel confident enough in speaking (16).

Similarly the teachers voiced their own misgivings about their extent of language knowledge that prevented them from delivering fulfilling lectures or providing further information and content or even answering question adequately due to their limited vocabulary in the target language (17).

In such cases then the learning experience and the teaching rather than facilitating a natural approach would, by contrast, be the cause of much irritation and aggravation on all concerned.

Another interesting feature highlighted by the Dutch research which was carried out on 297 teachers – 217 of those were CLIL teachers whereas 79 were regular ones, including language teachers – is that in most cases English teachers scored higher, for instance in literacy approaches, language input and with lower input of scaffolding -. In addition the test revealed that for the language approach English and other foreign language teachers scored significantly higher than teachers from Mathematics and Sciences and Social Sciences as well (18) .

This confirms what those who do not share the same enthusiasm about CLIL sustain, that this method produces mostly confusion and that content learning particularly due to the module approach that considerably simplifies and reduces content is well below average resulting in poor quality teaching, furthermore CLIL instead of improving it actually thwarts language learning and it even pins down errors rather than correcting them (19). In the end, they conclude, this method is in point of fact harmful and it hampers both content and language learning (20).

The other detail that may be considered as a drawback is related to assessment. Should students’ evaluation be connected strictly to content and in that case should it be carried out in L1, or should it be linked instead to language and therefore in L2? But, in this latter case could they be assessed by the content teachers who don’t have enough proper training in language and who, as they have stressed themselves, lack language proficiency? This issue has been puzzling experts since 2005 when an open debate on the CLIL matter was held, as already mentioned, on “The Guardian” and in association with MacMillan Edition and OnestopEnglish. At the time both Langé and Marsh – the two experts advocating CLIL – agreed that the decision was best taken country by country, according to each single perspective. The Dutch research, afore mentioned, opted for assessment in Dutch and only in content while language teachers evaluated language proficiency during their regular courses  (21).


Finally, one last characteristic has been brought to light while analysing CLIL on the whole, whether or not it is selective. A Spanish (22) and a German (23) study have raised the question and in both cases there’s wide agreement supported by their findings which concur in emphasizing that most likely students who enrol in CLIL programs are highly motivated because, first of all CLIL is presented as a highly efficient method that will enable students to master the language studied, secondly they are strongly encouraged by parents who value multilingualism as an important asset for their children to be employable in the future. If on the one hand the Spanish study though doesn’t present enough statistics data regarding students’ entry level in language proficiency, Bruton, can nevertheless infer his theory from their upper socio-economic backgrounds, Apsel, on the other hand, states that students can enrol in German CLIL programs only if they already possess a good language basic knowledge. Moreover, he states that the drop-out figures need further research since they may betray a drop in motivation caused by a low level of language proficiency in spite of the entry requirements (24).

Even though there is no clear evidence, of yet, pointing directly to a selective characteristic embedded in CLIL it is still worth noting, as done by Bruton in the Spanish research, that in many countries, especially those with a strong emphasis on welfare, the public education system is conceived to ensure quality instruction to all its students regardless of their social or economic background and a highly selective didactic method would certainly be in contrast with the basic idea of providing everyone with equal opportunities (25).


In 1965 a group of English speaking parents of the Québec region in Canada succeeded in exercising pressure on the school board to implement bilingual teachings in French and English. However, it must be underlined that this was a specific political choice to favour cultural unity in a country that had a heritage partly French and partly English (26) . In addition, although many CLIL studies refer to this successful practice to support their cause (27), it is instead the perfect example that can be brought forth to object to their creed about CLIL.

Canada has two official languages, French and English, and the implementation in schools of bilingual teachings sustained what was already a peculiar social characteristic above all in Québec, the exposure to English, particularly in urban areas was quite common allowing students to be in direct contact with both languages. Perhaps less so in rural areas, as claimed by the English Canadian interviewed in Nieminen’s article, who openly doubts that students living in remote areas of his country might have had such opportunities in school, especially in the 60s, in any event, he continues he truly learned French when he was accepted for a doctorate in France, although he deems very beneficial the six weeks he spent as a guest of a Québec family who spoke only French while still in high school (28), again the keyword here is: exposure.

Canada is not the only country with two or more official languages, there’s Belgium with three: Dutch, French and German, plus a number of other minority languages; there’s Switzerland with French, German, Italian and Romanish; Italy where in some northern regions there are bilingual communities (Italian and German, Italian and Slovenian). Speaking of CLIL in such areas is not entirely appropriate, just as it wouldn’t fully apply in specific U.S. areas where the Spanish speaking population is significantly large. What all these cases have in common is that the bilingual immersion teachings implemented in school curricula simply comply with the outside reality and all these students live in contexts in which the various languages are regularly used therefore they enjoy plenty of exposure and can practice them as they please. Again the key word is: exposure.

We must also bear in mind that bilingual immersion has at times been introduced to keep alive a linguistic as well as a cultural identity as it was, for instance, in 1983 in specific isolated geographic areas of Catalonia where Catalan was not largely spoken. Yet during General Franco’s dictatorship Spanish was the only language allowed and for the opposite political reasons, to quench any resisting linguistic and cultural identity different from Spain’s (29) .



Needless to say then that language teaching cannot be considered altogether neutral, on the contrary, as shown in the previous paragraph, it carries along with it substantial political and economic weight despite the fact that there has been ample discussion about multilingualism, especially in EU official documents in which it is stated that “The European Commission believes that it is necessary to make proficiency in at least two foreign languages at school a priority, as is proposed in the second part of this White Paper” (30) , yet what has been mostly implemented is a bilingual teaching in which the main target language chosen is, in fact, English; therefore as suggested by Dalton-Puffer, it would much more be appropriate to refer to this method as Content English Integrated Learning. Not that it would come much as a surprise, considering that English is today’s acknowledged Lingua Franca and parents, who are naturally concerned about providing their children with the best future employment opportunities, are indeed highly motivated to have their children master the language privileged and sought after in world-wide business settings (31).

But that’s not all; in fact, in the above mentioned European White Paper of 1995 we can also read: “Europe’s weakness does not lie in a lack of creativity. Far from it. But European inventors and industrialists are seriously hampered by the high degree of fragmentation of the market caused by the cultural and linguistic diversity of Europe”  (32), again there’s reference to political bias, the country’s cultural identity must be sacrificed to the sole advantage of Europe’s entrepreneurs whose interests can be favoured only by developing a single language for the whole continent.



The last significant aspect in regards to CLIL is the fact that it is considered cost-effective and policy makers are known to be usually very susceptible when it comes to the opportunity of cutting expenses in the public sectors. It would explain why then CLIL is so strongly encouraged and in some cases – as in Italy since 2015 – has been made compulsory in some secondary schools.

As clearly demonstrated CBI is not all that new, what is new, thanks to CLIL is that language teaching is no longer a language teacher prerogative as it has been traditionally world-wide, but through CLIL it will also (but for how much longer?) be for both language and content specialist teachers. It goes without saying though that having two professionals for the same position, or almost, surely cannot be considered cost-effective. Nonetheless it might be in a not too far off future, as G. Langé highlighted in the 2005 debate on “The Guardian”. Langé, in fact, claimed that the Italian government’s ambition was to have within 15 years from then a sufficient number of well trained content teachers in several European languages. As of yet this scheme hasn’t produced the hoped for results which would be able to discard language teachers completely. That would certainly prove cost-effective as stated to by Marsh as well, during the same debate afore mentioned.

Yet at whose expenses would this be? The Dutch teachers as well as the Finnish and German ones interviewed for each respective case study have pointed out that their involvement in CLIL has also considerably increased their workload. Indeed this didactic approach entails a great amount of time to prepare lessons in the target language and to prepare didactic material for their students (33). Extra work and extra time which goes unpaid (34), (35).


So far the only evidence that can be drawn, and it applies to the Dutch, Chinese, Spanish and German researches, is that there is no absolute truth to be gathered from any of the case studies analysed, just as there isn’t any broad agreement on how to carry out CLIL class lessons, how to proceed about assessment, whether or not teachers should be native speakers, foreign language or content teachers, nor is there any agreement as to whether CLIL favours or hampers content learning.

In reference to language proficiency there are also noticeable qualms. Indeed many concur in claiming that teaching a foreign language must be a process that flows as naturally as possible in order to establish a relaxed learning environment without neglecting though its proficiency to avoid reiterating errors. CLIL instead tends to perpetuate students’ mistakes, furthermore, as pointed out particularly in Apsel’s research, if on the one side students’ mastery improves in written assignments they often don’t possess, on the other, the ability to use the various language registers properly, especially between the polite and formal ones and the familiar and colloquial, consequently they lack self-confidence and tend to hold back during class activities and shy away from lesson discourse (36), (37).

Finally, they all agree that content teachers are not well trained themselves in language proficiency thus encountering many hardships during lessons and experiencing tension and frustration shared by those students who don’t have an acceptable level of basic knowledge of the language, be it English or any other target language.


As stated in the opening paragraph, it is precisely because we support the importance of multilingualism and the benefits provided on cognitive development by learning foreign languages that we oppose today’s idea of CLIL. However, not sharing this blind faith in CLIL does not mean that we do not pursue any research regarding improvement on language teaching; on the contrary we are engaged in a constant quest that, in point of fact, has produced positive results. One of the factors stressed by empirical findings is that good language proficiency is achieved by exposure, the more the students can enjoy exposure to the target language and the more intense is such exposure the greater success they achieve.

Another interesting element observed is the type of exposure, especially if the student has acquired the language basics in grammar and syntax, therefore, for instance being in the country or countries in which the target language is spoken forces the student to overcome natural resistance to employ it because it is the only way they will be able to communicate with others, furthermore the perceived need is emphasized to the point that the student will disregard his or her desire to excel and will focus instead on expressing him or herself knowing, even if only on a subconscious level, that only through practice he or she will master the target language in a natural process of effortless absorption.

This the only natural setting possible, intense exposure which also allows the student’s ear to get accustomed to the sound of the target language thus recognizing it immediately upon hearing it while simultaneously activating all the cognitive elements acquired till then.

Last but not least, learning to master a foreign language also takes time as the skills involved are of different types and all need adequate and gradual development especially if learned in school and not in a familiar, informal environment, but even in this case it may be easy to learn to speak the language yet it still requires a certain degree of effort to learn to read and write, as it happens for our native tongue even if at a very early stage in life.

It goes without saying of course that merely learning the grammar does not provide language proficiency and that is precisely why the Italian approach to foreign language teaching in school and notably in secondary schools seems to be a rewarding method. True enough it is scarcely appreciated and even less acknowledged by Italians, it is worth a closer look.


I will analyse briefly what has been done in the most representative type of Italian secondary school, the so called Liceo which focuses on an academic course of study, or to be more precise the humanities and as such foreign languages are taught through the literature of the chosen language meaning that not only literary currents are analysed but also a certain number of writers and their works on a general outlook and even by reading and comprehending excerpts of chosen anthology. The textual analysis is carried out by comparing writing styles and structures of various writers belonging to different historical times so as to observe the actual development of the chosen target language pointing out foreign influences and historical ones as well. It is important to keep in mind that Italian students also undergo oral assessments.

This means that they are required to demonstrate orally what they have learned and this practice is tremendously good exercise to mastering a language, in fact they need to pay attention not only to contents but also to language proficiency therefore it is very important that they choose the proper vocabulary, that they take extra care in sentence structure; they must understand the questions that their teacher ask them and answer accordingly, so there is a great degree of interaction, it cannot be a merely mechanical output for which they learn the lesson by heart and they just reproduce what they have memorized. They are required to reason on their own and this implies a decent understanding of the language first of all and, secondly, the skill to use the language to convey a somewhat complex message showing their level of learning. Some may object that discussing literary contents reduces to that specific field of study the vocabulary learned which turns out to be of little use in a more informal setting in which perhaps it would be more useful to employ a more updated colloquial language register, however, it is important to point out that literature is, to some extent, the representation of life and its discourse revolves entirely around life with its daily hardships; it entails the deep investigation of feelings, of emotions, thoughts and beliefs so what better way to learn a language than through a deep immersion in its culture and development; moreover this approach to learning a foreign language allows students to acquire the mechanisms of the language and once that mental process is established they will have little difficulty applying it naturally to any type of different speaking register. Likewise it is exactly, or almost, what CLIL advocates pursue except that rather than focusing only on content while almost neglecting language proficiency this method grants the two aspects to go hand in hand while neither is forsaken to favour the other.


This method is not exclusively implemented in the afore mentioned humanities course of studies which is traditionally considered preparatory for higher education, on the contrary it is also carried out in more vocational schools with due emphasis on specific vocabulary, meaning that, for instance, in a course for future accountants the language is taught by analysing and therefore learning general portions of various subjects in the target language. In other words in the last three years of secondary vocational schools students study the target language through modules of economics, laws pertaining to business management, the different types of businesses or companies’ structures, macro and micro-economics, political economy or economic policies. Basically everything that goes under the umbrella of business language and the same happens for any other course of study, be it Tourism Management, Fashion, Winemaking, agriculture in general, be it a course of study for future various engineers (civil, electronic, mechanical etc.) construction, medical technicians and so forth.


To fully comprehend the peculiar set up of the Italian education system it must be underlined that, unlike many others, especially those of the UK and U.S. education systems, in Italy there are several different types of secondary schools that range, as already said, from the Liceo that comprises at least three main branches, the oldest being the Classico that focuses on classical studies and in which Greek and Latin languages and literatures are studied; later on the Scientifico was introduced stressing the study of science and mathematics, the third most popular is the Linguistico which centres its attention on three foreign language taught for all five years.

The other subjects that all have in common and that are compulsory as well are: Italian language and literature, Latin language and literature (in the Linguistico only for the first two years), History, Philosophy, Art History, Mathematics, Physics, Natural Sciences and Physical Education. There are other branches of the Liceo too which I will not go into here because the above mentioned three give an adequate idea of the variety of choices Italian students enjoy.

In this paper it is important to underline that the Italian education system also ensures, as stated above, other opportunities such as the vocational schools that are not less prestigious than the previous ones because they too guarantee a diploma that gives full access to higher education but, what’s more, each specific study course, as the few described previously, provide Italian students with the expertise and knowledge that in other countries can be obtained by students only after at least two years of undergraduate education, whereas in Italy the same level can be reached after five years of secondary school. This means that an Italian 19 year old, with his or her diploma can be a certified electronic engineering technician, a computer engineering technician, a civil engineering technician, an optician, a dental technician, a graphic designer, an accountant, a wine maker, a tourist manager and so on.

With further reference to the Italian education system students are required to study English from primary school, later two European languages in middle school, while in secondary school, unless they choose to major in languages, they can choose to study one foreign language. Language teaching in primary school is carried out through an informal method stressing the communicative approach; in middle school the study of languages entails grammar and syntax for three years and in the first two years of secondary school as well. Beyond that though, as clearly demonstrated, the target language is taught through content in accordance with the course of study.


In conclusion as we have outlined so far CLIL is certainly the best method to teach a target language, however its best results can be achieved only if the content and the language are assigned equal importance and dignity and this means that CLIL can be implemented only by language teachers who can convey a proper and deep language knowledge while teaching summary contents of other subjects emphasizing the target language learning, incidentally foreign language teachers in Italian schools due to their CBI approach cannot avoid employing all those pedagogical methods mentioned in previous paragraphs such as key words, scaffolding, cloze exercises etc.

What is surprising is that while the EU has been making great efforts to have all its member countries shift to CLIL its high officials have never even contemplated the possibility of adopting the CBI method employed in Italy, perhaps this is due to the inability of Italian politicians to suggest such an approach, or it may be due to their incompetence regarding the school system of the country they represent. At any rate this proposal could avoid the backdrops underlined by most CLIL opponents, in other words the superficial and inadequate content teaching which naturally arises from language barriers. It would also greatly reduce frustration both on the part of students who complain that that they are not learning contents as they wish and are rightly entitled to and on the part of teachers who obviously cannot master the target language enough to deliver contents in the same depth they would in their native language, regardless of the amount of training in the target language they may have received.

treelanguagesSuccess can be ensured, whatever the teaching method chosen, only through high exposure to the target language favouring mobility, throughout the continent, not only for employment reasons but to improve and enhance language skills for students and teachers too, it is a known fact that only through practice and periodical refreshing can those skills be updated constantly.
This type of CLIL along with mobility would also ensure cultural development and, in the long term, favour that social and cultural cohesion so dearly valued by EU officials, but not only, indeed this type of implementation of CLIL would save an enormous amount of tax payers’ money and could indeed be cost-effective.


The present article is work-related and it covers years of professional study and analysis for I am an English teacher in an Italian Secondary school and I have twelve years of experience in this field of work, prior to teaching I worked as translator and interpreter for the U.S. Navy, but, apart from of all this I am bilingual and I have been since the age of nine. I personally learned English by attending a bilingual class for a year and a half in a New York City public school in the late 1970s. This to say that I have a twofold perspective by direct personal experience and as a teacher of English as a foreign language.
I have an Italian Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and Literatures, with a major in English Language and Literature; I have also studied American Literature and French Language and Literature. Finally, in NYC, where I lived till my High School Diploma, I also studied Spanish for two years. Therefore I can say that I have nearly spent my entire life pondering on the mechanisms and dynamics connected to learning and teaching foreign languages as I have a life-long acquaintance with languages in general.

It is for all these reasons that the very first time I came across the so-called CLIL teaching method in 2005, the year I started my teaching career, I welcomed it enthusiastically; however the way the CLIL practice has been politically implemented since one of the many Italian education system reforms carried out in 2010 has changed considerably the early design conceived back then. In 2005, in fact, it was still meant to involve foreign language teachers alongside the subject specialist teachers in a team work setting, afterwards instead CLIL was conveyed as a teaching practice that totally ruled out any involvement of foreign language teachers and introduced the exclusive presence of subject specialist teachers which is one of the main reasons, as I believe, to have already explained in depth, why I don’t fully agree with this didactic method. It is especially quite puzzling why the expertise of so many dedicated professionals should be discriminated against and penalised despite their competence and the excellent results achieved.



History of CLIL, Dana Hanesová – DOI:10.1.17846/CLIL.2015.7-16 in, CLIL in Foreign Language Education: e-textbook for foreign language teachers, Pokrivčáková, S. et al. (2015) – Nitra: Constantine the Philosopher University. 282 s. ISBN 978-80-558-08895, p. 8.á.pdf

Content – and – Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles?, C. Dalton-Puffer in: Annual Review of Applied Linguistics (2011), 31.182-204 © Cambridge University Press, 2011, 0267-1905/11 $ 16.00 DOI:1017/S026719051100092.

WHITE PAPER ON EDUCATION AND TRAINING – Teaching and Learning –Towards the Learning Society

“The Canadian Bilingual Immersion Debate” – A Synthesis of Research Findings, V. P. Collier – George Mason University.–.pdf

“Aspects of Learning Foreign Languages and Learning WITH Foreign Languages: Language Immersion and CLIL, K. Nieminen – Development Project Report, July 2016.

“The hidden curriculum of PISA – the promotion of neo-liberal policy by educational assessment”, M. Uljens. , p. 7

“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W. Admiraal & A. Berry.

“Is CLIL so beneficial, or just selective? Re-evaluating some of the research”, A. Bruton. Universidad de Sevilla.

“Why being bilingual works wonders for your brain”, Gaia Vince.

“We need to stop pushing our kids”, Tanyth Carey.

“The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;

“Spoken Everywhere but at what cost?”, D. Graddol, on “The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;

“CLIL Debate: questions and answers”, “The CLIL Debate” hosted by “The Guardian” in 2005;

“Content and language integrated learning in the Netherlands: teachers’ self-reported pedagogical practices”, E. Van Kampen, W. Admiraal & A. Berry.;


“Coping with CLIL: Dropouts from CLIL Streams in Germany”, C. Apsel – University of Hamburg (Germany).

“Towards an Evidence Base CLIL – How to Integrate Qualitative and Quantitative as well as Process, Product and Participant Perspectives in CLIL Research”, A. Bonnet

Other valuable readings:

“Reconsidering the Practice of CLIL and ELT” in: Studia Humaniora et Pedagogica Collegii Narovensis , Narva College – University of Tartu, ISBN: 978-9985-4-0967-1;

“Why to CLIL? Effects of CLIL on Reading Comprehension”, Nekane Equiluz Jiménez, Directora: M. Victoria Zenotz Iragi; Universidad Pública de Navarra (UPNA), Master de Formación del Profesorado de Secundaria;

For further information on the Italian Education System the following link is in English:

© L. R. Capuana

Images taken through Google Search


Your opinion is cherished

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.