An Interview with Liss Kerstin Sylvén on her Research on CLIL

This month we published Investigating Content and Language Integrated Learning edited by Liss Kerstin Sylvén. In this post we ask her about her research on Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and the process of putting together an edited volume.

How did you first become interested in studying CLIL?

The first time I ever encountered CLIL (which was at a time when I had never even heard of the concept) was when I substituted as an English teacher at a Swedish upper secondary school, and one of the teachers there told me that they were planning to start using English as the medium of instruction in some non-language subjects. I remember my reaction being a big Why? Why should Swedish teachers, at a Swedish school, with Swedish students use English as the medium of instruction? That was the starting point for my interest in studying effects of CLIL, and very soon after this first encounter with CLIL, I wrote my bachelor thesis on the topic.

Why did you feel this was an important book to write?

There are so many uninformed views on CLIL, and often it is seen as only good or only bad. In other words, many people see it as black or white. What is important with this book is that it describes a unique, longitudinal project which has resulted in a huge number of interesting findings. The most important of them are found in this collection, and together they show that CLIL is far from black or white, but rather represents a number of nuances that need to be taken into account in order to fully understand what CLIL is, can be, and can do, in a certain context.

Why is the Swedish context a particularly interesting one to research? What can policymakers in other countries learn from this example?

Every country is interesting in its own right from the perspective of effects of CLIL. Sweden is interesting not least due to the fact that English is so widespread in society and the level of English proficiency is generally high. An interesting question, then, has been what role CLIL can play in our society. The brief answer is that CLIL can play an important role, but it has to be done in the right circumstances. For instance, teachers need to be sufficiently prepared and trained for CLIL teaching, and focus should be on academic language, rather than the everyday language which students encounter in abundance outside of school. Sweden is also interesting as we have seen a significant increase in the number of students with a non-Swedish background in our schools during the last decades. A pertinent question is if CLIL can help bridge barriers between this group of students and those with a Swedish background.

Policymakers in other countries can tailor decisions based on our findings in the Swedish context that may be relevant for their own context. By reading the volume, they will hopefully become aware of the very important role the local context plays, and that decisions need to be based on them, not on results from contexts different from their own.

As you compiled your book, did anything in the research particularly surprise or intrigue you?

What has surprised me throughout the work with the project, on which the book is based, is how positive everybody involved in CLIL seems to be about using English as the medium of instruction part of the time in school. Students, teachers, administrators – all have a very confident view of CLIL, and this, of course, is highly interesting from an educational viewpoint. With a positive mindset, teaching and learning is definitely facilitated.

Putting together any edited volume is a major undertaking. How did you find the process?

I would lie if I were to say that it was an easy process. It was not! Primarily I think the fact that we are as many as fourteen contributors to this volume, played a role in making it quite complicated at times – who had done what? Who needed a reminder? Who was waiting for feedback? Etc. However, the multitude of viewpoints presented by each and every one of us is, of course, also one of the strengths of this book. And, the support given to me as the editor of the book by Multilingual Matters throughout this entire process has been invaluable. I have learnt so much by working with this volume, knowledge that I do not want to be without!

What advice would you offer to an academic writing or editing their first book?

Make sure that the topic is one that you really, really care about! Find a good publisher who is enthusiastic about the idea! Once there is such a topic and such a publisher, just go for it. Yes, it entails a lot of work, but in the end, it is definitely worth it.

You painted the image on your book cover yourself. Have you been painting for long? What was the inspiration behind this piece?

To answer your first question, I have always painted! Some periods more, some less, but it’s always there as my favorite escape from stress and problems of any kind. When I paint, I think good thoughts, and I often unconsciously come up with new ways of looking at things. The motif for the cover of the book came to me very early on in the process. When I realized we were going to get the book published, I started seeing it as it would look on the bookshelf, and I saw it pretty much as it now looks. I have tried to illustrate the move from seeing CLIL as something that is either black or white, to something full of shades of various colors. I couldn’t have been happier than when you all agreed to actually use it for the cover of the book!

What books – either for work or for pleasure – are you reading at the moment?

For pleasure, I’m reading Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker (absolutely fascinating!), and Michelle Obama’s biography Becoming. For work, I am re-reading Identity and Language Learning by Bonny Norton (Multilingual Matters, 2013), and Miho Inaba’s very recent and interesting book on extramural Japanese, Second Language Literacy Practices and Language Learning Outside the Classroom (Multilingual Matters, 2019) – pure coincidence with two books from Multilingual Matters 🙂

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education edited by Tarja Nikula, Emma Dafouz, Pat Moore and Ute Smit.

Exploring the essence of content and language integration

This month we published Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education edited by Tarja Nikula, Emma Dafouz, Pat Moore and Ute Smit. In this post, the editors explain how the book came together.

Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual EducationThis book is concerned with the educational practice in which a language other than the students’ first language is used as the language of instruction. The main entry point is content and language integrated learning (CLIL), a form of education which has been popular in Europe since the 1990s and is now gaining ground globally. When looking at existing research on CLIL, it is clear that the interest has mainly been directed towards the effects of CLIL on learning, especially on target language learning. In this book, we argue that more attention needs to be paid to content and language integration, which is, after all, a core concern in CLIL. It needs to be better conceptualised and problematised to provide – among the heterogeneity of forms of implementation of CLIL and other types of bi- and multilingual education – guidelines for practitioners to support the simultaneous teaching and learning of content and language.

This book consists of 11 chapters. It is the outcome of a project called Language and content integration: towards a conceptual framework (ConCLIL) based at the University of Jyväskylä, funded by the Academy of Finland, in which researchers from Finland, Austria, Spain, the UK and Canada joined forces to come to a better understanding of integration. The ConCLIL project involved us continuously discussing, debating and exploring what we mean by integration and realising in the process that such discussions often lead to challenging and questioning the often taken-for-granted notions of language, content and their learning. The opportunity for dialogue and collaboration that the project provided through team members’ research visits to Jyväskylä has been highly valuable, and we hope that some of the sense of this dialogue is also reflected in the volume. Our first face-to-face meeting as the ConCLIL team took place in Jyväskylä in February 2012, in our woollen socks due to the -29°C winter coldness outside. Since then, we have read, discussed and commented on each other’s chapters in several meetings and have learned a lot in the process.

Staying warm in the first team meeting. Photo by Pat Moore.
Staying warm in the first team meeting. Photo by Pat Moore.

The main message conveyed by the volume is the need to recognise the complexity of integration both in research and practice and to escape the duality of content and language as separable entities. In other words, integration is not a matter of neat binaries and distinctions but a multi-layered web of influences, something akin to the interlacing woollen threads depicted on the cover of the book. Because of its complexity, integration has implications at various levels of educational practice. In this volume, we focus on three interconnected perspectives, those of a) curriculum and pedagogic planning, b) participant perspectives and c) classroom practices. The first refers to decisions that need to be made on what will be integrated (which subjects), and with what aims, and also to the teachers’ need to have conceptual tools to plan integrated teaching. The second orientation highlights how the realisation of any plan is highly dependent on stakeholders’ beliefs and perceptions. For example, a crucial consideration for both research and practice is how CLIL teachers’ views of their role as content and language teachers are informed by their conceptualisations of language and content. Thirdly, integration is eventually a matter of in-situ classroom practices that entail varied opportunities to address content and language interdependence either implicitly or explicitly. We need more knowledge of such processes to understand integration better and to realise it in pedagogical practice.

It is obvious that the relevance of content and language integration goes well beyond CLIL. It is central in all forms of bi- and multilingual education, whether called immersion, content-based instruction or CLIL. Such contexts where an additional language is used in instruction may highlight the importance of content and language integration, yet is equally relevant for all education because knowledge construction and display are always both content and language matters.

CLIL in Higher EducationFor further information on this book, please see our website. You might also be interested in our other volume on this topic, CLIL in Higher Education by Inmaculada Fortanet-Gómez.