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Teaching tips - The possibility of applying CLIL principles in a South African context

As busy teachers it is easy to get stuck in a rut. Our Teaching Tips are aimed at those of you who are teaching and are looking for some new ideas or activities to use in your classes. Our teaching tips will feature in the Language Teacher Education (LTE) newsletter and will be posted on the Teacher’s Resources page on the Wits Language School website.
If you have any teaching tips or ideas that you would like to share with us, or questions please send them to Bill at bill.farquharson@wits.ac.za

The Possibility of applying CLIL principles in a South African context

By Anne de Wit
26 November 2013

What is CLIL?

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) focuses on the teaching of curricular subjects in a language other than the students’ mother tongue. In South Africa less than 10% of our population speaks English as their mother tongue, yet the majority of students have to complete their schooling in English. Apart from English and Afrikaans speakers – who can complete their schooling in their mother tongue – 77% of our students write their final school exams in their second or third language, namely English. Quite often the assumption exists that only the English teachers are responsible for helping students develop their language ability, but all subject teachers need to realise that they have a vital role to play when it comes to language development.

Why CLIL in South Africa?

The CLIL approach might offer some advice to subject teachers on how they can help to address the current language situation in their classes. This methodology is similar to language immersion and content-based instruction where content is learned through an additional language or where English is the medium of instruction. This approach has been implemented and used successfully in a number of European school systems to provide students with more exposure to English without requiring extra time in the curriculum and offering effective opportunities for students to use language skills. Subject specialists thus need to find a balance between subject content and the language that their students need in order to understand the content and express their understanding effectively. Knowledge of the language becomes the means of learning content.  

The four principles of CLIL

The CLIL concept is based on four principles/pillars of learning known as the 4Cs, namely: Communication, Cognition, Culture and Content. Learning is improved through the study of natural language in context and by looking at language in real-life situations. CLIL is based on language acquisition rather than enforced learning, but it assumes that subject teachers are able to exploit opportunities for language learning. The use of reading texts is encouraged to help students notice language while reading, especially lexis and language related to the subject. The CLIL approach looks at how subject teachers can plan their lessons and adapt their materials to show greater awareness of their students’ language development. By using a variety of visual aids, activity types, scaffolding, consolidation strategies, support strategies and assessment types, subject teachers can help to support their students in a practical way.


There are a lot of valuable principles from the CLIL methodology that can be used effectively in the South African teaching context. It will, however, require some additional training for in-service teachers and a greater awareness on behalf of all subject teachers to acknowledge that our students’ language competency needs to be developed across the curriculum and that it is everyone’s responsibility to help!