Peculiarities of teaching through a foreign language


Yerkegaliyeva Zhemis Anesovna

Lesson planning in CLIL programmes requires teachers to anticipate language problems and help learners solve them as they proceed through the lesson. Once you accept that you have to do it, it becomes easier. If you get training to help you do it, it becomes easier still. Finally, language teachers know – to an extent – how to do these things. They haven’t normally been trained to provide help in L2-medium subject lessons, but they have a lot of the skills which will help them solve these problems. It is useful for subject teachers to collaborate with them, especially when they start out teaching in L2, and to get early help with planning lessons. The more they can get at this initial stage, the easier it is, with time, to incorporate simple lesson-planning routines into normal CLIL practice and fairly quickly to work independently with confidence.

In fact what happens in CLIL lessons is that, as we mentioned above, teachers do teach and learners learn. In other words they solve these problems as they go along. Teachers gradually become skilled at anticipating language barriers and the process of planning lessons to overcome them becomes routine, rather than laboured. And they gradually accumulate the new strategies which they need for providing support. What are the main support strategies they use?

To help learners listen, subject teachers highlight or explicitly teach vocabulary. At the text level they help learners to follow them by using visuals and by adjusting their talking style: they enumerate points, give examples, explain, summarise, more then they would in L1.

To help students talk in the plenary classroom, they adjust their questions (asking, perhaps, some cognitively demanding but short answer questions); they prompt (for example they start learners’ responses for them); they provide vocabulary, they may allow some L1 responses. To help them talk in groups, they provide support at the word level by listing key words to use; to help with making sentences they can offer supportive task types such as talking frames, sentence starters or substitution tables; or they ask students to use their L1 when discussing but their L2 when reporting.

To help students with reading they may check that they understand key vocabulary before they read; they may provide them with pre-reading questions to reduce the reading demands of the text; or they may offer help at the text level by giving reading support tasks, such as a chart to fill in, a diagram to label, etc.

To help them with writing, they can offer support at all three levels by providing a vocabulary list, sentence starters, or a writing frame. They can also ensure that the learners talk through their writing at the word, sentence and text level, with each other, probably in L1, before they write.

These strategies amount to a different pedagogy from L1-medium teaching. When you work in L1, you don’t often have to anticipate the language demands of lessons in this way; neither do you have to provide much of this kind of language support. CLIL has its own specific pattern of teaching and CLIL teachers have to learn it. It means acquiring a new set of language-supportive task types, developing a different quality of teacher-talk, using a variety of forms of interaction and knowing whether or when to encourage the learners’ to use L1. These strategies will be familiar to subject teachers who are experienced in working in L2. They often acquire many of them simply by working them out for themselves. But many do not, and if they get no training they may carry on struggling with some of these problems for longer than is necessary.

As many CLIL teachers will testify, teaching a school subject through a second language brings with it a variety of challenges. How can subject teachers make sure that learners understand everything they need to know about the subject when a second language is being used by both the teacher and the learners? How can teachers help learners acquire not only the content of their subject but also the language they need to show their understanding of the content? How can learners learn both content and language at the same time?

These clips illustrate some underlying principles which will help teachers to answer these questions. They show what teachers can do to meet the challenges that CLIL brings. These clips were produced with the support of the Expertise Centrum Moderne Vreemde Talen. The texts have been adapted from the book CLIL Skills by Liz Dale, Wibo van der Es and Rosie Tanner.

There are six skills CLIL teachers can develop. Activating prior knowledge or activating existing knowledge – involves getting the learners’ brains working at the start of a topic or theme, as well as motivating them to learn. It means engaging learners in the topic of a lesson, and helping them to access what they already know about the topic, so that they can link that knowledge with the material to be learned. In CLIL, it is important to activate both ideas and language. Lesson input can be defined as ‘information used to help learners understand ideas and to construct meaning’. Input is the foundation of every lesson, and can be linguistic or non-linguistic. It may consist of items from a video clip or a text in a course book or it may be a graph or a photograph.

Whereas linguistic input is based on language, such as a text, non-linguistic input does not contain language. It may be a model, a photograph or a live example. Learners listen to, watch, look at or read input; they get information and language from input which they can use to carry out tasks or activities. Texts, formulas, videos, diagrams, graphs, experiments: CLIL teachers guide learners to understand many types of input in English. ‘Providing lesson input for CLIL’ deals with selecting material. Guiding understanding involves helping learners to process the input. Processing input is the action of working actively with input – your basic materials.

Some examples of processing input are: a geography teacher asking learners to make a graph out of raw data or data in a text; a history teacher making a handout for learners to identify the causes and effects of an event in a text; a science teacher asking learners to draw conclusions about an experiment they have done. When teachers set tasks so that learners process input, this helps learners to understand it better. Consequently, learners learn, remember and apply the input better, in terms of both content and language.

Seeing learners put energy into a role-play or Power Point presentation can be extremely rewarding for the CLIL teacher.

We define output as the production of language and content in the target language.

Output can be spoken or written, linguistic or non-linguistic, and formal or informal. Examples of linguistic output are a presentation, answers to spoken or written questions or a class discussion about what learners did at the weekend: these all involve producing language. The production of spoken output is vital in CLIL for learners to process and deepen their understanding of content and improve their ability to use language effectively.

Helping learners write well organised or well thought out essays or laboratory reports can be extremely rewarding for the CLIL teacher. At these moments, the learners enthusiastically show their understanding and learning. Output can be linguistic (e.g. a newspaper article) or non-linguistic (e.g. an illustration), and formal (e.g. a letter to Greenpeace or informal (e.g. an article for a teenage magazine).

Examples of written output are an article, a summary, a lab report or an e-mail to an exchange student: these all involve producing written language. The production of written output is vital in CLIL for learners to process and deepen their understanding of content and their ability to use language effectively.

The way CLIL teachers evaluate their learners’ progress and give them feedback on their achievements influences how learners learn. It affects how they learn both during lessons and during study outside the classroom, for example when doing homework or preparing for tests. CLIL teachers can evaluate learning and give feedback to encourage learners to work on developing their understanding of the content of the subject. They can also use these tools to encourage learners to pay attention to appropriate and accurate use of language in their subject.

Peer assessment can be a useful tool in evaluating learning. It involves asking learners to use assessment criteria to assess each other’s work. One reason often put forward for using peer assessment is that it saves work for the teacher. Actually, using peer assessment changes the way teachers work, and leads to them spending more time on, for example, defining clear assessment criteria, and less time on marking work that is not to standard.

Peer assessment is particularly important in CLIL because it can help the learners to understand what is expected of them. By reading a fellow learner’s lab report in biology and deciding what is good about it and what needs more work, learners develop a clearer idea of what makes a good lab report in terms of both subject and language. This will help them to produce higher quality lab reports in the future. By acting as an audience for a piece of written text, learners start to understand how clearly they need to express their ideas for a third person to understand them. This is particularly important in CLIL, because it can help improve both language skills and subject skills. By experiencing the effect of unclear language, spelling mistakes or confused ideas themselves, learners will be encouraged to use language more carefully to put their ideas across.

Feedback plays an important part in learning. CLIL subject teachers are experienced in giving feedback on their learners’ performance relating to key subject concepts. They have had less practice and experience in giving feedback on language use. Second language learners make language mistakes for a variety of reasons and this affects how CLIL teachers deal with them.

Yerkegaliyeva Zhemis Anesovna
The branch of JSC NCPD “Orleu”,
Institute for professional development of West Kazakhstan

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