Creating a framework for a large-scale implementation of Content and Language Integrated Learning: The first steps

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Surmont, J., Struys, E., & Somers, T. (2015). Creating a framework for a large-scale implementation of Content and Language Integrated Learning: The first steps. European Journal of Language Policy, 7(1), 29-41.


In their article Surmont, Struys, and Somers (2015) offer the first steps in a framework for regions/countries to implement a Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) on a large scale. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a practice whereby the teachers teach content areas in languages other than the students first language; therefore, teaching two areas at once. The authors maintain that in order for member states of the European Union to achieve their 2020 educational goals as set forth by the European Commission, countries and regions should employ a CLIL framework to get their students to the multilingual goal, included as part of the European Unions 2020 educational goals, of knowing their mother tongue plus two other languages.
Surmont et al. (2015) first offer several cognitive advantages of CLIL whereby teachers who implement this framework would be able to cover content as well meet the multilingual goals of the European Union. Furthermore, the implementation of the CLIL framework has been shown to improve perceptions of languages and thus increase motivation in language learning. To implement this framework on a large scale, the authors identify four main parameters which are essential for the success of a CLIL framework: the timing of standardization of a language, which the authors content that the longer a language has been standardized, the more economic and political strength it has and more likely seen to be relevant to student learning; language threat (perceived or otherwise) whereby the threat to one’s language can be seen as a threat to one’s identity; language dominance which in areas where there is an uncontested dominant standard language, the state/region would be more amenable to multilingual education as opposed to regions where there are contested regional languages like in Spain; and the level of language legislation, in states where language legislation is very strict, the likelihood multilingual education will be very low.


Surmont et al. (2015) assert that CLIL is the most likely way that governments and policy-makers can achieve their goal of mother tongue plus two other languages. They point to the work of Van de Craen et al. 2012 (as cited in Surmont et al. (2015)) which emphasizes that the recent influx of research is showing positive results from using a CLIL framework. The evidence is convincing that CLIL increases the students’ target language knowledge, content knowledge and has a positive influence on motivation (Surmont et al., 2015, p. 30). Moreover, an essential aspect to CLIL which the authors merely mention in passing is that the younger the students are when they receive CLIL, the better the results of this type of framework will be (p. 30).
To implement a framework, the authors posit that the language climate of the area must first be determined in order to assess the success of a CLIL program better. From the four parameters which the authors offer to assess language climate the one remarkable area was (perceived) language threat (Surmont et al., 2015, p. 34). While the other three areas standardization, language dominance, and language legislation are important, language threat is the one area where there is no tangible evidence and where perception is a crucial factor. The perception of whether or not a language is a threat is an affective/psychological factor. Although the authors provide an example of French being perceived as a threat to the Dutch language in Flanders and English not being a threat, this example is subjective, and the authors cannot provide a clear explanation or reasoning as to why the French example was a perceived threat to Dutch. The other parameters, especially legislation, offer a tangible aspect to the framework which can be changed in the country or region.
As an example of the legislative parameter that the authors offer Spain as an example: “Prior to 2004, Spain had a monolingual policy. After a massive policy change, Spain became one of the finest examples of how multilingual education can be implemented on a large scale" (p. 38). The idea here is that policies are not static and can change over time. In order to be successful, the authors cite Spain as having a “strict legislation” policy which changed over time to an "open legislation" (p.36). This observable shift in language legislation can help policymakers and governments have areas to work on to move toward this initial framework of a large-scale CLIL.
Language dominance and language standardization, although undoubtedly important to the success of a CLIL framework, seem to be more variable in the data presented by (Surmont et al., 2015). In their application of the four parameters to 10 countries, the authors indicate that ideal situations whereby CLIL and multilingual education will be more accepted, those countries/regions should have “early standardization, no (perceived) language threat, a dominant language and a strict or no language legislation” (p. 36). However out of the four countries with early standardization whereby there would be a history of economic and political power attributed to the standard language, only one country of these four "wholeheartedly" accepts multilingual education, the rest accept it "reluctantly" (p. 37). The inverse can be said about language dominance, given that practically every country/region has a dominant language except for Flanders and Estonia (p.37). Language dominance, when on a state level, is a given in most instances of European countries since most of them have a dominant standardized language in place.
Moreover, the success of such a framework seems to only work at the local level if a large-scale framework is already in place. One of the most significant issues with the implementation of CLIL at only the local level is teacher retention rates. Surmont et al. (2015) explain that teachers in CLIL programs are first and foremost challenging to find because they need to know the content area and well as the language/culture of the target language. Additionally, these teachers have larger workloads and more levels than other teachers at their schools (p. 32). Without the proper support of a more extensive infrastructure to help these teachers with materials and curricula, it is no wonder they leave their positions only after a few years.


While Surmont et al. (2015) present a compelling case for the four main parameters of an initial CLIL framework on a large scale, the article leaves some critical questions unanswered. How do we measure perceived language threats? While standardization is important, why do many of the countries who accept multilingual education have late rather than early standardization if early standardization according to the authors in the country’s history leads to a better acceptance of multilingual education? Surmont et al. (2015) begin to fulfill the need of constructing guidelines for state and regional policymakers and indicate that future research may have more precise answers. Even though it left me with questions, I think that this article is invaluable for understanding the complex issue of language climate in the European Union. It presents four parameters which policymakers can take into consideration to understand the potential success of the implementation of a large-scale CLIL program. The benefits of a CLIL program seem evident, and with the proper support for teachers of a large-scale framework, further analysis and research on how to implement all facets of such a framework seem warranted. It is only through the set-up of a successful framework at the governmental level that the local level will succeed with CLIL implementation.


Surmont, J., Struys, E., & Somers, T. (2015). Creating a framework for a large-scale implementation of Content and Language Integrated Learning: The first steps. European Journal of Language Policy, 7(1), 29-41.

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