Review ~ The Roles of Language in CLIL

A book exploring the roles that language plays in the CLIL classroom, containing important and useful insights into CLIL teaching, as well as numerous practical concerns which should be of use to teachers and course coordinators.
Reviewed for Teflnet by Robert Lowe
The Roles of Language in CLIL

The Roles of Language in CLIL

Content and Language Integrated Learning (“CLIL” for short) is currently an area which is arousing much interest among ELT researchers and practitioners. Building on strong communicative approaches such as task-based language teaching, CLIL classes combine the teaching of content with the learning of a language with a focus either more on the former or the latter, depending on the context and course. As the amount of research into CLIL grows and as more teachers find themselves teaching using the method, a study into how language is manifested and can be exploited for learning opportunities in in the CLIL classroom would seem a timely addition to the professional literature. The Roles of Language in CLIL has been written to fill that position.

The book is divided into three sections. The first deals with the roles language plays in classroom interaction in CLIL contexts, while the second part explores how the language of academic subjects can be exploited in CLIL classrooms. Finally the book looks, in part 3, at how students’ language develops and can be assessed in the CLIL classroom. This structure is logical and guides the reader from the micro-context of classroom interaction through to broader discussions of the types of language which may emerge and be exploited or focused on, and finally to the more results-orientated practical concerns which will be of interest to teachers. The data on which the observations made in the book are based is taken from a corpus of 500,000 words collected from Spain, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands. The corpus has been searched for representative examples of events and interactions which highlight particular points the authors wish to make, thus making the study less of a statistical corpus analysis (although word frequencies and semantic relationships are explored), and more of an exploration of interactional elements in the classroom.

Each chapter ends with a set of discussion questions, which may help readers who are studying on a postgraduate course to reflect on the material presented in the book. This feature of the text will likely be more useful for group study than for students working alone, which is somewhat unfortunate as Applied Linguistics and TESOL are fields that are often studied through distance learning. Nevertheless, the questions provided will help groups to summarize and evaluate the material, and may help course organisers to structure their proposed study plans.

In the first section, the book explores interaction in the CLIL classroom from three different perspectives. The discussion begins with an analysis of register and learning opportunities in the classroom, and moves on to explore dialogic and interactive relationships between and among both students and teachers in the class. In this section, transcripts from the corpus which provide examples of interaction are presented and discussed, with relevant and important details highlighted both in the text and in the subsequent discussions. These discussions are informative, as they explore how students’ linguistic output can be both monitored and corrected by the teacher (or more suitable language supplied), and also demonstrate how students can scaffold each other’s constructions in order to help them co-construct meaning and engage in peer-correction. Readers should find this section interesting as it highlights the ways in which interaction between teachers and students can help to develop the students’ language skills in terms of accuracy and knowledge of the appropriate register required for different communicative contexts.

The book moves on in the second section to discuss the language of academic subjects in CLIL. Focusing on genre, grammar and lexis, this section explores how the specific language of different fields such as geography, history, and the sciences can be presented to and attained by students, while also demonstrating examples of student’s written and spoken productions in order to exemplify each point. This section is less concerned with interaction between teachers and students and revolves more around examples of student work, with discussions of how their work deviates either grammatically or in terms of genre from standard examples. This section will again be interesting for readers, as it involves discussion of how a lack of understanding of the regularities of a particular genre can manifest itself in some unusual or bizarre constructions. For teachers new to CLIL teaching this will be informative, and they are likely to see echoes of their own students’ production in this section. The book then helpfully provides analysis of these spoken and written texts in order to highlight how teachers can tackle these issues.

In the third and final section of the book the authors take a more practical focus, discussing specific ways in which students’ language can be developed in CLIL settings, and how assessment can be carried out by teachers and course coordinators. Drawing once again on written and spoken texts from the corpus, the authors investigate both whether certain features of language can be taught and how to best teach these features. Examples are given to support their claims, and the discussions are informative and well written. This practical advice may be of most interest to teachers wishing to help their students advance in their understanding of aspects of language such as mode and tenor, which are not generally covered in traditional language courses. The discussion of assessment is somewhat more problematic. While the authors to try to make their suggestions practical by providing assessment scales and so on, readers who are aware of the problematic arguments surrounding language-based assessments may find that familiar concerns arise, particularly in terms of examiners assigning subjective value to the work they are assessing. While the suggested approach is interesting, it does not significantly or convincingly deal with general problems arising around the topic of language assessment.

The Roles of Language in CLIL is not a book designed to be read linearly from cover to cover. Rather, like many of the books in the Cambridge Language Teaching Library series, it is more suitable for use as a handbook into which readers may dive in order to retrieve insights about one particular aspect of (in this case) CLIL teaching or learning. As the book provides an in-depth discussion of several areas of CLIL teaching, it will be invaluable to researchers in the area, and to teachers and course designers who are engaging in the method and who wish to ground their pedagogy in a somewhat more solid and substantive theory. Unfortunately, the book is informed by data drawn from only a limited number of contexts. While the authors may not consider this a weakness of the text, readers may find in their own classrooms that the conclusions and recommendations of the authors do not fully translate to their own context. While it would be unrealistic to suggest that all possible contexts should have been represented in the data collected for and analysed in the book, this is something readers should be aware of, and should consider carefully before applying the findings of the book with a broad brush to their own context.

These small concerns notwithstanding, The Roles of Language in CLIL will be a book welcomed by those wishing to explore CLIL in further detail as a student, a teacher or a course designer.

Reviewed for Teflnet by Robert Lowe
April 2013 | Filed under Teaching, Young Learners
Robert Lowe is an English language teacher, currently based in Japan. He has been teaching for four years, and has taught in both private schools and universities. He holds the Trinity College London DipTESOL and an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University Of Nottingham.

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