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Keith Kelly argues that language, and an explicit focus on it, is at the heart of CLIL methodology.There is a good deal of debate going on in CLIL about the role of language within this approach to learning. Benefit from a wide range of resources, whether you teach Business English, Young Learners, Exams or CLIL. For the chance to get your very own, exclusive 'I heart onestopenglish' badge, simply click here and fill in the form to tell us what you love about onestopenglish. Some colleagues place little stress on the foreign language in their classrooms believing that their job is to teach through the medium of the foreign language and not to develop that foreign language. I envisaged language as being embedded within the axes, for example the 'context embedding' axis has the foreign language as part of the context. The problem with this is that a learner may be familiar with an area being studied, but may not have the foreign language to function (to listen, to read, talk, to write) in the topic.
We can imagine a learner who is familiar with the topic, has content background knowledge and has met simliar concepts before and so the learning is highly context embedded.
The same learner has also carried out similar tasks in different topic areas and can apply these skills to the task in hand and so is cognitively unchallenged. Lastly, the same student has no L2 knowledge of the content area or the foreign language needed for the task. One question this student raises for the teacher is 'Does lack of foreign language knowledge increase the cognitive challenge?' If the answer is 'yes' for this student then the following question may be 'How can I best support the language demands of the content and the task for this student?' If the answer is 'no' and the language is easily accessible to the student, it may be that the teacher needs to make strategic decisions about how much time to dedicate to the content and task, do the topic quickly and move on to something more challenging.Example student profilesWe are now beginning to describe virtual students. Do we want all our students to be in the situation where they have all the L2 they need to be able to learn their curriculum subjects through the foreign language?

However attractive, it's unlikely that this will actually ever be the reality in many contexts. Even with a high L2 competence, there may still be a need for teacher thought to be applied to the language of the subject.
Content subjects after all carry a rich range of text genre and structure which learners whatever their L2 competence may need guidance to access and support to produce when asked. Note that it is not always safe to assume that these genres and structures are transferable across borders and so what one students know about them in the 'mother' culture of learning may be different from those in the foreign language culture of learning.Another problem with the above diagram concerns new concepts. Should we place new concepts along the context axis or does it belong on the cognitive demand axis? It may be that in CLIL we need some new terminology to describe variations in students to inform lesson preparation. At the risk of straying from Cummins' diagram even further, I suggest that we need a new diagram and completely new language.New dimensions and new languagePhil Ball in his initial series of four articles outlining CLIL offers three terms for consideration when thinking about preparing for CLIL. He suggests that CLIL learning will need 1) conceptual skills, 2) procedural skills and 3) linguistic skills. I tend to agree with this description and appreciate it all the more for its simplicity and workability. With the cube we can ask the right questions about learners in our CLIL classes to best inform our teaching and respect the three learning dimensions.
These skills may be simpler skills needed for carrying out a small group discussion and feeding back to the whole class in plenary.

This may focus on receptive language skills or language needed for production within the subject.Knowing the language means providing the right supportOnce we have located our learners within the CLIL Skills Cube, we can then begin to make strategic decisions about the supporting the learning experiences they will undergo in our lessons.
John Clegg in an article in the methodology section of onestopclil writes about this very strategic planning and asking questions about language.
Cummins' diagram is so relevant because language is embedded throughout the bilingual learning process.
With CLIL, however, the learning dimensions need to be broken down into more detail to include the foreign language itself in order that teachers can identify possible challenges for learners, including linguistic ones, and then provide appropriate support in the classroom.Keith Kelly, October 2009This article is partly in response to Adrian Tennant's article last month on the need for a more inductive approach in CLIL.
If you'd like to comment on any of the issues raised please do so in the onestopenglish Forum.Keith Kelly has been working as a freelance education consultant since August 2003 on education projects mainly focusing on the teaching of content through the medium of a foreign language. He is an experienced teacher and teacher trainer, a team member of Science Across the World, and an Associate Tutor for the Norwich Institute for Language Education (NILE). Along with John Clegg, he is co-author of the CLIL MA Module for NILE and Leeds Metropolitain University.

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