Content and language integrated learning (CLIL)


Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) was originally defined as a pedagogical approach with a dual focus, involving the integration of (second/foreign/target) language study with the study of a subject domain instructed in that language. However, there are many other definitions and terms, with over 40 in use in Europe alone (see e.g., all referring to some kind of an approach where both content learning and language learning are being promoted. Nevertheless, because CLIL has become a relatively established term in European primary and secondary education, and also suggested for higher education (HE), the term will be used here as an umbrella term for all those HE approaches in which some form of specific and academic language support is offered to students in order to facilitate their learning of the content through that language. These approaches vary on a continuum of discipline‐specific and pre‐content support to full integration of language and content.

CLIL in the European Higher Education Area

At present, CLIL‐type approaches are frequently becoming adopted in European higher education in the fields of law, business, economics, engineering, medicine and humanities. Predominantly they appear at MA level, often as degree programmes which are either fully delivered in a foreign/target language (most frequently English) or contain extensive modules delivered in the target language. At BA and postgraduate levels, students may take ‘content’ modules or individual lectures in a foreign language. Language support is delivered both as direct contact teaching and using blended approaches with e‐learning methodology / distance‐learning. The number and distribution of hours, as well as the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS) credits allocated differ with each higher education institution and the CLIL variety adopted. Language for specific purposes (LSP) / language for academic purposes (LAP) practices are more common than fully integrated approaches. The ‘content’ courses, are usually taught by either a native or non‐native speaker of the target language, and collaboration between the ‘content’ teacher and the language teacher is quite rare. Some institutions have developed CLIL practices whereby specific LSP/LAP courses are offered as pre‐sessional modules to students before they enrol in their subject studies. Closer content and language integration, with the language support coinciding with what is required in the subject studies is also practised successfully. These models involve full collaboration between language specialists and subject specialists, either in the form of joint planning or team teaching.

Knowledge, understanding and skills (competences)

Having completed a higher education programme (first or second cycle) in a CLIL context, students should have acquired:

  • multilingual competence in the field-specific and professional domain to include knowledge and understanding of how information is managed, conceptualised, and communicated in the target languages/L2s in the field-specific academic and professional domain and the role of research in contributing to the body of knowledge in the field
  • understanding of the national and international dimension of the professions in the field, including cultural differences and their own cultural, academic and professional presuppositions and representations, not least how these are manifested in the target languages/L2s
  • knowledge and understanding of how multilingual and multicultural professional teams, networks and communities operate in both face-to-face and virtual contexts and which interpersonal and intercultural skills, linguistic and non-linguistic, are required
  • awareness, knowledge and understanding of communication conventions in the field and profession in the target languages/L2s, e.g. genre, discourse and register conventions, as well as sensitivity to appropriate language use in academic, professional and social contexts
  • understanding of the importance of continuously developing one’s own professional expertise through multilingual and multicultural sources and experiences, including ICT-enhanced environments

Students who have acquired such knowledge and understanding will be expected to demonstrate the capacity for:

  • receptive and productive skills necessary to access, process and critically evaluate information in the field of study, to share information, and to identify, analyse and solve problems in multiprofessional settings of the field
  • mediation between languages and cultures in social and in professional settings, including effective translanguaging (code‐switching, intercomprehension strategies, mediation), intercultural awareness and negotiation of meaning needed in domain-specific professional multilingual and multicultural environments (multiliteracy)
  • professional and interpersonal communication in the target languages/L2s in order to function and interact in specific and interdisciplinary contexts, teams, networks and communities, as well as in social contexts
  • using oral and written communication in target languages/L2s appropriately in the specific academic field and in professional and social contexts, including communicating their expertise to different audiences
  • awareness and ability to apply appropriate metacognitive skills and strategies needed for self‐directed and integrated content and language learning on a lifelong basis

Teaching, learning and assessment

Instruction in a foreign language is practised for a number of reasons:

  • to attract national and international students, i.e. positioning of higher education institution within the national and international context
  • to enhance the institutional profile
  • to promote plurilingualism: social, citizenship, intercultural competence, employability
  • to develop in graduates the necessary competitive edge
  • to open new possibilities on the job market, i.e. enhance employability
  • to raise money, i.e. financial issues
  • to develop economic and cultural collaboration with other countries through Governmental Agreements
  • to promote future academic/ research/ professional networking
  • to develop intercultural expertise
  • to develop the European dimension

Teaching and learning

As CLIL requires new kinds of collaboration between subject specialists and language specialists it is important to acknowledge that new kinds of pedagogical practices are also required and that interdisciplinary meanings have to be negotiated for the role of language in knowledge construction and sharing. In principle, the language learning outcomes in CLIL are considered from a functional and communicative viewpoint, which is in line with the descriptors of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF). This implies interactive pedagogical approaches and carefully designed learning tasks, as well as institutional support systems for both students and teachers.

Sometimes this type of instruction (unless properly planned out) instead of fulfilling its aims will only put pressure on both students and staff and will result in dissatisfaction and ultimately, unfulfilled aims. Varieties of CLIL are currently being delivered both as direct contact hours and using blended approaches with e‐learning methodology/distance‐learning. The different pedagogical approaches to CLIL are outlined in the table below. Partial CLIL may rely on a native or non native speaker of the L2 to deliver content based courses. The focus is usually not on language enhancement and there may be little awareness that a number of communication problems could be avoided if language were properly considered. Language support may also be offered to students before they enrol in the subject courses or there may be distinct language for specific purposes/language for academic purposes courses that are coordinated with the subject specialist. However learning outcomes are mainly assessed separately and a clear distinction is made between language mastery and subject mastery. The more integrated approaches, namely adjunct CLIL and dual focus CLIL then involve (full) coordination between language specialists and subject specialists, either in the form of joint planning or team teaching. Learning outcomes and criteria are specified for both language and content. There might also be a distribution of credits (ECTS or other types) in assessment.

The table below outlines the ways in which CLIL is currently integrated into the curriculum. Note: this is most commonly at Masters level



based LT
(language – LAP focus)
(content – focus in L2)
Main aim(s) Language mastery and typically also study skills (LAP) mastery ;
explicit L2 aims.
Language and study skills mastery, tailored for future content learning, i.e. pre-sessional course;
explicit L2 aims.
Content mastery;
L2 learning incidental – language aims not specified, but often implicit L2 learning aims.
Content mastery and L2 learning; tailored, adjunct L2 instruction to support content learning outcomes;
explicit L2 aims.
Content mastery and L2 learning; dual focus and integrated and specified aims for both.
Target group Non-native learners Non-native learners Any group, both native and non-native learners Mixed group, but L2 adjunct courses more aimed at non-native learners Typically non-native learners
Main actor(s) Language specialist Language specialist, often in co-operation with subject specialists Subject specialist Subject specialist and language specialist in collaboration; i.e. two teachers Subject specialist alone or teaming with a language specialist




Language teaching and LSP approaches, with an additional focus on LAP.
Tailored learning tasks.



Study skills teaching and LAP approaches, with an additional focus on LSP.
Tailored learning tasks.



Often lecture-type, focus on
transmission of knowledge, expert-centred.
Approach depends on what is typical of the discipline or preferred by teacher.


Lecture-type or learner-centred; L2 adjunct courses constructed in collaboration between language and content specialist to promote skills needed for content mastery.


Multi-modal, interactive and learner-centred approaches which systematically support both content and L2 learning aims.


Main view of language (L) L as subject and mediator. L as subject and mediator. L as tool. L as mediator. Multiple views of L.
Learning outcomes expected LSP competence: functional, professional language and communication competence in the disciplinary field and in general.

LAP competence for the purposes of the discipline.

LAP competence for the purposes of the discipline.

LSP competence: functional, professional language and communication competence in the disciplinary field and in general.

As in content instruction. Language learning dependent on the pedagogical approach and on learner’s own motivation, initiative and autonomy.
Lack of awareness of the role of language is typical.
As in content instruction, but with a clear awareness of the role of language, i.e. partially integrated content and language competence. Focus of L2 adjunct instruction is on production and interactive skills. Integrated content and language competence. Both developed systematically through tailored learning tasks; main emphasis in L2 development is on production and interactive skills. Full awareness of L.
Assessment Language and communication skills assessment forms according to set criteria. Language and communication skills assessment forms according to LAP criteria. Content mastery assessed in whatever way is typical; language learning not assessed apart from possible self-assessment. Each teacher assesses his/her share; often joint assessment criteria and multiple forms; credits given for both. Assessment of content and language according to aims set; often continuous and multiple forms of assessment.

Table adapted from Räsänen, A. (1999). Teaching and learning through a foreign language in tertiary settings, in Tella, S., Räsänen, A. & Vähäpassi, A. (eds). From Tool to Empowering Mediator. An evaluation of 15 Finnish polytechnic and university level programmes, with a special view to language and communications. Publications of Higher Education Evaluation Council: 5. Helsinki: Edita.


All forms of assessment are used in European CLIL varieties: formative assessment (project‐based, continuous individual or class work), summative assessment (oral and written exams), self‐assessment and peer‐assessment, with the latter two generally appearing in combination with the former two. Depending on the CLIL variety, assessment ranges from individual / separate assessment of language and content to joint / team assessment where there are jointly agreed language and content criteria used by the assessors. In the former situation the student will receive two grades (with the respective ECTS credits), whereas in the latter the assessment often results in one joint grade (with the respective ECTS credits). Ideally, the progress of students is also monitored and considered in the evaluation. In any case, the assessment procedure needs to incorporate both language and content focused components, as the student is expected to develop subject competence as well as language / communicative competence during their CLIL programme. (See also table above).