In the days of the EGB, BUP and COU, in Spain you began to study a foreign language when you entered the sixth year of Basic General Education, therefore, at the age of eleven or twelve, well past the limit of the critical period of acquisition of language.
Recalling my own experience, learning at that age, starting from scratch in the English language, seemed a mystery to me: words that were written differently than how they sounded, different syntactic and grammatical structures, and a whole world of vocabulary to discover. The methodology was based on textbooks and exercises, and the subject was often not taught by personnel specialized in the language.
It was, therefore, one more subject, like mathematics or physics, taught through the same methodology as these (focused on teachers). They were also highly difficult for many students who were lost in the face of such a challenge, at a time when the most important thing in teaching was the final grades in the academic record.
Changes for the better
Decades later, language teaching has taken many turns for the better. It is now taken into account in the curricula that learning a foreign language should start as soon as possible. It appears as a prevailing objective in article 4.f. of the order that establishes the curriculum and that regulates the organization of early childhood education : “develop communication skills in different languages and forms of expression.”
Also in Article 5.6. of said norm, in relation to the regulation of the areas, it is established that “in the second cycle (of infant education) an approach to the oral use of a foreign language will begin in communicative activities related to the routines and habitual situations of the classroom ”.
For citizens of the 21st century, in which new technologies and mobility play a leading role, UNESCO recommends practicing at least three languages from early childhood: the mother tongue or languages, a regional or national language and an international language.
Consequently, current language teachers, specialized in the areas of education of all ages, are faced with the challenge of offering an education focused on the greater cognitive, social and academic benefit of our students.
The old methodology based on translation, the grammar explained as a theoretical foundation and the memorization of long vocabulary lists to pass a subject is no longer applied (or should not be applied), as was done in the past. A practical, communicative methodology is sought, based not only on reading and listening, but also on the active participation of the students. The development of their personal and social autonomy is pursued, with the production of texts and oral intervention in a foreign language through comments and debates during classes.
We are talking, therefore, of a new project-based methodology that encourages cooperative learning and focuses on students. In it, the teacher acts as a guide and facilitator that encourages communication at the horizontal level, among peers, and not as the omniscient figure who decided the pass or fail.
Faced with this new panorama, the CLIL methodology (in Spanish, CLIL, or Integrated Learning of Contents and Foreign Languages) emerges as an efficient solution. This term was coined and developed by David Marsh in 1994 and extensively developed later, together with Do Coyle and Philip Hood, in their 2010 work CLIL: Content and Language Integrated Learning .
The main idea of this methodology is to teach the foreign language through the study and development of content from original sources, but adapted to the level and needs of the students.
In this way, they get out of the old trend of memorization to pass a dreaded exam, and look for an approach to language learning that is motivating and natural. An approach that is as similar as possible to the early acquisition of bilingualism in immersion contexts, and that starts from early childhood education until the compulsory completion of studies.
A practical means of communication
What is sought through the CLIL methodology is to become aware that the foreign language is a real and practical means of communication and that, in addition, it will be necessary for the future employment outlook of many students.
It begins in childhood with games, representations and songs, and the level of demand increases progressively as the student progresses in his learning as he passes courses. CLIL is a long-term project with the objective that students have had sufficient opportunities for acquisition, active listening, practice and collaborative communication at the end of schooling. This makes them experienced enough to handle communicative situations in the foreign language with ease and ease.
Motivation and achievable challenge
Increasing importance is given to the benefits of effective learning of a foreign language as a means of communication. Especially the current trilingualism programs. Methodologies that are increasingly refined and supported by the most recent studies are also integrated into our arsenal of tools, which will make this objective easier to achieve.
Consequently, our students are expected to become motivated by learning foreign languages, not to see it as an unattainable challenge or as a punishment, but rather as the opposite: the opportunity to acquire skills that, in the future, they can only benefit you.
Author Bio: Maria Concepción Pomar Rosselló is Professor specialized in English language at the International University of Valencia