Section 1: CLIL definition. The four ingredients

The four Cs

CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning. But what lies behind these four letters? Does any superior definition of CLIL exist? What is the ultimate meaning of CLIL?

The answer to all these questions is not easy: CLIL was born as an umbrella term, which means that there are different pedagogies that can be called 'CLIL'. Thus, under the label 'CLIL', you will come across a range of different approaches, all of them validated, accepted and put into practice in different countries. This cartoon by Manel Piñeiro may give you a visual idea of this situation:

Cartoon by Piñeiro

The approach to CLIL most broadly accepted in Catalonia, and the one that has been adopted by the Departament d'Ensenyament de la Generalitat de Catalunya, is based on the works of professor Do Coyle from the University of Aberdeen. In 1999 she established the 4Cs model that you will encounter throughout the modules of this course. The 4Cs are like the ingredients of CLIL, the four basic pillars to take into account when dealing with CLIL. The four Cs stand for Content, Communication, Cognition and Culture. The following text is a very short introduction to the 4Cs of CLIL, the four basic ingredients of CLIL:


Progression in knowledge, skills

Content matter is not only about acquiring knowledge and skills, it is about the learners constructing their own knowledge and developing skills.

At the heart of the learning process lies successful content or thematic learning in combination with the acquisition of knowledge, skills and understanding. Content is the subject or the project theme.

Questions to be answered by a novice CLIL teacher
What will I teach?
What will they learn?
What are my teaching aims/objectives?
What are the learning outcomes?


Interaction, language using to learn

Communication implies the development of appropriate language knowledge and skills.

Language is a conduit for communication and for learning. The formula learning to use language and using language to learn is applicable here. Communication goes beyond the grammar system. It involves learners in using language in a way which is different from standard language classes(of course CLIL does involve learners in learning language too but in a different way).

Questions to be answered by a novice CLIL teacher
What language do they need to work with the content?
Is there any specialised vocabulary and phrases?
What kind of discussions will they engage in?
Will I need to check out key grammatical coverage of a particular tense or feature eg comparatives and superlatives?
What about the language of tasks and classroom activities?
What about discussion and debate?


Engagement: thinking & understanding; cognitive processing

For CLIL to be effective, it must challenge learners to think, review and engage in higher order thinking skills. CLIL is not about the transfer of knowledge from an expert to a novice. CLIL is about allowing individuals to construct their own understanding and be challenged – whatever their age or ability. A useful taxonomy to use as a guide for thinking skills is that of Bloom. He has created two categories of thinking skills: lower order and higher order. Take Bloom’s taxonomy for a well-defined range of thinking skills. It serves as an excellent checklist.

Questions to be answered by a novice CLIL teacher
What kind of questions must I ask in order to go beyond ‘display’ questions?
Which tasks will I develop to encourage higher order thinking?
what are the language (communication) as well as the content implications?
Which thinking skills will we concentrate on and which are appropriate for the content?


Self and other awareness/citizenship

Culture brings the learning process within the context of the learner, whilst raising intercultural awareness through the positioning of self and “otherness”.

For our pluricultural and plurilingual world to be celebrated and have its potential realised, this demands tolerance and understanding. Studying through a foreign language is fundamental to fostering international understanding. ‘Otherness’ is a vital concept and holds the key for discovering self. Culture can have wide interpretation – e.g. through pluricultural citizenship and the own context of the learner.

Questions to be answered by a novice CLIL teacher
What are the cultural implications of the topic?
How does the CLIL context allow for ‘value added’?
What about otherness and self?
How does this connect with the all Cs?

Exercise 1

After reading the previous text on the 4Cs, create and write down your own definition of CLIL. The aim of this exercise is that you can integrate the CLIL methodology into your own practice, and therefore the need to write your own definition of CLIL from your perspective and experience.

Here you have some examples:
  • CLIL is a set of methodological strategies, the purpose of which is to teach content through a foreign language. This is achieved with the learners having to build their knowledge from their own and others' experience.
  • CLIL is an approach to teach content in L2, which must be taken as an opportunity to develop students' H.O.T. and their awareness of multicultural and environmental aspects related to the content.
  • CLIL is an approach to the teaching and learning of content of a non-linguistic subject through a target language. Specific linguistic support for promoting communication and development of high order thinking skills is needed. It should be embedded in a multicultural context which raises awareness of self and others.

The experts' definitions of CLIL

The following is a collection of definitions of CLIL from different authors and researchers on CLIL that can help you to sharpen your own definition.

Exercise 2

After reading the experts' definitions, rewrite your own definition of CLIL if necessary.
Phil Ball, 2007

What is CLIL? Well, that’s a good question. CLIL is an acronym, and as such it tends to attract people’s attention. If we were to ask the question ‘What is subject teaching?’ or ‘What is language teaching?’ we would probably be expecting more than four short articles in response. But CLIL has been bold enough to encapsulate itself within an acronym, implying that it is an approach, a philosophy – an educational paradigm with frontiers that can be defined. If you teach EMI (English as a Medium of Instruction), LAC (Language Across the Curriculum), CBI (Content-based Instruction) or CBLT (Content-based Language Teaching; if you work in Bilingual Education; if you’re a subject teacher working through the medium of a foreign language, or a language teacher bringing in content into your English lesson, you work within the area of Content and Language Integrated Learning. 1)

Do Coyle, Philip Hood, David Marsh, 2010

Content and language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is a dual-focused educational approach in which an additional language is used for the learning and teaching of both content and language. That is, in the teaching and learning process, there is a focus not only on content, and not only on language. Each is interwoven, even if the emphasis is greater on one or the other at a given time. CLIL is not a new form of language education. It is not a new form of subject education. It is an innovative fusion of both. 2)

Do Coyle, 2007

CLIL is an umbrella term adopted by the European Network of Administrators, Researchers and Practitioners (EUROCLIC) in the mid 1990s. It encompasses any activity 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’ (Marsh, 2002: 58). The adoption of a ‘label’ was indeed an essential step not only to encourage further thinking and development, but also to position CLIL alongside bilingual education, content-based instruction, immersion and so on. Whilst CLIL shares some elements with many of these approaches, in essence its distinctiveness lies in an integrated approach, where both language and content are conceptualised on a continuum without an implied preference for either. CLIL has its roots in European contexts where sociolinguistic and political settings are rich and diverse. CLIL relates to any language, age and stage  not only in the compulsory education sector but inclusive of kindergarten, vocational and professional learning. It encapsulates lifelong learning. In this sense, contextual and situational variables determine the position of CLIL models along the continuum. 3)

Steve Darn, 2006

The term Content and Language Integrated Learning (ClLIL) was originally defined in 1994, and launched in 1996 by UNICOM, University of Jyväskylä and the European Platform for Dutch Education, to describe educational methods where ‘subjects are taught through a foreign language with dual-focussed aims, namely the learning of content, and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language’. The essence of CLIL is that content subjects are taught and learnt in a language which is not the mother tongue of the learners. Knowledge of the language becomes the means of learning content, language is integrated into the broad curriculum, learning is improved through increased motivation and the study of natural contextualised language, and the principle of language acquisition becomes central. Broadly speaking, CLIL provides a practical and sensible approach to both content and language learning whilst also improving intercultural understanding, and has now been adopted as a generic term covering a number of similar approaches to bilingual education in diverse educational contexts. The evolution of CLIL involves precedents such as immersion programmes (North America), education through a minority or a national language (Spain, Wales, France), and many variations on education through a “foreign” language. 4)

2) COYLE,D.; HOOD,P.; MARSH,D. 2010 CLIL Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521130219
3) COYLE,D. 2007. Content and Language Integrated Learning: Towards a Connected Research Agenda for CLIL Pedagogies. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism [Access 27 July 2009]
4) DARN, S. 2006. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) A European Overview. [Access 31 July 2013]