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Teaching non-language courses in a foreign language improves language learning
05 October 2011
University of Gothenburg
Students who in addition to their traditional German language courses are taught other courses in German end up with both a stronger vocabulary and a better communicative ability, according to a new doctoral thesis in German from the University of Gothenburg.
The increasing globalisation has led to a focus in school curriculums on communicative ability, a type of ability that can be improved in many ways. Most researchers agree that there is a strong link between the input students of a foreign language receive and their language production. It is also generally perceived that an authentic content helps boost students’ motivation, which indirectly may facilitate language learning.
CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a method that is based on these principles. Karmen Terlević Johansson has studied how lower secondary students’ spoken German is developed when the subjects religion, civics, geography and history are taught in German too.
She assessed students’ vocabulary by having them tell a story based on the pictures in a well-known picture book and observing which communication strategies they implemented, for example when they could not think of the right word to use. She also analysed the students’ spoken English to see whether CLIL may have an indirect positive effect on their English skills as well.
‘The study points to a clear advantage for the CLIL students in all assessed aspects of vocabulary and communication strategies. They produced both longer and more varied stories than the students who were given only traditional German courses. One particularly strong finding was that the CLIL group ended up more homogenous in the sense that the differences between high- and low-performing students were smaller,’ says Terlević Johansson.
Her analysis of vocabulary frequency showed that CLIL students more commonly used functional words such as pronouns and conjunctions (an indication of more advanced language skills). They also replaced frequently used words with less frequently used words faster. These results were found for spoken English as well, suggesting that SPRINT in one language has positive effects also in other languages.
The most obvious differences were found in the students’ use of communicative strategies, where the CLIL students to a much greater extent implemented strategies based on their German skills. In contrast, the control group generally relied on strategies based on their native language Swedish, which means that they were less creative and less successful when communicating in German.
‘My results suggest that CLIL facilitates verbal communication skills in a second foreign language regardless of student type, including low-performers. The method seems to effectively tackle the increasing demand – in school and in society at large – for communicative ability in foreign languages other than English,’ says Terlević Johansson.