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February 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 1

ISSN 1755-9715

Fears and Worries of Future CLIL Teachers: Methodology Course Design

Ian Michael Robinson is a Researcher at the University of Calabria in Italy. He holds an MA in Applied Linguistics from the University of Leicester. He has taught in many different places, including Greece, Japan and the UK, as well as in Italy. He has been involved in teacher training for many years and is especially concerned in CLIL training. Email:



CLIL is becoming increasingly important around the world, but it is not uniform in the manner in which it is implemented. This means that the teachers involved in CLIL face different problems depending on the context and have to be trained accordingly. This paper briefly looks at CLIL in state school secondary education in Italy and how the teachers are prepared for it. Specifically, the paper investigates a group of teachers on a CLIL methodology course and their fears and worries about doing CLIL. The paper concentrates on how the teacher trainer tries to adapt the course to the needs of the group. Two questionnaires were used in this study. An end-of-course questionnaire was used to evaluate whether these future CLIL teachers felt that the course had managed to quell their fears and to see what worries the teachers still had. It is hoped that this paper will be useful for all those involved in CLIL and especially in preparation for CLIL, as it is important that these future CLIL teachers have the best training possible and that they feel they are ready for the arduous task ahead. The paper calls on the local institutions to support these teachers in their CLIL lives so that there is a greater possibility of success.

Keywords: CLIL, teacher training, Italian secondary education.



Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) courses are being introduced into Italian High schools after a 2010 decision taken by the Italian Ministry of Education (MIUR) (MIUR, 2010a; MIUR, 2010b). These courses follow the line of the so-called “Hard” CLIL, which means that the specialized content teachers will teach their subject in another language, as opposed to “Soft” CLIL in which the language teacher teaches the specific subject. To ensure that there are enough teachers trained in CLIL methodology and with the necessary linguistic competencies, the MIUR is organizing language courses to be held in schools and methodology courses to be held in Italian universities. Teachers who have a certified C1 level in the required L2 (usually, but not always, English) and have passed the methodological course are awarded a CLIL Certificate. This certificate allows them to teach CLIL courses in schools.

There is no standard curriculum for the CLIL methodological courses. The MIUR provides a basic format to the course and allows the universities involved to design their own course. The course is 20 CFU (Crediti formativi universitari – University Credits) and in Italy each credit is 25 hours of work. This is divided up between autonomous study and work in the classroom. There are credits for the final exam and credits for practical experience. The individual universities involved can decide how these credits are divided among the various parts.

CLIL is not uniform throughout Europe. In Spain, for example, CLIL is offered but it is not obligatory for all; the students can choose to do it or not. In Germany, some schools offer CLIL while others do not. This again means that students, or parents, can decide as to whether they are interested in subjects being taught using CLIL methodologies or not. In Italy it is obligatory for all. It was first introduced in the last year of high school, then in the penultimate year and will include the middle of the five years as well. This means that these future CLIL teachers could very well find themselves in classrooms with students who are not interested in CLIL lessons, with some students who do not have the L2 skills to profit from CLIL lessons, while still having to carry out the full ministerial programme for their subject. This, along with the difficulties involved in applying CLIL methodologies and teaching in an L2, can all add up to these teachers having fears and worries concerning their new task.

This paper regards a CLIL methodological course run in an Italian state university in the south of Italy. A questionnaire was used to discover what worried the future CLIL teachers before they did the course. At the end of the course another questionnaire was administered to them to gauge how much the course had gone to assuaging these worries.  The second questionnaire was also used to elicit what worries they had concerning their future job of teaching using CLIL methodologies.

This paper reports on the worries these future CLIL teachers had and discusses how the course was designed to help overcome them.


The study

All the fifteen teachers involved were experienced teachers in their own subject, some with only a few years teaching experience, while others had almost twenty years’ experience. The subjects ranged from the sciences to philosophy. The teachers had to have a B2 level in the L2 of choice. This language level could be achieved through previous studies (with an appropriate acceptable certificate) or through the language lessons officially organized through the schools, in which case the fact of having completed the B2 language course gave these future CLIL teachers access to the methodology course. These teachers in the catchment area for the University of Calabria, where this study was carried out, had all chosen English as the language they would use for their CLIL course and so the methodology course was also conducted entirely in English. This was done so as to give these teachers more practice in using English and also to help encourage them in the belief that a course can be taught in the students’ L2.

The general outline for the course with some notes of possible content headings was set out by the University Language Centre. This was an important part in the application stage when the language centres that wanted to hold courses had to reply to a request by the Italian Education Ministry. The application of this general outline was left up to the individual teachers, in concordance with the language centre. This meant that the course could be adapted ad hoc to meet the needs of the future CLIL teachers/students on this methodological course. This flexibility was used to help tailor the course to address the worries of these students. The author of this article was a teacher involved in one of these courses held at the language centre of the university.



A questionnaire was administered to the fifteen students of the course to find what fears and worries they had had before starting the course. Their answers were codified into similar responses. These responses fell into two distinct categories: linguistic and methodological. During the course the teacher tried to address these responses and help the students overcome their fears and worries.

A second short questionnaire was administered at the end of the course and involved just three questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how much have your original fears and worries been removed?;
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you in your CLIL abilities now? (1 = not at all, 10=completely);
  • What worries do you now have about implementing CLIL?


Results and discussion

Answers to the pre-course questionnaire can be divided into methodological fears and worries and linguistic ones. The methodological answers can be summarized as below (the numbers in brackets refer to how many teachers gave a similar reply), using the students’ own words where possible:

Do I have the methodological skills for teaching my content using English (4)?

How to apply the methodology

Having few ideas for preparing activities

Not having the material


1 The linguistic fears and worries are

  • Do I have the language skills for teaching in English (8)?
  • Capacity of spoken English (2)
  • Don’t respect grammar rules (2)
  • Not having the appropriate micro language (2)
  • Using the English language
  • Fear of speaking another language in front of the students
  • I need to improve my English grammar

The next part of this article examines how the course was organized and adapted so as to give as much help to the future CLIL teachers as possible and to prepare them for their work.


2 Methodological worries

1 Do I have the methodological skills for teaching my content using English?

As Coyle et al (2010) state, it is necessary to have a vison of what CLIL is and what it is not. This is the starting point to help overcome the first of the teachers’ worries.

To help allay this worry the course started by describing CLIL. Students were first asked to form their definition of CLIL. The different groups compared definitions. Videos from the internet were then introduced to help define CLIL and new definitions were then written by the students. After the students had attempted to give their own description of what CLIL is, we used Coyle et al’s (2010, 3) description:

CLIL is an educational approach in which various language-supportive methodologies are used which lead to a dual-focused form of instruction where attention is given both to the language and the content.

This is necessary as it means that everyone understands the concept and the related methodology. The definition above refers to ‘methodologies’, expressing the idea that CLIL is not one fixed idea, but rather relies on many different methods to arrive at the same goal. It can change from context to context.

As much as possible a CLIL approach was used to teach CLIL methodology. As in all CLIL lessons it is important to see the students as a resource with prior knowledge, capacity to research and ability to use critical thinking skills. All the teachers on these courses have experience of teaching the subject they are specialised in and of language teaching (although as the recipient of this teaching as language learners).

It was necessary to explain what CLIL is not: it is not immersion, it is not bilingual education, it is not English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). The difference between CLIL and these is that there must be the focus on language, a focus on the L2. The other approaches use English but do not focus on the language aspects. Rather, they expect the students to be able to use and understand English. CLIL asks the teachers to reflect on the difficulties that the students will have in understanding the language used in the lesson as well as their difficulty with the content.

A lot of CLIL methodology can be seen as very similar to that which occurs in much of modern language teaching. Thanks to the economic and strategic importance of English as a foreign language there has been an enormous amount of research into how to teach it well. This pedagogical research is now trickling into other subjects, the skills learnt in language teaching help form the basis for CLIL (with adjuncts from general pedagogy). Indeed, it can be argued that a CLIL content subject class and a topic-based language lesson, or many normal EFL or ESP (English for Specific Purposes) lessons, could start in a similar way. It is at the end that the focus changes. The CLIL teacher must finish by concentrating on the content, whereas the language teacher wants to ensure that the language elements of the lesson have been leant. This form below attempts to depict

how the lessons differentiate. The trunk of the tree is the part where the language lesson and the content lesson are similar. In this phase the teacher is activating prior knowledge, revising, preparing for what will come next in terms of language problems (maybe introducing new vocabulary). The students could even have similar input (written text, listening, multimedia, discussion). The end of the lesson diverges: the CLIL lesson must concentrate on the content to be learnt while the language lesson must concentrate on the language.

Ball et al (2015) suggest that all teaching requires language and all language teaching requires content, and so the two are inextricably linked. However, for these future CLIL teachers the attention paid to language is a fundamental change. Many content teachers pay scant attention to the language they use, figuring that they are speaking the language of the students and so they will be understood. This means they concentrate on the students’ ability to understand the content and not the language used to explain that content. This approach is slowly changing.

To help these future CLIL teachers understand that they already know how to focus on language content, EFL course books were brought in for them to examine. The students were encouraged to identify language learning tasks that could be adapted for use in their CLIL lessons. Past experiences of effective language teaching tasks and strategies were also discussed in groups and plenary sessions.

These exercises are designed to give the teachers an arsenal of exercises that they can use. By reflecting on their own experiences and seeing what they are already doing that falls within a CLIL idea, the teachers should begin to realise that they can do CLIL, they have the methodological skills.


3 Do I have the material?

A worry that the teachers have concerns the material needed to do their course in English using CLIL methods. There are some resources available on the internet and in printed format but these are not always pertinent to the specific programme required, or the level. The teachers were encouraged to find material, share material and try to create a network of teachers who can help each other. However, a lot of work was done to help them produce their own material. Indeed, the final test consists of the teachers presenting and explaining a didactic unit that they have produced for CLIL lessons. This was envisaged to ensure that they can be self-sufficient in their resources and that they can practically demonstrate to have understood what CLIL means and how to implement it.

To help the future CLIL teachers construct their CLIL lessons, time was spent during the lessons discussing LOTS (lower order thinking skills), HOTS (higher order thinking skills) CALPS (Basic interpersonal communicative skills), BICS (Basic interpersonal communicative skills), the 4 Cs of CLIL (Content – subject matter; Communication – language learning and using; Cognition – learning and thinking processes; Culture – developing intercultural understanding and global citizenship) set within the fifth C of CLIL – Context. The teachers were also introduced (or for some of them, re-introduced) to concepts such as Gardner’s idea of multiple intelligences, Bloom’s taxonomy of learning and teaching, scaffolding and different methodologies and approaches used in EFL.


4 Choosing the language

The questionnaire showed that these future CLIL teachers were worried about their own skills in the L2 of choice, in this case English. All the teachers have had to demonstrate, at least on paper, a B2 level to be able to do the methodological course. However, a lot of them are still worried about their non-perfect use of this L2. Kachru’s (1982, 1985) concentric circles of English use in the world demonstrate that native speaker use of English is not the most important form of English communication and that people in the expanding circle, those who use English as a foreign language, are very important. This idea connected to the ideas of World Englishes and English as a Lingua Franca helps give validity to the use of English by these teachers. If the only type of English that is valid is that used by native speakers, then anything else lacks validity. These teachers are obviously worried about being seen as role models for English when they perceive their English ability to be imperfect. Removing the idea of the sovereignty of the native speaker who everybody should seek to emulate and showing the world-wide influence of other types of English should, it is hoped, help give confidence to these CLIL teachers.

The use of English as the medium of instruction and communication in the CLIL course was also designed to give the students more practice in using this language and, therefore, it was hoped that they would become less anxious about its future use in their classrooms. The course also tried to emphasise the idea that in a CLIL classroom the teacher should try to bring in other voices and other experts. This can be done by the use of multimedia. There is a lot of material that can be gathered from the internet. Use of tools such as YouTube should be encouraged as this allows another person, another voice other than that of the teacher’s, to be heard. Video clips, audio recordings, DVDs can all help reduce the pressure on the teacher of having to use the L2. Another valuable resource within the class are the students. CLIL encourages the lessons to be more student centred and to allow the students to take on a more active role. In a flipped classroom scenario, the students become the teachers of a certain part of the programme. This gives the onus of using the L2 to the students rather than having a more traditional style lesson in which the teacher provides all the input and does a lot of talking. The CLIL classroom can also be the stage where the game of CLIL is played out. One of the artificial rules of this game is that all those involved try to do their best to use the L2, students and teacher alike. The people involved all realise that they could use the L1, but need to understand that there is now a contract to play the CLIL game and that this means using the L2. It becomes a collaboration.

The CLIL teachers were also introduced to the idea of interlanguage (Selinker, 1972). In this the level of the L2 is seen as going through various stages, for each of which the language user is applying the rules that he or she has internalized at that particular time. This gives us a different perspective on the idea of whether the language is correct or not. It is a level of language that that person can use at that time, it may ‘fossilise’, improve or seem to go back to a previous level. By introducing this concept, it is hoped that the CLIL teachers will feel that they do not have to demonstrate perfect mastery of the L2, but rather that there are various levels of language ability.

Another idea that is important in CLIL is that of translanguaging. In this, the users of the L2 are permitted to use elements (words or phrases) of the L1. This is seen not as something deviant, but as something that is natural in most speakers of a language that is not their native language, L1. It is also explained to the future CLIL teachers that it is sometimes better to break the L2 only rule and use the L1 rather than spend an unreasonable amount of time struggling with a concept in the L2 when one or two words in the L1 can overcome the linguistic obstacle. There are no hard and fast rules in CLIL. There is continual debate over how much the L2 has to be used in order for the lesson to be considered a good CLIL lesson.


Post-course questionnaire

A questionnaire towards the end of the course tried to elicit how effective the teachers had perceived this methodological course to have been, up to then, in allaying the students’ original fears and worries concerning the imminent implementation of CLIL. This used a 1 to 10 Likert scale, in which 1 was ‘not at all’, and 10 was ‘completely’. The averaged result for this was 7.

The second question was ‘How confident are you in your CLIL abilities now?’. The averaged result was 6.6.

The students were then asked what worries they still had at this point in the course. The replies to this demonstrated that the worries had not necessarily diminished but that they had become more specific and nuanced.

The main worries are the teachers’ own language ability. Five of the teachers still felt that their own language skills in the L2 of choice were not sufficient for teaching effectively. This is not necessarily a reflection on their poor L2 language ability, but seems to be a desire to do better. One respondent replied ‘During the CLIL course I have learnt that speaking perfectly English is not the most important aspect’. This means that the teachers have understood the importance of acquiring good CLIL methodological skills. That teacher did go on to add that ‘I must still improve the language’, thus showing that they would feel more at their ease if they had a better grasp of English.

Some teachers at this stage of the course had already tried doing short CLIL lessons with their students at school. They reported that after these lessons they felt more comfortable with their ability to teach in English with their current level of English.

Two teachers specifically said ‘Teaching using CLIL can take much more school time, so much of the programme cannot be done’. The Ministry for Education is not clear what percentage of the programme has to be done in the L2 for the course to be considered a CLIL course. It can be argued that the whole academic year, and every lesson should be done using the L2 for this idea of CLIL to make any sense. Georgiou (2012, 501) suggests that ‘a CLIL lesson should have at least 50 percent of lesson time in the L2’. I feel this is far short of optimum. However, one problem reported (Georgiou 2012) for CLIL is that it takes longer to teach a subject in an L2 than it does in the students’ (and teacher’s) L1. This would mean that either the extent of the programme has to be revised or some parts need to be covered in the L1. This debate continues.

Another worry that two students had at the end of the course after they had experienced this problem first hand was ‘CLIL lessons require long preparation because there are no good texts’, another two wrote about the ‘lack of materials’. While preparing for their final project, the students had to devise a didactic unit (a series of connected lessons) using CLIL methodologies in the L2 (English). During this experience, they discovered for themselves the paucity of suitable teaching materials readily available for them in the L2 at the appropriate language level and on the appropriate subject. This meant that they had had to use the skills they had been taught to develop their own material, a task which many of them enjoyed. However, they noted that as busy teachers with a full timetable, they had little free time to dedicate to this. One teacher was worried about ‘Not being able to produce interesting and productive materials’. The very fact that the teacher is worried by this will probably induce her or him to develop material that is both interesting and productive. Another expressed the hope ‘to build a good lesson with CLIL methodology’, suggesting that this person too is aware of the necessity to work with the CLIL methodology well.

Another worry expressed by two of the teachers was ‘I hope to succeed to talk good English, and that my students will understand me’. This is similar to the earlier problem of language but also brings the students into the equation. The students must also be at a suitable L2 level to be able to understand the teacher, or any texts used. One aim of CLIL in many contexts is to help raise the overall levels of high school students’ L2. Various education ministries have seen a need to improve language abilities in a post Bologna Conference Europe and some see CLIL as the way to do this. It can be natural therefore for these CLIL teachers to be worried about the L2 abilities of their students’. CLIL is being posited as a possible solution to this problem, but that might not necessarily help those called upon to implement CLIL courses.

One worry was of how the language teachers might perceive this incursion of non-language teachers into the realm of language teaching. One CLIL student wrote: ‘The teachers of English in our school say that it is better no English than bad English’. There is the fear that these CLIL teachers will be judged by other school colleagues as not being adequate for the job. Using an L2 has always opened people up to possible criticism. Some people are only too quick to take the chance to show that another person is not proficient in an L2. A counter argument to this could very well be that if the system allowed the language teachers to do their job well, then there would be no need for the CLIL course in the first place. This would obviously have to be worded in an as diplomatic fashion as possible.

The other main worry is that of having the material to use in the classroom. One teacher asks for help and support, others are worried about the extra preparation time needed for this new experience.

One teacher asked the question of ‘Will I have a class of students interested in this methodology?’. This in the context of obligatory CLIL for all is a valid question. It is not one that can be easily answered. A reason for promoting CLIL is often seen to be that it is inherently motivating for the students to do a lesson in an L2 using CLIL methodologies (see Coyle et al. 2010). This usually refers to students who have chosen to do CLIL. However, we should never underestimate the students. The future CLIL teachers in their CLIL teaching experience that was a part of the CLIL methodology course reported, in an unofficial manner, that their students did indeed react well to these lessons.

Another comment that came from the questionnaire dealt with the problem of ‘Management of time between content teaching and language’, How is the non-linguistic subject teacher expected to deal with the language aspects of CLIL lessons as well as cover the content programme? This leads to the discussion of collaboration.

CLIL is not the same all over the world. In some versions, the so-called soft CLIL, it is the job of the language teachers to teach the CLIL lessons. It Italy there is the hard version of CLIL and it is the subject content teachers who teach the CLIL lessons. Some versions of CLIL envisage an institutionalised collaboration between language teachers and CLIL content teachers. In Italy there is no such vision. This leads some of these future CLIL teachers to worry about having to teach English as well as their own subject. The focus on language is essential to a CLIL lesson.

These teachers have to seek out a means of obtaining collaboration. Various discussions during the course were dedicated to this topic. The CLIL literature often cites increasing L2 competence in schools as an aim of CLIL. The language teachers have to be brought on board so that they can share in the credit for this increase. Given that the school director, one of the main stakeholders, is ultimately responsible for the success of the school and that these CLIL courses derive from a top-down directive, then it should be possible to ask her/him to encourage collaboration with the language teachers. During the course various types of possible language teacher - content teacher collaboration were discussed to help these future CLIL teachers be prepared for the situations in which they will find themselves.

Two of the teachers concluded in their questionnaire that they had no real worries about doing CLIL.



The situation in Italy concerning the obligatory implementation of a hard CLIL in secondary schools has led to a situation of anxiety for the future CLIL teachers. To help these educators the Italian Ministry of Education has given the job of preparing them to the Italian Universities. However, academic institutional independence has meant that there is no one set course to follow. Each university devises its own methodological course. This article has examined the fears and worries of future CLIL teachers and tried to see how one such course has been designed and implemented to prepare these teachers and help them overcome their fears. The fact that the students replied positively to how much this had been effective suggests that this is a model that can be used, but obviously improved upon.

It is important in a teacher training course not only to cover the methodology, the practical techniques of teaching. It is also important to address the psychological aspect. These potential CLIL teachers can feel worried and harbour fears concerning what they could be doing in the near future. Even though these people are all experienced teachers, they are about to embark on something different. They are being asked to accept and implement new methodologies (new for most of them) in their classroom practice and, what is more, to do this in another language. The preparation course must take these psychological demands into account and try to prepare the teachers as best as possible

There are practical considerations as well; the future CLIL teachers feel that their own language skills need improving. The other worries concern the time, effort and skill required to prepare good, effective, motivating material for a whole CLIL course. This is something that must be addressed. These teachers have demonstrated that they are brave enough to accept the challenge of using CLIL in the classroom and using an L2 to teach the content in. It is now necessary for the institutions (schools and Ministry) to support them in this.



Ball, P., Kelly, K. and Clegg, J. (2015). Putting CLIL into Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Coyle, D., Hood, P., & Marsh, D. (2010). CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kachru, B., ed. (1982). The Other Tongue -- English Across Cultures. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press.

Kachru, B. B. (1985). 'Standards, codification and sociolinguistic realism: the English language in the outer circle'. In English in the World: teaching and learning the language and literatures, R. Quirk & H. G. Widdowson (eds), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press for The British Council.

MIUR - Ministero dell’istruzione, dell’università e della ricerca (2010a). D.P.R. n. 88 del 15 marzo 2010 . Retrieved from

MIUR - Ministero dell’istruzione, dell’università e della ricerca (2010b). D.P.R. n. 89 del 15 marzo 2010 . Retrieved from

Georgiou, S. I. (2012). Reviewing the Puzzle of CLIL. ELT Journal. 66/4. 495-504.

Selinker, L. (1972). Interlanguage. International Review of Applied Linguistics 10, 209–231.


Please check the CLIL for Secondary course at Pilgrims website.

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