International Staff Week CLIL talk

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John O’Donoghue held a presentation during the TH Wildau International Staff Week that took place from 8 to 12 May 2023. This presentation was attended by eight of the seventeen guest lecturers from Belgium, the Czech Republic and France, who shared their experiences and ideas throughout the ninety-minute presentation. The talk provided a general introduction to CLIL and reported on the progress made in the CLIL4ALL project so far. The Czech participants from the Technical University of Ostrava were very positive about their experiences of teaching in English with their international students.

The contributions of the participants indicated that there was some confusion about the distinction between English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) and CLIL as well as the place of English for Specific Purposes (ESP) in the courses that institutions of higher education offer to students. This indicates that there is a need for actively and clearly explaining the nature of the CLIL approach not only to content lecturers but also – indeed especially – to language experts. There were differences of opinion about code-switching, i.e. using the native language of most or all students in the classroom as a means to explain key terms or check comprehension. Is this method still justified if many students do not share this language and feel excluded in this process? There is, of course, no reason why other languages cannot be used in addition, although the teacher may not understand these translations.

One issue that arose during a discussion on the collaboration between content and language teachers concerned time. All agreed that this was a precious commodity and that by necessity the content teacher would need to reduce the amount of content in a CLIL setting to some extent in order to create time for focussing on language aspects. Another issue was that of regarding CLIL from what is essentially a terminological perspective. While appreciating the place of terminology in scaffolding, it is incorrect to regard the CLIL approach as simply supplying a list of key terms to students that comprises the specific disciplinary lexis they require to understand what is being taught. John emphasised the importance of phraseology (e.g., in terms of, in light of) as forming the glue that held texts together as well as conjunctions (e.g., while, provided, especially) that link clauses and sentences. These may prove to be of greater benefit to students rather than providing students with a list of decontextualised and isolated lexical items.

The talk was an enjoyable and fruitful experience illustrating how teaching and studying in a foreign or second language at third level is a topic that affects a wide range of teachers and throws up issues that are hotly debated and may sometimes only be pragmatically resolved in the specific situation. It is, nevertheless, important for practitioners to meet and share their ideas and experiences of how language and content can be integrated so that best practices are widely shared.

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