Presentation at EUROSLA 24

Below find an extended summary of the talk that my colleague Thomas Wagner and I gave at the EUROSLA24 conference in York in September 2014. The summary is followed by a link to the most important slides.

Language growth in non-elitist CLIL

Content and language integrated learning seeks to, by definition, foster language learning (Dalton-Puffer 2011). This demands a clear focus on vocabulary acquisition/learning and vocabulary growth. CLIL proponents have repeatedly pointed out that such growth can be expected to happen as part of an immersive or incidental language learning methodology (Perez-Canado 2011). However, there seem to be three challenges to such a view. First, positive evidence for linguistic growth appears to be mostly restricted to selective and elitist environments (Bruton 2011, Coyle, Hood & Marsh 2010, Dalton-Puffer 2011). Second, there is a growing body of evidence on the rather limited effect of incidental vocabulary growth in instructed settings (Laufer & Nation 2012, Nation 2011, Rebuschat 2013). Thirdly, there seems to be a shortage of data driven longitudinal research on vocabulary growth in CLIL.

This explorative study tries to address this problem by reporting findings from a study on receptive vocabulary growth in non-elitist CLIL classrooms as compared to mainstream English as a foreign language classes in Austrian lower secondary schools. Firstly, a repeated-measure-design with experimental and control groups assessed vocabulary growth by means of a standardized orthographic vocabulary size test (X_Lex_Swansea_Levels_Test; Meara & Milton, 2003). Secondly, questionnaire data explored context variables, and thirdly CLIL teachers’ linguistic input was analysed through a vocabulary profiler software based on the New General Service List: NGSL (Cobb, 2014).

Surprisingly, the results of the quantitative data reveal a rather unexpected behaviour of the experimental group. The only significant CLIL effect materialises within the 1K band of both  X_Lex and NGSL for lower achievers. Apparently, these results contradict to some extent the general enthusiasm about CLIL and vocabulary growth because, when we modelled three levels of achievers, in our data, only weaker students benefitted in terms of basic receptive vocabulary. Astoundingly, of all three levels of achievement, the high achievers performed worst.

The analysis of teachers’ input indicates a redundancy of high-frequency words in the instructions. And although this might seem pedagogically justified with respect to the entrenchment of basic vocabulary (Ellis 2013), advanced word learning through rich input is not very likely to materialise.

As far as didactic implications are concerned, our data point towards a possible threshold-effect for CLIL’s linguistic capital (Rigney 2010, Sundquist 2009, Sylven & Sundquist 2012, Zydatiß 2012). In other words, language baths or language flooding might be insufficient when catering for pupils in non-elitist CLIL settings, in particular with respect to high and low achievers. One way of compensating for such threshold effects could be complementing incidental language learning by deliberate and form focused vocabulary instruction (Loewen 2011, Milton 2009, Nation 2011).

Blog_Language Growth


Coyle, D., Hood , P., & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL: Content an d language integrated learning. Cambridge: CUP.

Dalton-Puffer, C. (2011). “Content-and-Language Integrated Learning: From Practice to Principles.” Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 31, pp. 182-204.

Llinares, A., Morton, T., & Whittaker, R. (2012). The Roles of Language in CLIL. Cambridge: CUP.

Laufer, B., & Nation, I. (2012). “Vocabulary”. In S. M. Gass, & A. Mackey, The Routlegde Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. Oxon: Routledge.

Nation, I. (2011). “Second Language Speaking”. In E. Hinkel (Ed.), Handbook of Research in Second Language Teaching and Learning, Vol. II. London: Routledge, pp. 443-454.

Rebuschat, P. (2013). “Implicit learning”. In P. Robinson, The Routledge Encyclopaedia of Second Languge Acquisition. London: Routledge, pp. 298-302.

Meara, P., & Milton, J. (2003). X-Lex, the Swansea Levels Test. Newbury: Express.

Rigney, D. (2010). The Matthew Effect: How Advantage Begets Further Advantage. New York Chichester: Columbia University Press.

Sundquist, P. (2009). Extramural English Matters. Karlstad: Karlstad University Studies.

Sylven, L., & Sundquist, P. (2012). “Similarities between Playing World of Warcraft and CLIL.” Apples-Journal of Applied Sciences, 6, 2, pp. 113-130.

Zydatiß, W. (2012). “Linguistic Thresholds in the CLIL Classroom? The Threshold Hypothesis Revisited.” International CLIL Research Journal, 1, 4, pp. 17-28.

Loewen, S. (2011). “Focus on Form”. In E. Hinkel, Handbook of Research In Second Language Teaching and Learning, Vol. 2. New York: Routledge, pp. 576-592.

Milton, J. (2009). Measuring Second Language Vocabulary Acquisition. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.


About erwingierlinger

I am a senior teacher educator for English as a foreign language at the University of Education of Upper-Austria in Austria
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