The increasing globalisation has led to a focus in school curriculums on communicative ability, a type of ability that can be improved in many ways. Most researchers agree that there is a strong link between the input students of a foreign language receive and their language production. It is also generally perceived that an authentic content helps boost students’ motivation, which indirectly may facilitate language learning.

CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning) is a method that is based on these principles. Karmen Terlevic Johansson has studied how lower secondary students’ spoken German is developed when the subjects religion, civics, geography and history are taught in German too.

She assessed students’ vocabulary by having them tell a story based on the pictures in a well-known picture book and observing which communication strategies they implemented, for example when they could not think of the right word to use. She also analysed the students’ spoken English to see whether CLIL may have an indirect positive effect on their English skills as well.

‘The study points to a clear advantage for the CLIL students in all assessed aspects of vocabulary and communication strategies. They produced both longer and more varied stories than the students who were given only traditional German courses. One particularly strong finding was that the CLIL group ended up more homogenous in the sense that the differences between high- and low-performing students were smaller,’ says Terlevic Johansson.

Her analysis of vocabulary frequency showed that CLIL students more commonly used functional words such as pronouns and conjunctions (an indication of more advanced language skills). They also replaced frequently used words with less frequently used words faster. These results were found for spoken English as well, suggesting that CLIL in one language has positive effects also in other languages.

The most obvious differences were found in the students’ use of communicative strategies, where the CLIL students to a much greater extent implemented strategies based on their German skills. In contrast, the control group generally relied on strategies based on their native language Swedish, which means that they were less creative and less successful when communicating in German.

‘My results suggest that CLIL facilitates verbal communication skills in a second foreign language regardless of student type, including low-performers. The method seems to effectively tackle the increasing demand – in school and in society at large – for communicative ability in foreign languages other than English,’ says Terlevic Johansson.

More information:
Karmen Terlevic Johansson, tel.: +46 (0)730 33 25 97, e-mail: karmen.johansson@sprak.gu.se

Thesis title: Erfolgreiches Deutschlernen durch CLIL? Zu Lexikon und Kommunikationsstrategien in mündlicher L3 schwedischer Schüler mit bilingualem Profil. (Successful German learning through CLIL? A study of lexicon and communication strategies in Swedish students’ oral L3 – written in German with an abstract in English)
Date, time and venue for the public defence: Saturday 17 September 2011 at 10 am, T 302, Gamla Hovrätten, Olof Wijksgatan 6, Gothenburg, Sweden.
Faculty examiner: Professor Dieter Krohn
The thesis can be ordered from the Department of Languages and Literatures, University of Gothenburg.
An e-version is available at http://hdl.handle.net/2077/26560

Karmen Terlevic Johansson has a background as an upper secondary school teacher in English and German. Her doctoral thesis is part of a larger research project, the so-called Nödingeprojektet, where earlier studies on the effects of CLIL on written production and listening and reading comprehension have found very positive results.