Content and Language Integrated Learning - CLIL

Here you will find summaries of research papers that relate to CLIL. Each summary is worded to be reader-friendly, and covers no more than one side of A4. If you have any questions about the research, or would like to know more, please contact us or one of the theme leaders, Ruth at ruth.fielding(at) or Lesley at lesley.harbon(at)

The benefits of CLIL

What is CLIL? 

CLIL is the common acronym referring to Content and Language Integrated Learning. Within a CLIL educational programme an additional language is used as the medium of instruction for another area of the school curriculum. For example, in a school in the UK French might be used for one hour per day to teach science or maths with the aim of achieving both science/maths outcomes and language outcomes. The approach offers flexibility in comparison with other modes of bilingual education such as immersion (whereby children are taught (part of) the school curriculum via a foreign language), because it does not stipulate a particular amount of time to be spent in the additional language. There is also scope to implement a CLIL approach at either classroom level or whole school level, offering further flexibility in implementation.

How long has this learning been labelled as CLIL?

According to Coyle (2007, p. 545) the term ‘CLIL’ was “an umbrella term adopted by the European Network of Administrators, Researchers and Practitioners (EUROCLIC) in the mid 1990s”. The following definition is widely adopted in the field:

CLIL is a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language (p. 11). The CLIL strategy, above all, involves using a language that is not a student’s native language as a medium of instruction and learning … Language teachers in CLIL programmes play a unique role. In addition to teaching the standard curriculum, they work to support content teachers by helping students to gain the language needed to manipulate content from other subjects (Mehisto, Marsh & Frigols, 2008, p. 9).

An alternative, but similar, definition is provided by Marsh (cited in Coyle, 2006):

CLIL is an approach in which a foreign language is used as a tool in the learning of a non-language subject in which both language and the subject have a joint role. 

According to Short (2006, p. 101), an approach to teaching foreign and second languages referred to as ILC, (Integrated Language Curriculum) with its integration of language and content, appeared during the 1980s. Other terms appeared for this model of approaches such as “content-based ESL, sheltered instruction, total and partial foreign language immersion, two-way immersion, developmental bilingual education, early foreign language programmes (e.g., content-based FLES), and more” (Short, 2006, p. 102). The approach became widely known as content-based instruction, especially in ESL programs. Content-based instruction has been operationalised in primary schools, secondary schools and university language programmes. Coyle’s comment on how both language and content are taught, indicates (2006, p. 2):

Whilst CLIL shares certain aspects of learning and teaching with [content-based instruction, bilingual education]… in essence it operates along a continuum of the foreign language and the non-language content without specifying the importance of one over another.

CLIL pedagogy

A 4Cs framework for CLIL pedagogy (see quote below) was outlined by Coyle as early as 1999, with the explanation that CLIL is based on the:  

interrelationship between subject matter (content), the language of, and for, learning (communication), the thinking integral to high quality learning (cognition) and the global citizenship agenda (culture) (Coyle, 2006, p. 9).  

Fielding and Harbon (2018) observed teachers who realise that they have a responsibility for a student’s cognitive progression in learning and development generally, and that it is language which is the vehicle for this learning. Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010) have also developed the language triptych to indicate that within a CLIL classroom there should be three types of language being used:

(1) Language of Learning,
(2) Language For Learning, and
(3) Language Through Learning.

These three types of language serve three pedagogical functions in the classroom and ensure that students have the language they need to navigate the current topic of study.

Fielding and Harbon (2018) in their research into CLIL pedagogy based their analysis of teacher CLIL pedagogy on Tharp, Estrada, Dalton and Yameuchi’s (2000) ‘Five standards of Effective Pedagogy’ for inclusive primary teaching: joint productive activity; language development; contextualisation; challenging activities; instructional conversation. They argue that accomplished CLIL pedagogy aligns with the ‘language development’ strand of this primary pedagogy, with its four sub-strands:

> modelling, eliciting, probing, restating, clarifying, questioning and praising
> connecting language with literacy
> using L1 and L2 for clarification
> ‘in-flight’ changes.

Within the CLIL pedagogy the researchers observed teachers’ use of:

> restating/probing for further clarification
> use of paralinguistics
> connecting of language with reading or writing
> translanguaging/ code-switching, and
> embedding of culture

Fielding and Harbon noted (2018, p. 35):

It is these four sub-strands which we believe indicate how a CLIL classroom has elements of difference to a primary classroom in a non-CLIL setting and therefore show evidence of the grounded nature of the development of pedagogy.

Is CLIL feasible at primary level?

A common concern among primary school teachers is that the curriculum is increasingly more crowded. With the integration of content with language learning, CLIL programs can address this concern. Example teaching programmes showing how this is done can be viewed in the report by Cross and Gearon (2013).

Marsh (2003) notes in relation to age considerations:

This approach is currently implemented in differing ways depending on the age-range and location of learners. It is most commonly realised by teachers of foreign languages and those of other subjects, who may, for example, provide “language showers” for 6-10 year-olds (involving 30 minutes to one hour exposure per day); “language encounters” for 10-14 year olds (involving experiential blocks of some 40 hours before or parallel to formal language instruction; “dual-focused learning” for 14-19 year-olds in academic streams (involving some 5-10 hours per week); or “competence building” for 16-19 year-olds in vocational education and training. (p.1)

Arguably CLIL approaches suit primary level learning more naturally than starting CLIL with older learners. Young children experiencing CLIL from day one of primary school take that bilingual aspect of learning as a given. For teachers it can also be easier to envisage how to link language, content and cognitive level with younger learners.

How to introduce CLIL in the  primary classroom

The flexibility underpinning a CLIL approach as a form of bilingual education has meant that programmes are implemented in individual and small-scale ways in different contexts. In Fielding and Harbon’s research (2014) in New South Wales, Australia, for example, the schools involved committed to an incremental approach to introducing CLIL. The schools started with one class at Kindergarten level, and progressively added one more year to the programme each calendar year. In this way, once the Kindergarten students reached Year 6 there was a CLIL stream through the whole primary school. In these schools the CLIL group spent one-hour per day with the “bilingual teacher” who had a dedicated classroom for teaching through the target language. In negotiation with her colleagues in the same year-group/Stage it was decided which aspect of the curriculum would be taught within the CLIL time. This ensured that the same content was not re-taught in the main classroom, but rather the two sets of learning complemented each other to lead to related outcomes.

As the programmes grow, it becomes necessary to have a coordinated approach to facilitate the decision-making and planning about the curriculum to make sure that the CLIL time is not viewed by classroom teachers as taking away time from their outcomes. Rather a focus is needed upon showing how particular outcomes are achieved by the CLIL teacher, leaving less outcomes to be addressed in the main classroom. Naturally the trust and negotiation of sharing of responsibility for outcomes can take time to be built and fostered. Thus a whole-school approach can lead to more success than individual teachers trying to implement smaller scale CLIL.




Otwinowska, A. and Foryś, M. (2017))


  • CLIL (Maths, Science)
  • Ages 10-11; Polish L1, English L2
  • Positive/negative feelings; ‘intellectual helplessness’

Dispelling the monolingual myth: Exploring literacy outcomes in Australian bilingual programmes




Fielding, R., & Harbon, L. (2020)


  • CLIL
  • bilingual/CLIL; primary years 3, 5, 7 and 9 (Australia)
  • Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Korean

Examples of training materials for CLIL

Take a look at the Victoria Department of Education and Training materials for CLIL which hosts videos of CLIL in action, resources and training materials.

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