Evaluating a CLIL Student: Where to Find the CLIL Advantage

Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication, January 1, 2014

Chapter Four

Evaluating a CLIL Student: Where to Find the CLIL Advantage


Surmont, Jill, Van de Craen, Piet, Struys, Esli, Somers, Thomas, Utrecht Studies in Language and Communication


In this paper, the authors show that evaluating a CLIL student should not stop at evaluating language competence. CLIL approaches the natural way of learning, as it provides both implicit and explicit learning which is often not the case in traditional education and therefore it creates cognitive advantages that traditionally schooled peers do not have. The authors prove that these cognitive advantages can be noted in courses like mathematics and that it is very likely that the brain is positively influenced by CLIL education. Through this, the authors show that when evaluating CLIL students, the evaluator has to look at the larger picture and not focus on language results only.


It was often formerly thought that bilingualism had a negative impact on cognitive development.Research by, for example, Anastasi & Cordova (1953) or Darcy (1963) showed that bilinguals were outperformed by monolinguals. It was generally accepted that bilingualism was detrimental for the cognitive development of a child and that monolingualism should be the ideal. However,the seminal research of Peal and Lambert (1962) initiated a revolution by showing that bilinguals outperformed monolinguals on multifarious tasks. Although much has changed since then, many societal stakeholders are still convinced that being raised in a monolingual environment is more advantageous for a child, and that opportunities for bilingual education should be restricted to a minimum (Bollen & Baten 2010). Yet the evidence that such claims are untrue is growing exponentially up to the point where the question has changed from “is bilingualism detrimental for a child’s development” to “on which levels can the positive influence of bi/multilingualism be noted?”.

Europe has been promoting multilingual education officially since 1995. The EuropeanCommission stated that every country should aim for trilingualism at the age of eighteen,meaning that besides the mother tongue(s), people should be proficient in at least two other languages (White Paper 1995). The best way to reach this goal is to introduce multilingual education, as it is clear that traditional language education is unable to ensure the necessary level of proficiency. The latest Eurobarometer shows that 46% of all the Europeans are unable to communicate in another language than their mother tongue (Special Eurobarometer 2012).Based on the results of immersion programmes in Canada, the European Commission is promoting Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) as an alternative to traditional language education. Multilingualism, multiculturalism, intercultural competences and globalization are buzzwords nowadays, but they bring up many questions concerning the consequences of introducing CLIL into the curriculum. The aim of this paper is not only to summarise the results of CLIL related to language competence, but also to explain and show whyCLIL is more than a language learning approach. We will explain how CLIL stimulates cognitive and brain development and how it creates a different better type of learner, meaning that theCLIL advantage should not only be looked for at the language proficiency level.

2 The language advantages of CLIL

CLIL is different from traditional language learning because it combines language learning with content learning. The target language is immediately exploited and used in a meaningful environ Ment, lowering (and even removing) any barriers students may have to use the target language (cf. Coyle et al. 2010). The focus is not on the language itself, but on communication about the content. The language is therefore not the goal but the means of communication, and students have to use the language in authentic situations where the language usage is pragmatic and functional (Gatbonton & Segalowitz 2005). This implies that students practice more in and with the target language. Research has shown that in a CLIL class, more interaction between student and teacher takes place than in a traditional class (Nikula 2010; Blom 2013)

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