BECOME A MEMBER! Sign up for TIE services now and start your international school career


Content and Language Integrated Learning: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Best

By Scott Eder
Content and Language Integrated Learning: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Best

As traditional language instruction evolves, innovative methodologies like Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) have taken center stage. This cutting-edge approach integrates subject content teaching with language learning in a symbiotic fashion. While CLIL offers significant benefits for language acquisition and content mastery, it also poses unique challenges that educators must carefully consider. Let’s explore the key advantages and potential drawbacks of CLIL and discuss best practices for striking the right balance to maximize its effectiveness.

The Good: The Advantages of CLIL

One of the most compelling benefits of CLIL is its ability to foster enhanced language proficiency. Adrian and Mangado (2015) explain that by immersing students in subject content delivered in their target language, CLIL encourages them to engage in natural and meaningful language production. Rather than relying solely on rote memorization and contrived examples, CLIL prompts students to actively apply language skills within real-world academic contexts. This not only strengthens communicative language development but also promotes critical thinking and cognitive engagement as students grapple with complex, high-level subject matter. Cenoz and Gorter (2013) note that CLIL students must explore the link between language use and lexical richness, accuracy, and syntactic complexity when expressing subject-specific concepts and ideas. In this way, CLIL offers the twin benefits of building both content knowledge and higher-order cognitive abilities.

Additional advantages of CLIL include increased motivation and engagement. Learning subject content through a target language can feel inherently more purpose-driven and meaningful for students. This sparks interest and investment as academics become a vehicle for real-world language application. Enhanced motivation coupled with compelling content enables students to push past the frustration barrier that often hinders language acquisition. CLIL students demonstrate increased confidence and willingness to take linguistic risks, critical factors for language growth. Beyond these cognitive and motivational benefits, CLIL also encourages exposure to diverse intercultural perspectives, helping develop valued global competencies.

The Bad: Potential Challenges of CLIL

However, while the benefits are substantial, successfully implementing CLIL requires recognizing and proactively addressing its potential drawbacks. A primary concern is the inherent difficulty of learning subject content through a non-native language. As Douglas (2013) points out, the intricacy of linguistic nuances and syntactic complexity can impede language acquisition for CLIL students. Without adequate scaffolding and support, the language demands of the content can overwhelm learners, resulting in cognitive overload that undermines both content and language learning. Careful assessment and responsiveness are necessary to ensure students receive appropriate language support. Without this, CLIL risks hindering the very language development it seeks to promote.

The Ugly: Further Challenges are Substantial

The first of these challenges relates to teacher preparation and resources. Dafouz and Hibler (2016) underscore that equipping teachers with the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively implement CLIL is imperative for its success. Quality CLIL instruction requires specialized pedagogical strategies that balance language and content acquisition. Teachers must master techniques like scaffolding, differentiation, and formative assessment within an integrated CLIL framework. Lack of training leaves teachers ill-equipped to provide optimal CLIL instruction, compromising student outcomes. Ongoing professional development and resource support is vital for success.

A final consideration is the risk of overemphasizing subject content while neglecting language learning. As Cenoz and Gorter (2015) caution, a balanced approach is crucial to ensure that CLIL learners develop both subject knowledge and language skills. Curriculum and activities must be thoughtfully designed to seamlessly integrate both elements. Language development cannot be viewed as an incidental by-product of content learning. Opportunities for purposeful language practice and production must be woven throughout lessons to allow CLIL to fulfill its dual mission.

The Best: Ideas for an Optimal CLIL Approach

CLIL can be an incredibly enriching and empowering instructional model. However,  achieving meaningful outcomes requires commitment to practices that strike the right equilibrium between language and content.

Here are a few approaches to an optimized CLIL delivery:

  • Provide extensive scaffolding and language support embedded within lessons to aid comprehension and participation. Well-designed graphic organizers, sentence frames, word banks, visuals, and classroom language routines are essential.

  • Foster opportunities for purposeful language production through CLIL activities. Well-structured collaborative tasks, discussions, presentations, and writing assignments allow learners to use language as a tool for constructing and communicating meaning.

  • Utilize formative assessments to pinpoint ongoing language demands and comprehension gaps. Respond with differentiation and mini lessons to provide targeted language instruction and reinforcement.

  • Ensure language learning objectives are consistently emphasized, not just content goals. Language outcomes should be intentionally built into CLIL planning and assessment.

  • Promote metalinguistic awareness through comparative analysis of linguistic features in multiple languages. Explicitly teach learning strategies that leverage cross-lingual transfer.

  • Provide extensive CLIL-focused training and collaboration opportunities to continually develop teacher capacity and effectiveness.

When thoughtfully implemented using these best practices, CLIL provides remarkable benefits that far outweigh the challenges. It empowers students to leverage language as an instrument for active learning, critical thinking, and academic rigor. While finding the right formula requires care and effort, CLIL ultimately offers a profoundly enriching educational experience.



DAFOUZ, E., & HIBLER, A. (2013). “Zip Your Lips” or “Keep Quiet”: Main Teachers’ and Language Assistants’ Classroom Discourse in CLIL Settings. The Modern Language Journal, 97(3), 655–669.

CENOZ, J., & GORTER, D. (2013). Towards a Plurilingual Approach in English Language Teaching: Softening the Boundaries Between Languages. TESOL Quarterly, 47(3), 591–599.

LOZANO, V. M. B., & STROTMANN, B. (2015). Internationalizing Higher Education: Language Matters. TESOL Quarterly, 49(4), 847–857.

Douglas, M. O. (2017). Assessing the Effectiveness of Content-Based Language Instruction (CBLI) in Japanese at the College Advanced Level. Japanese Language and Literature, 51(2), 199–241.

Adrián, M. M., & Mangado, M. J. G. (2015). Li Use, Lexical Richness, Accuracy and Syntactic Complexity in the Oral Production of CLIL and NON-CLIL Learners of English / Uso de la Li, riqueza léxica, precisión y complejidad sintáctica en la producción oral de aprendices de inglés en contextos AICLE y NO-AICLE. Atlantis, 37(2), 175–197.

Accurso, K. (2017) Exploiting the language of science: Teaching informational texts across grade levels | Kathryn Accurso - pp. 2-16

Spycher, P. (2017) Scaffolding Writing through the Teaching and Learning Cycle ( pp. 1-16


Scott Eder is an English as an Additional Language teacher at Yew Chung International School (YCIS) in Hong Kong.

Please fill out the form below if you would like to post a comment on this article:


02/17/2024 - Sandra Gruhle
I am still in awe of what my students have accomplished. I know you are a great teacher and are very effective.

Were you here last summer? If so, I’m sorry we didn’t connect. Keep doing great work, because excellent teachers are needed everywhere. I would, however, have liked to catch up.
02/15/2024 - Sandra Gruhle
I am still in awe of what my students have accomplished. I know you are a great teacher and are very effective.

Were you here last summer? If so, I’m sorry we didn’t connect. Keep doing great work, because excellent teachers are needed everywhere. I would, however, have liked to catch up.