Bilingual schools

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Main Page - Educational approaches - Bilingual schools

Related terms

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL); Content and Language Integration Project (CLIP); bilingual education; multilingual education; plurilingual education; TEFL.


Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is an approach to learning which aims to deliver knowledge and concepts in existing curriculum subjects through the medium of a foreign language. The approach was first recognised in 1994, and officially launched in 1996 as a collaborative project between UNICOM, the University of Jyväskylä and the European Platform for Dutch Education. The intended outcomes of a CLIL approach is to improve knowledge of the target language by allowing the students to experience language acquisition, rather than language instruction. This is perceived as a more efficient and natural method of learning a language (Smith 2005). The project has its origins in the traditional ‘total immersion’ methods of teaching foreign languages, and in the existing practices of countries such as Malta, which have long had two ‘official’ languages within the education system (Camilleri 2004).

As a result of a number of smaller-scale studies (the web pages of CILT report 47 in England alone), a number of large-scale projects are now being developed around the world which aim to develop completely bilingual schools. One of the most radical projects to date is that of Spain, begun in 1995, in which selected Spanish schools deliver up to 35% of the curriculum in English throughout the whole of the pupil’s schooling. (cf. Herranz de la Morena 1998). Internationally, schools which have engaged in the project as a long term strategy have levels of exposure to the second language varying from 5 to 50%.

The Spanish CLIL programme was developed under the Aznar government of 1995, and directed by a partnership of the Spanish Ministry of Education and the British Council in Spain. Native speaking English teachers were recruited to deliver part of the curriculum in Spanish schools, which had generally been selected because they were serving deprived areas. Students were taught a curriculum which combined aspects of the Spanish and English curriculum, delivered through the English language. The project began with pre-school children, some of whom have now (2005) received a bilingual curriculum throughout the whole of their education. The project so far has been delivered to over 15,000 students, and the government has now committed to a significant expansion nationwide (Kessler 2005). In the UK, the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) has recognised the potential value of a CLIL approach and is running pilot programs.

Standards in other curriculum subjects are expected to be maintained at the same standard as previously, while standards in the second language are targeted to rise significantly. Both of these conclusions were evident in the research of Huibregtse (2001). However, Smith (2005) finds that non-native speakers of a language can find it difficult to make accurate assessments of students’ progress. Kessler (2005) reports that the outcomes of the programme found that students’ understanding of their own language and cognitive skills improved as a result of learning a new language. This supports the findings of Jarvinen (1999), but not those of Huibregtse (2001).


Camilleri, Antoinette (2004) Bilingual Education in Malta, unpublished paper, (Visited 10-July-05)

DFES (2005) Languages for All: From Strategy to Delivery, (Visited 12-July-05).

Huibregtse, Ineke (2001) Effecten en didactiek van tweetalig voortgezet onderwijs in Nederland (Dutch doctorate thesis, with English summary). (Visited 10-July-05)

Herranz de la Morena, Isabel & Sopeña Quesada, Luisa (1998) Spain: A Project to Make Bilingual Education Accessible to More Children, unpublished paper, (Visited 10-July-05).

Jarvinen, Heini-Maria (1999) Second Language Acquisition through CLIL at Primary School Level, in Masih, John (ed) Learning Through a Foreign Language: Models, Methods, Outcome, CLIT. Full text via, Document ED 454735.

Kessler, Michael (2005) Spain Opts to Instruct in English, in Guardian Weekly, Friday February 11, 2005.,5500,1410229,00.html (Visited 10-July-05)

Smith, Kari (2005) Is this the end of the language class?, in Guardian Weekly, Friday January 10, 2005.,15085,1394830,00.html (Visited 12-July-05)

Useful links

The British Council
The British Council has been a key developer of the Spanish bilingual project described above. Their site provides an overview of the project and recruitment information. (Visited 10-July-05).

CILT, The National Centre for Languages
This is the UK based National Centre for Languages which is involved in the development of government initiatives to broaden the range of language teaching in UK schools. A whole section is devoted to the CLIL project. (Visited 10-July-05)

The CLIL Compendium
The CLIL Compendium is a starting point for European CLIL projects and contains an overview of the philosophy and structure of CLIL projects. (Visited 10-July-05)

EuroCLIC provides an overview of CLIC projects throughout Europe, with brief papers detailing the types of projects which exist in various countries. (Visited 10-July-05)

One Stop
One Stop is a dedicated magazine for teachers of English as a Foreign Language. The CLIL section includes articles, question and answers, and forums. (Visited 12-July-05)