In our globalised world, the complexity of cultural identities has increased, bringing about new challenges for our present day societies, which now urgently require new perspectives in education: in this context of cultural diversity, it is crucial to develop an ethical code acceptable to people of different cultures and traditions, a framework of genuinely universal values that promote mutual understanding and respect if we are to secure peace in the world (Starkey, 2005).
In the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial and religious groups and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace (article 26:2).
Thus, the ultimate goal of education reaches beyond the mere transmission of academic knowledge, aiming at the development of the pupils´ full potential as human beings; every subject matter should be a means towards a greater end, which is to promote psychologically and emotionally mature, prejudice free, balanced, perceptive individuals capable of joining strengths to make the world a more human place (Gardner, 1999). Content and Language Integrated learning (CLIL) is a highly appropriate educational approach, designed to meet the challenges of our innovative present: it endorses integration of the different subject matters by fusing the study of content and language while encouraging both independent and cooperative learning (Mehisto et al, 2008: 7).
Using a foreign language as a medium of instruction encourages cross-cultural understanding at different levels: on the one hand it brings students in contact with other cultures, which helps them review their own values from a different perspective; in this respect, CLIL promotes a climate of understanding and appreciation of diversity in the classroom, which is essential for our increasingly multicultural societies. On the other hand it facilitates intercultural communication by providing the necessary tools to learn other languages and their cultural codes, thus enabling students to understand people from other parts of the world. CLIL has therefore a valuable contribution to make not only because it provides motivating and significant learning experiences but also because it cultivates the “cosmopolitan identity” advocated by Hargreaves –where learning and using languages for different purposes generates tolerance, curiosity and responsibility as global citizens (Coyle, Hood & Marsh, 2010: 153).
CLIL opens a whole range of new possibilities for language teachers willing to go beyond explaining basic grammar or incorporating vocabulary, terminology or texts from other subjects into their lessons, as this approach allows for the FL classroom to become a learning arena where motivating aspects of interdisciplinary projects are developed, involving values education, creative and critical thinking, artistic sensitivity development etc.
Linguists Starky and Osler contend that language learning needs a broader appeal than that offered by the typical textbook which hardly ever surpasses the learners´ private sphere, claiming that Human Rights education and Democratic Citizenship should be used as permanent references in the EFL classroom: they claim that debating on real issues that are meaningful to students fosters intrinsic motivation and creates a positive attitude towards other cultures, thus combating xenophobia and racism (Osler, 2005). In this way, learners can develop their linguistic fluency while focusing on the content of the discussion rather than on the form of the language used. Thus, through task-based learning –where the achievement of the task is prioritised over the formal study of the linguistic structure- learners interact in the target language while they develop their citizenship skills. This approach is therefore well suited for cross-curricular work incorporating values education, as the use of appropriate tasks related to citizenship issues could propitiate effective language learning while students explored their own identities and those of other cultural groups (Palmer, 2005:121). This would help achieve what Michael Byram considers to be a priority in foreign language/culture education, namely, the development of student intercultural communicative competence while focusing on the interaction between cultural actors. Byram coined the term intercultural speaker, referring to the language learner who is aware of the multiple, ambivalent, resourceful and elastic nature of cultural identities in an intercultural encounter (Byram, 1997:125). He proposed this intercultural speaker as the new model for the foreign language learner, who would cease to imitate the native speaker´s behavior and pronunciation, focusing instead on the comparison of values and beliefs of the two cultures. This would promote the development of student critical cultural awareness by means of encouraging them to question official historical truths and discover reality for themselves.
Some scholars – Guilherme and Byram among others- have suggested that the term Foreign Language Education be used instead of EFL in order to emphasize the educational value of this subject matter, often underestimated in Applied Linguistics in favour of a predominantly psycholinguistic approach severed from its social and cultural contexts. This critical approach to foreign language education is largely endorsed by the document Standards for Foreign Language Learning: preparing for the 21st century issued in the United States in 1996, which grants great importance to culture, claiming that the true content of a FL course is not the grammar or the vocabulary of the language, but the cultures expressed through the language (p.43-4) and offering guidelines for developing students´ critical perspectives of other cultures as well as their own in order to promote an intercultural sensitivity to difference (Guilherme, 2002: 153).
All this is particularly relevant for the CLIL approach to education, whose goal is not merely to promote academic excellence or proficiency in a foreign language, but to educate truly democratic individuals capable of meeting the challenges of this globalized 21st century.
– Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon.
-Coyle, D., Hood, P. and Marsh, D. (2010) Content and Language Integrated Learning, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
-Gardner, H. (1999) Intelligence Reframed: Multiple Intelligence for the 21st Century. New York: Basic Books.
-Ghilherme, M. (2002) Critical Citizens for an Intercultural World: Foreign Language Education as Cultural Politics, Multilingual Matters, Clevedon.
-Mehisto, P. Marsh, D. & Frijols, M.(2008) Uncovering CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning in Bilingual and Multicultural Education. McMillan: Oxford.
-Osler, A. (2005) “Education for Democratic Citizenship: new challenges in a globalised world” in Osler, A and Starkey, H. (eds) Citizenship and Language Learning: International Perspectives, British Council: Trentham Books.
-Palmer, C. (2005) “Task-based learning for citizenship” in Osler, A and Starkey, H. (eds) Citizenship and Language Learning: International Perspectives, British Council: Trentham Books.
Starkey, H. (2005) “language teaching for democratic citizenship” in Osler, A and Starkey, H. (eds) Citizenship and Language Learning: International Perspectives, British Council: Trentham Books.