Using Content to learn a language

CLIL - for teachers; Cooking with strangers - for students; Personal experience - Alexandra Gruzina

Content and Language Integrated Learning

The industry of Language Education has recently faced a massive shift into the online sphere brought on by the pandemic. A lot of teachers had to quickly learn how to use online platforms, white boards and screen sharing, and although it was challenging, the change pushed us all forward. And it only makes one wonder, what the next big change will be?
Based on the increasing number of requests for tailor-made language courses focusing on skills other than the language, it is safe to assume that CLIL is going to be the next big thing. Soft skills, business negotiations, IT, Marketing, Management and other topics have lately been on demand and English is only seen as a tool to learn them. Let’s find out what it is all about.
CLIL stands for Content and Language Integrated Learning and can be narrowed down to three main characteristics:
- Educational approach in which an additional language is used in teaching and learning of both content AND language;
- The focus is BOTH on content and language;
- You integrate the subject into your language lessons.
But CLIL can often be confused with two other similar notions - Content-based Language teaching and Immersion. Let’s compare them to each other.

Content-based Language teaching

- Work on the language through context.
This means that it is possible to use a variety of topics and contexts to introduce, study and practice the language itself. Both vocabulary and grammar are contextualised and taught through reading, listening and discussions.
- Language knowledge.
This is the main focus and this is what the teacher should test and assess, rather than what the students know about a particular topic.
- Feedback on the language.
The teacher does not provide any feedback on anything other than the language itself. The teacher is not expected to know or be a professional in any other area. 


- Work on the language of the subject; supporting subject-related topics.
The language is seen as a tool to learn another subject, where it supports the learning process. Vocabulary and grammar are seen as a means to explain and discuss the specific chosen subject.
- Language and Content knowledge.
The teacher should be able to teach both the language and the subject and although they are not required to be a professional in the subject, having any experience or background with it is a plus. assess and focus on the knowledge of both the language and the subject. The balance is maintained between how we talk and what we talk about.
- Language depends on the content, the content depends on the language.
The aim is to be able to discuss the subject using relevant grammar and vocabulary, thus the subject determines what language aspects are being studied. Without knowing the language, the students are not able to fully discuss and study the subject.
- Feedback on the language and sometimes the content.
The teacher should assess and focus on the knowledge of both the language and the subject. The balance is maintained between how we talk and what we talk about. However, the main focus is still on the language here. 


- Little or no attention paid to language; full focus on subject. This point is self-explanatory, the language plays a secondary role here.
- Content knowledge.
The teacher has to be an expert in what they are teaching, in this case the subject.
- Content is learned without explicit attention to language.
The language  mistakes are mostly ignored and the language emerges as the need arises.
- Feedback on content.
The teacher does not provide any feedback or assessment of the language, only the subject.

So why is CLIL gaining in popularity these days?

- CLIL learners are more motivated, because they are focused on a particular area of interests and can gain much more from such lessons. 

- Learners develop cognitively; CLIL makes brains work harder. The reason for this is simple: in content-based lessons students have to think about the language they use; here though they must keep in mind both the language and the subject. 

- Communication skills play a bigger role in CLIL and thus are much better developed. Students have to collaborate and ask much more questions to keep up.

- Personal connections - learning takes place when learners themselves make sense of what they are learning. Both the language and the subject benefit greatly and retainment of the materials is much higher. 

- Meaningful interactions - students communicate out of necessity and interest, not as a part of the task. The conversations are not forced or fake.

There are many more advantages to CLIL, but the reader may already get the idea of why it is gaining in popularity. And let us give advice to the teachers - think of what else you are good at, what other kind of experience you have had in the past and try to implement it in a course or a program. Being prepared and staying ahead is what makes one a progressive teacher!

Cooking with strangers: the best way to learn a language?

Sarah Johnson struggles with shaping pizza dough, but she does pick up some Italian when taking a combined cookery and language class

Some dutch courage may have been needed at the start of the lesson, but by the end the room was buzzing. Photograph: Massimo Borchi/Atlantide Phototravel/Corbis

by Sarah Johnson

“Everyone take a big gulp of wine. We’re going to start speaking Italian.”

I’m sitting at a table in an Italian restaurant in London with a group of people I’ve never met before. We’re here for a combined cooking and language class. The class is led by language teacher, Rafaella Palumbo, and her assistant Guido Piccoli, a city worker by day and Italian cooking and language maestro by night. Palumbo tells me, “Italian is not requested so much as a language, but everyone loves Italian food. I started the classes three years ago to get people to speakItalian in a relaxed environment.”

We’re separated from the rest of the restaurant by a small corridor where waiters are waiting for food from the kitchen. Palumbo warns us that, in true Italian style, the chefs get more animated as the night goes on. I imagine men throwing flour and eggs at each other while gesticulating and shouting at each other in Italian and I decide to avoid the kitchen area.

Class starts with learning the correct pronunciation of bruschetta. It is usually pronounced with a soft ‘sh’ sound in the middle of the word in English-speaking counties. I understand from Raffaella’s insistence on repeating it over and over again, that it makes Italians, who say brus-k-etta, very annoyed.

We then move on to introductions. Rafaella and Guido make a great double act as they demonstrate how to say “what’s your name?” (come ti chiami?) and “my name is ...” (mi chiamo ...).

We go around the table, one by one, to give everyone the chance to practise greetings, how to say their name and where they’re from. I get really nervous. It’s a long time since I was in a language class speaking up in front of classmates, let alone a room full of strangers. I’m not the only one to feel a bit nervous. One girl even forgets her name!

After the introductions, we learn how to say the ingredients we are going to cook with. On the menu tonight is bruschetta, followed by a margharita pizza and a crostata – a baked tart – for dessert. We practise saying the words for olive oil, butter, jam, lemon, egg, basil, and flour, among others. Then comes competition time. We’re split down the middle of the table into two teams. Rafaella holds up an ingredient and tells us to raise a hand if we know what it is. The game becomes loud and certain members of the class shout out the answers before they’ve raised their hand. A group of school children would follow the rules better than we did.

After learning some Italian, we move on to the cooking. Over the years, the art of cooking and I have had a difficult relationship. When I was 15 I managed to fill the house with green smoke while making popcorn. I cooked pizza complete with the polystyrene base and ruined my friend’s baking tray. I put a plastic bowl in the oven only for it to melt. The list goes on and on.

To my relief, most of the hard work is done for us by Rafaella and Guido. After a demonstration on how to make pizza dough, they hand us each some. We shape it and then spread tinned tomatoes and mozarella cheese on the top. Mine is about as far from a circle as you can get; shaping pizza dough is clearly beyond my expertise, and a friend later asks if I was trying to recreate a map of Germany.

While the pizzas are cooking in the oven, we prepare the crostata. As we spread the dough over the base of a container and spread jam (marmellata in Italian – a false friend) on top, conversation turns to languages. Palumbo asks what everyone thinks about learning another language. Some people are from other countries including Portugal, Russia and Spain, and language learning is second nature.

By now, the atmosphere in the room is buzzing. Everyone’s talking to each other. The girl next to me is a fashion designer and about to move to Rome for work. She and the other girls around us agree that learning a language when you’re doing something is much easier as you associate the words with the image.

The pizza is ready. Even though mine has the wrong shape, it tastes delicious. The room goes quiet as everyone quickly eats their creation. It’s not long before it’s time to leave. I take my crostata with me to put in the oven at home.

On the tube home, there are some Italians talking. I smile when I understand a little of what they’re saying. I think to myself that it’s about time I learned another language, and how to cook.

Read full article here


These are amazing ways to improve your English but to my mind, there are two special tools unfairly left behind: observation and imagination.

Well, look around. You see the whole world full of interesting colours, shapes and forms. And you can use it to your advantage.

For example, I'm sitting at McDonald’s writing this for you and I see a lot of people around me. They are so unique. They look different from one another, they wear different clothes, they eat different food and you can use this observation to improve your English.

Just talk to yourself and describe the way they look, the way they sit, the way they react in English. And if it's difficult for you to talk just in your head, the pandemic gives a helping hand in the form of face masks. You can cover your face and nobody will notice that your lips are slightly moving and will not think that you are a weirdo, but it's just fine being a weirdo.

And you can train your English this way not only in cafes, or restaurants. Streets are ideal for observation. You can describe buildings, cars, people, animals and the list just goes on and on.

But if you want to go forward, you can start using your imagination. How does it work exactly?

Well, observation helps you to see facts but imagination awakens your fantasy. Let's take a pair of girls eating at McDonald’s. We see that they are girls, and probably of a certain age, but we don't know where they come from, what their profession is, what type of character they have and so on. And imagination helps us to create these things and it does not matter whether they are true or not, and by doing so we train our English, recollecting all the words that we already know and adding new ones.

As for me, I like to link English to my hobby which is cooking. I am so fond of cooking and I have watched dozens of Youtube cooking videos, especially Jamie Oliver. So what I do is I watch cooking videos, write down or repeat certain words which are essential for my hobby, f.e, grating, boiling, medium heat and so on, and then I go to my kitchen and I imagine that I have my own cooking show and I need to show a recipe to my audience. And if you do this regularly, you will notice soon that every time you cook the food you will start speaking English unconsciously. 

And this method applies almost to everything, just look around and describe everything you see in English, and if the reality is boring, just add a few drops of imagination to colour it up.

The most important thing is to give it a go, to taste it. It will not be ideal for the first time, but it will help you to remove the fear of speaking English, thus improving your vocabulary, speech and boosting your confidence.


That’s all for now,

Stay amazing <3