Pupils that study a few of their subjects in another language are more proficient in that language

The first large-scale study of “Content and language integrated learning (CLIL) in our region has found that secondary school pupils that are taught certain subjects through the medium of another language than Dutch have better skills in that language that their peers that are taught exclusively in Dutch.   

What’s more the researchers also found that the knowledge of Dutch among this group of pupils was not undermined by them being taught some of their subject through the medium of another language such as French or English.

Since 2014 the possibility has existed for Flemish secondary school pupils to be taught certain subjects such as history and geography through the medium of another language than Dutch. Currently schools can opt to teach a few subjects through the medium of French, German or English. The term used for this approach is CLIL or Content and language integrated learning.

The new study is the first of its kind into CLIL in Flemish education.     

The researchers questioned and followed 1,600 first and second year secondary school pupils.

Liesbeth Martens of the UCLL College of Higher Education told VRT News that "For example we took each pupil apart and tested their oral skills in the foreign language”.  

“We compared both pupils that are involved in the CLIL scheme and those that are taught exclusively in Dutch”, Ms Martens added.

The fact that pupils that are part of the CLIL scheme has not had an adverse effect on their skills in Dutch. A decline in skills in the main language of instruction of the official language of Flanders among pupils was one of the fears expressed when the CLIL was launched in 2014.  

The researchers call for CLIL teachers to be given extra support. Currently they are not given any more time to prepare their lessons in the foreign language than they are to prepare the lessons they teach in their mother-tongue, Dutch.  

The researchers also suggest starting teaching through the medium of another language from nursery school. “The earlier pupils learn a foreign language, the better”, the study suggests.   

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