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Research project funded by the Swedish Research Council
Project nbr: 721-2010-5376

Host university: University of Gothenburg

Project leader: Dr Liss Kerstin Sylvén (lisskerstin.sylven@ped.gu.se)


Content and Language Integrated Learning, CLIL, is the name of the learning context where another language than the students’ (and often also the teachers’) first language (L1) is used as the medium of instruction in non-language subjects, such as, for instance, physics, math and sports. Most commonly, English is used for this purpose, and it is also CLIL carried out in English that is in focus in the CLISS project. Despite the fact that quite a large number of students and schools are involved in CLIL, it is an under-researched area in the Swedish context. Therefore, we are interested in increasing our knowledge about effects of CLIL on the development of both Swedish (the majority language in Sweden and the L1 of the majority of students) and English, focusing primarily on school-related, academic language, among students with Swedish as their L1 and students whose L1 is another. Our primary aim is to investigate how students with Swedish as their L1 and those with Swedish as their second language in CLIL and non-CLIL contexts, receptively as well as productively develop their academic language in both Swedish and English, and to study possible differences in students’ proficiency of subject related terminology in the natural and social sciences. Furthermore, we investigate gender differences, and through international comparisons, we study the role of the learning context in connection with using English as the medium of instruction. We have followed students at three individual schools around Sweden during their three years at upper secondary school. Three idiosyncratic CLIL contexts are found at the three schools, and at two of the schools, parallel, non-CLIL groups, where Swedish is the medium of instruction and English is studied as a separate subject, are represented. All students participating in the CLISS project attend theoretically oriented programs, aiming for higher education.

During the three years of data collection, we have collected texts produced by the students in the natural and the social sciences both in English and Swedish. Further, we have carried out a number of linguistic tests, with a focus on vocabulary and reading comprehension. As is well-known in research on learning, background factors matter, and therefore, the participating students have filled out a comprehensive background questionnaire. In addition, they have specified in detail their extramural (that is, outside of school) contacts with English as well as answered an extensive motivation questionnaire. Finally, a large number of interviews and classroom observations have been carried out.

Detailed studies on language practices in CLIL are relatively scarce, both from an international as a national perspective. The studies that exist tend to focus on oral communicative competence. This is understandable, given the fact that the present-day dominating focus in language learning is precisely that. The point of departure for the CLISS project, however, is that the development of students’ oral language proficiency is not enough in preparation for higher education. At tertiary level, students are expected to write essays, reports, and so on, in English. Therefore, it is of importance to investigate effects of CLIL on students’ written proficiency in relevant text types. Academic language has become an area of great scholarly interest lately, and that is also what is in focus in our project. Academic language is primarily written, it is contextually independent and is cognitively more demanding than the informal, communicative language children and adolescents develop in their every-day lives.

Internationally, CLIL is a common form for teaching and learning, and it is of great interest to compare different national educational contexts. We cooperate with, among others, scholars in Hong Kong, where the educational medium of instruction often is English. Also within Europe, there is a large body of research into CLIL, where comparisons with the Swedish context can be made.

The CLISS project will provide important insights into the relationship between language and learning. In the language- and educational policy debate, the importance of the language of instruction is often pointed out. By using, among other things, linguistic analyses to show effects on language and content proficiency in connection with CLIL, the CLISS project will contribute to giving food for thought in a wider political discussion, primarily about the role of English in the Swedish educational system.

For an overview of articles and chapters published within the framework of the CLISS project, please see “Publications”.


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Department of Education and Special Education

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