“English was to a large extent only the teacher’s language”

The quote in the title comes from a research paper by Eva Codó titled “The Dilemmas of Experimental [Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)] in Catalonia.”

In the paper, the author describes her observations of a teacher named Jordi. It was observed that Jordi rarely required students to use English and, accordingly, students rarely did.

The author explains that local policy regarding CLIL “has an experimental character”; while on the one hand such freedom is likely to be welcomed by teachers, I agree with Codó that such flexibility has “consequences for students’ achievement” (p. 353).

Staff voiced a certain disappointment at the achievements of CLIL, which was epitomised by the lack of student output in English. Teachers expressed their concern that CLIL was not ‘working’ on the production front, and a feeling of stagnation spread in relation to students’ output. (p. 354)

It is not enough to just say “let’s do CLIL or bilingual education” if the goal is language development. Schools and teachers must set clear outcomes about what they hope to achieve. Codó noted:

What was needed was, as I said, on the one hand, explicitly-defined linguistic goals, and on the other -and articulated with these- graded requirements for students, most notably but not exclusively, in relation to oral output. (p. 354)

While it is often not advisable to generalize a single case, the lesson here is clear: failure to set clearing learning outcomes will lead to disappointment. If a school implements bilingual education, they must be very clear from the start about what the “ideal graduate” from the program will be able to do.

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