Formal Instruction (FI) refers to a learning context in which language learners receive conventional instruction in the classroom. For example, a high school student learning French as a subject in his/her school curriculum, or an adult learner taking a Spanish language course after work; both find themselves in a FI context.  In these types of classes, the focus of attention is the target language as a system, more often than not through focusing on grammar and vocabulary in texts. Emphasis on oral skills has varied throughout the different FI language teaching approaches proposed over time: within the popular Audiolingual approach prevailing in the 60s-70s, oral abilities were at the center of learning, through drilling, and always needed to come before reading or writing . Exposure and input were in a way manipulated from the environment, this is why Audiolingualism, and conventional FI was considered a teacher-centered approach. Find out answers to all your questions concerning Formal Instruction.

Communicative language teaching (CLT) is an approach to language learning in FI contexts which dates back to the 80s. It successfully turned language teaching upside-down after years of disconcert in the teaching profession, following the downturn of Audiolingualism. It drew from psychology and linguistics, and changed the focus from a teacher-centered to a learner-centered approach. CLT rests on the idea that learning a second language should draw lessons from first language learning, in which babies are abundantly exposed to their target language through their caretakers, interact with them, and slowly begin to produce output which, stage by stage, becomes more and more sophisticated. The learner is understood as being the main agent of learning, hence autonomy is a core feature of good teaching/learning. FI can develop an international stance in language learners by bringing in topics which deal with other peoples and cultures or establishing partnerships outside one’s own country. Find out more about FI and languages.

Language learning in the CLT paradigm is typically broken down into 4 components: reading and listening (commonly referred to as receptive skills), and writing and speaking (commonly referred to as productive skills). On this website, we also include another facet of language learning: intercultural awareness. These abilities can be developed for basic interpersonal daily communicative abilities, or at an academic level, at school.

In CLT there is a psychological dimension according to which communication is at the basis of language learning, and lessons need to develop both receptive and productive, and also respectively oral and written, communicative abilities (that is, speaking, listening, reading and writing, each in their own right), through ‘authentic’ practice in those skills during instruction. Communication is understood as always having a purpose typically developed through a task, being unexpected, and operating on an information-gap basis. Find out more about FI and languages.

In CLT there is also a linguistic dimension, in addition to the psychological dimension, whereby the syllabus taught does not only include grammar and vocabulary, but also notions and functions, and perhaps also topics and themes. Notions are the semantic fields of new words which need to be taught (i.e. time, size, measurements, food, animals, affects). Functions are the different uses to which we put the language in real communication with other language speakers (inviting, suggesting, requesting, denying..). Topics, such as ‘food’, ‘car racing’, ‘clothes’ are supposed to motivate classroom learners. Themes take topics a step beyond ‘climate changes’, ‘food processing’, ‘love and affection’. At the basis of these syllabus items stands the central concern for learners’ motivation in CLT: teaching languages should not only rely on ‘the language as a topic’ but it needs to bring in ‘real’ content in the classroom so as to motivate learners to practice the language for progress to take place.

As FI with a CLT approach grew more and more successful during the 90s, new proposals were developed which took the fundamental features of the CLT methodological apparatus a step further, in order for language learning to become more motivating, authentic, and based on real-life uses of the target language. Task-based methodologies decidedly used tasks, a central element in CLT, as the organizing principle in the CLT syllabus, around which notions and functions, grammar and vocabulary would revolve. Learners would be given a ‘final task’ to accomplish, i.e. produce a journal, generate a poster to advertise a new theatre play...Final tasks require learners to go through several intermediary ‘facilitating tasks’ in order to accomplish the final task.

The CLT approach to language teaching was further stretched in Europe, from tasks, to projects, to entire curricular subjects used as the content of language courses, partly for the sake of motivation, partly as part of the new European strategy towards plurilingualism. Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) saw the light, mirroring itself on Canadian immersion programmes, under the auspices of the Council of Europe. The aim of a CLIL class is to teach a content subject such as science, mathematics etc., through the medium of a foreign language, to develop European citizenship and to enhance an international stance in language learners, thus becoming International Classrooms. For example, a teacher in a high school in Spain may deliver their Physical Education, or the History class through Catalan (to newly arriving immigrants), English, French or German, to local students. Due to the popularity of learning English in recent years, this is often, but not always, the language of instruction in CLIL programmes.  However, another common denominator in CLIL is that more often than not teachers are not native-speakers of the target language, just as their students are not,  as they are often qualified as content teachers, not as language teachers. Find out answers to all your questions concerning CLIL.

EMI stands for English Medium Instruction, and refers to programmes in which English is used as the medium of instruction to teach curricular content subjects, in a university setting, like CLIL. Different programmes take different approaches to issues related to the language at hand: some may offer parallel language courses for students to improve, say, their writing or oral skills, some may assume the students’ level is adequate and needs no extracurricular support. Teachers may also be offered different kinds of institutional teacher training didactic and linguistic support, as they are often qualified as content teachers, not as language teachers. A common example of EMI is an international university degree (such as Engineering, Economics, Translation or Law) being taught partially or completely through English.  Again just like in CLIL, another common denominator is that not all EMI teachers are native-speakers of the target language, just as their students are not, so the issue of language levels in EMI teachers is currently under discussion. EMI courses have been attracting large numbers of international students, hence are an example of international classrooms. Consequently, for the last two reasons, ‘lingua francas’ are often the varieties spoken in those classes. In the case of English: English as a Lingua Franca (ELF). Find out answers to all your questions concerning EMI.

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Study Abroad, or Residence Abroad, is a learning context in which students spend a term or part of a term in their target language country, usually through programmes organised by a student’s home school or university. In Europe it involves the student moving to a foreign country and attending a foreign school or university for a set period of time (often one semester or a full academic year), bringing back the credits obtained while abroad, within the ERASMUS exchange scheme. It is often the case that there is an arrangement between two partner schools or universities to exchange a certain number of students. For example, a British student may go abroad to a Spanish university, while a Spanish student from that same university goes on an exchange to the British student’s home university. The aim of the exchange may or may not include language learning. However, learners need to prove a requisite proficiency level in the language of the country before SA. ERASMUS and other similar programmes have been called non-island programmes. Other programmes may send students with their at-home teachers, who will have to manage the programme while training the students as well; these are called island-programmes. Find out answers to all your questions concerning SA here.

Some people learn languages without a SA experience, and none or little contact with target language speakers, only through FI. FI helps foster knowledge of the linguistic system, with not much practice being possible, neither in terms of input or output. And, most importantly, FI offers no exposure to the target language culture. If they also experience CLIL/EMI, they will expand their abilities to a larger extent, and particularly develop academic abilities, but still learning experiences will be circumscribed to the four walls of a classroom.  Most learners experiencing SA, addition to FI and CLIL/EMI, make much greater progress than if they only receive FI or CLIL/EMI, as they are exposed to language in greater quantity and quality: talking about a myriad of topics, in different settings, with different social roles, using different registers, and for a multiplicity of purposes. The combination of the three learning contexts, both at secondary education levels and tertiary education levels is the best formula to develop our young generations to become pluringual and pluricultural citizens with an international ethos.

When it comes to language learning, there are many different factors at play. Some of these factors are internal, such as age, gender, personality or aptitude. Others are external, such as the curriculum, the method of instruction or whether the student has access to native speakers. All of these factors greatly influence the success a student will have when it comes to learning a given language. For detailed information on individual learner differences and programme variation, check out our section on Individual differences and The Programme.

An international classroom has learners and teachers focusing on matters related to the world at large, to different peoples and communities, beyond one’s own local context. It uses learning materials which relate to such matters; it develops an awareness of differences and similarities, and the capacity to appreciate them and consider them as valuable as one’s own. This has been also called an intercultural awareness experience.

International classrooms are intended to change learners and take them from a self-centered view of the world to an ‘other-centered’ view of the world. The learner is not only aware of differences between the world’ cultures and peoples, but in doing so, his/her world view changes and makes him/her change as an individual. This has been also called a transcultural awareness experience.

Find out answers to all your questions concerning identity and culture here or read our section on culture shock here.

Teachers can turn any of the three learning contexts explored in this web, FI, SA and IM, into an international classroom. They must bring in themes related to different cultures; can involve personal connections with learners from other countries and cultures, either real, through organized trips, or virtual, via international partnerships involving online learning experiences. It is true that SA is the international experience par excellence, as it involves a period of residence in another culture. However, immersion through CLIL or EMI can include topics in the syllabus related and approached through the eyes of a diversity of cultures, i.e. from mundane topics such as ‘greeting habits throughout the world’, to more academic ‘doctoral appointments/teachers’ tutorials in different cultures’.

It is a fact these days that the globalisation of the economy and international communication require well-trained personnel who can address such circumstances adequately equipped with languages and an international stance or ethos. International classrooms develop such profiles. This takes place in some cases starting from scratch, for example in the case of learners who have no previous experience with other cultures than their own. In other cases, the IntClass operates with learners whose life experiences may have already involved dealing with people from over the world, and experiencing different settings and cultures, through the family environment, or travelling.

Institutions and enterprises should be prepared to identify prospective members of staff with IntClass profiles in their recruiting protocols, through the use of guided interviews and questionnaires which incorporate questions and discussion on cultural topics, on flexibility and capacity of empathy with differences, and learning abilities in different circumstances. This web offers some guidance in this respect, and hints to how enterprises and institutions can best identify and help develop an international stance amidst members of their working teams.

While grammar lexical knowledge and communicative abilities in the four skills (reading, writing, listening and speaking) are vital for language learning, what’s even better for the student is the combination of formal knowledge, exposure and production, that is, on this web, FI, IMMERSION and SA. This means, anything you do can be helpful when it comes to learning a language, even if you do it through activities in which the language itself is not the primary focus. For example, watching films,  reading books or listening to songs; anything you can do to expose yourself to the language is beneficial. For more information about exposure and linguistic advantages check out The Programme

In the process of learning a language, it is very common to feel at some point that your progress has come to a standstill, or to find it hard to appreciate a significant improvement over a period of time. Assuming that there’s not a lack of motivation, there are still many reasons that can explain this phenomena, which have to do with factors such as age, aptitude and personality (read more on individual differences here). Language level, for example, is also a potential factor. If you are a beginner, your impression may be that you learn fast and you can easily tell the number of words you learn every week, for instance. However, as you grow more and more proficient, it may seem as though you can no longer account for your language achievements in such a clear way. This is what is referred to as the learning curve, which is when learners with less experience initially make faster gains, but as their experience increases, they seem to reach a plateau. Contrary to what you may think, this doesn’t mean that your improvement is slowing down or becoming stagnant, but that your large knowledge of the language makes it hard for you, given that you will require more time and practice take your learning a step further.

Find out answers to all your questions concerning motivation here

Speaking a foreign language for some time, especially if you’re not used to it, may eventually provoke some throbbing headaches. Don’t worry: it indicates that your brain is working in order to turn the production and comprehension of the foreign language into a more automatic process, more mother tongue-like. Speaking your first language comes very easily, but when it comes to your second language, you’re setting your brain to a more cognitively demanding task, and it needs a lot more work to produce the language. Make sure to take care of yourself by resting when you need to, and drinking lots of water.

One generally accepted belief in the world of linguistics and languages is that an adult language learner can never reach the level of native speaker, especially when it comes to phonology and phonetics. Some linguists claim that, depending on our age, we may experience fewer or more difficulties when trying to make progress in a particular language skill. Pronunciation, for example, is a skill that newborns and children learn in a more natural way, while adults are likely to find it very hard. Other things such as joking, swearing and having implicit knowledge of the conventions may not come easy for the adult learner to grasp, since these are often tied to the experience and require large amounts of exposure, within different types of daily life settings. However, you shouldn’t let this frustrate you: regardless of your age, with effort and motivation you can achieve any goal. What’s more, despite the fact that you may not excel at pronunciation, you’ll find other language features a piece of cake to learn.

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