The Programme

Now that you know what makes an ideal language learner, it’s time to turn our attention to the individual characteristics of the language programme itself. What makes an ideal Formal Instruction or CLIL classroom? What about an ideal Study Abroad programme? In this section, we also talk to three Erasmus coordinators about what their jobs entail, and what goes into organising a SA programme.

Guilhem Naro

— Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Maria Naro geb.Wirf

— Universitat Pompeu Fabra

Lisa Gilbert Odell

— Universitat Pompeu Fabra


Formal Instruction: what makes an ideal language class?

One of the most popular language teaching approaches is the Communicative Approach. This approach draws both from psychology and pedagogy and from linguistics. The psychological dimension is based on the idea that, similarly to what happens with babies learning languages, by having to communicate real meaning, in interaction with other speakers, learners successfully acquire the language (Johnson, 1982). It involves the use of authentic, real world materials and places an emphasis on meaningful interaction by means of pair work, role plays, group work activities and project work (Richards, 2006). Within this framework, communication is seen to have 5 conditions: It must have a purpose, it must use words and sentences unexpected by the interlocutors, the information given must be new to the speaker (there must be an information gap that communication fills in). For example, having students discuss their plans for the weekend would constitute a meaningful way to have them practice the future tense. In this approach, the teacher usually sets up the activity, but then allows the students to take the driver’s seat, allowing them more opportunities to use the language, having them develop their communicative competence (Canale & Swain, 1980). Due to the fact that, in such a setting, the students are given more responsibility to actively participate, it has been found that they may gain confidence in using the target language and that they become more responsible managers for their own language learning (Larsen-Freeman, 1986).
The origins of the Communicative Approach, or Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), come largely from British applied linguists such as Wilkins (1972), Johnson (1982), Finocchiaro & Brumfit (1983), Canale & Swain (1980), among others. They put together the psychological dimension presented above, with the linguistic dimension, that is ‘the bits of language’, or categories, that learners were taught. One important communicative syllabus course design that was widely implemented was that of Wilkins (1972), wherein rather than using traditional categories such as grammar and vocabulary, language was defined using “notions” (e.g. time, frequency, location, quantity) and “functions” (e.g offers, complaints, denials, requests). Regarding the teacher’s role, Finocchiaro & Brumfit (1983) points out that throughout the communicative activity, the teacher should aim to monitor and encourage students, resisting the temptation to supply gaps in grammar and lexis, and instead making notes of these gaps for later discussion and practice.


Study Abroad: what kind of factors play a role?

Pérez-Vidal (2014) highlights the eight programme features which are at play when measuring language acquisition during Study Abroad, as summarises in the table below. Of these eight features, the first four are concerned with input opportunities, onset language level and features, while the last four deal with the academic aspects of the programme. Below, you will find come common questions regarding these eight programme features.
1 – Length of SA program
2 – Accommodation and living conditions
3 – Having a job
4 – Set pre-departure language level
5 – Pre-departure preparation
6 – Point in the curriculum
7 – Academic work assignments abroad
8 – Re-entry conditions
Study Abroad Programme features (Pérez-Vidal, 2014)

1 – Length of SA program: is longer always better? Contrary to popular belief, it may not be the case that a longer stay is necessarily better. For example, upon comparing a 3-month group with a 6-month one, Lara, Mora and Pérez-Vidal (2014) found that it was lower onset level, which is what the 3-month group showed, that was the best predictor of gains, not the Length of Stay. De Keyser (2014: 317) further reflects on this relationship between onset level and length of stay, stating that “automatizing a limited number of highly frequent elements leads to more gains in the short run, while students with a much larger number of elements to automatize only outpace the less advanced ones in the long run (..)”.

2 – Accommodation and living conditions: is one type of accommodation better than another? What has been found concerning accommodation is that it is not necessarily the case that one type is better than another, but rather that some types of accommodation are more suitable for particular learners than others (Kinginger, 2014, Pérez-Vidal, in press). Factors such as age, language proficiency and personality play a big part in choosing where to stay, so rather than asking “Which is better”, the ideal question here is “Which is better for me?”

Want to find out more? Check out our full page on Study Abroad accommodation

3 – Having a job: is there a linguistic advantage? While there is clear a financial gain to working while on Study Abroad, you may wonder whether there is also a linguistic gain. What can be said here is that any way in which you can increase your exposure to the target language is beneficial for acquisition. Whether it’s a job, a club, a society, or any other activity that allows you to immerse yourself in the target language, it is sure to be advantageous to your language development. Having a job will give you more opportunities to communicate with native speakers, and may even provide you with the chance to use a different type of language than you would in the university. The only thing left to do is to investigate what opportunities are available to you, and to weigh up what is the best option for you as an individual.

4 – Set pre-departure language level: do I need to have a certain level before going abroad? Before going abroad, it’s ideal that students have at least an intermediate level, what De Keyser (2007) refers to as a “functional level”. This allows students to complete the proceduralization process, and commence automatization. In a broad sense, automatization refers to “the whole process of knowledge change from initial presentation of the rule in declarative format to the final stage of fully spontaneous, effortless, fast, and errorless use of that rule, often without being aware of it anymore” (De Keyser, 2007: 3).

However, it should be noted that research has found the greatest gains among students in the lower band of the advanced stage (Pérez-Vidal, 2014). With this in mind, the ideal time to go on Study Abroad appears to be when the student has a functional level of language use and is at a high intermediate or low-advanced level.

5 –Pre-departure preparation: what kind of things should I be doing in order to prepare for Study Abroad? No matter how long your Study Abroad is, it is likely the case that the time will fly by and be over before you know it. This makes it all the more important to prepare for your time abroad, so that you can get the most of your time away. In addition to general preparation such as documentation and packing, there are two key areas you should work on prior to departure: language and culture. This means developing your language skills to prepare to use them in a real life context, and preparing yourself to become immersed in an entirely new culture.

Want to find out more? Check out our full page on pre-departure preparation

6 – Point in the curriculum: is it better to go abroad earlier or later in my degree? The choice of when to go abroad is often made based on practical issues, for example when is most practical for the relevant institutions. The European “norm” is for students to go abroad in their third year of study (Beattie, 2014). However, given the choice, one of the main things to take into account is whether the students will have a sufficient proficiency in their target language before going abroad. De Keyser (2010) points out that the success of a Study Abroad depends a great deal on declarative and procedural knowledge of the target language acquired mostly through Formal Instruction. This means that in order to get the most out of Study Abroad, students should first have undertaken a sufficient amount of formal instruction and reached a more advanced linguistic level.

7 – Academic work assignments abroad: is it beneficial for the host institution to assign work to students abroad? One very useful tool that institutions should think about assigning, or that students should think about taking on themselves, is the writing of an Academic Diary. Beattie (2014) reports on student’s writing a 25 to 30 page diary over a period of 13 weeks, in which they evaluated their own language learning progress. Such diaries are a way for students to practice their written work while abroad, while also reflecting on their actions and learning progress, which can in turn encourage students to fully invest in their time abroad. Furthermore, from the point of view of the institution, these diaries can serve as a means of monitoring the student’s work and progress from a respectful distance (Beattie, 2014).

8 – Re-entry conditions: What should the institutions role be upon re-entry? On the website, we provide a full page discussing reflection and readjustment upon student’s return from Study Abroad, but what is the institutions role in all of this? Arouca (2013) addresses the critical need for re-entry support programs following Study Abroad. She highlights the need for a place where students coming back can validate their study abroad and re-entry experiences. Whether providing one-on-one meetings with tutors, or group workshops, it is vital that the home institution acknowledge the process of re-entry, providing students with a place in which they can reflect on their time abroad and which can aid reassimilation into the home culture.

Want to find out more? Check out our full page on reflection and re-adjustment


The programme itself: what constitutes an ideal CLIL programme?

Kelly (2014) suggests 4 factors relevant to the successful implementation of a CLIL programme: Management, Teachers, Resources and Students.

1 – Management: as Kelly points out, when it comes to management, “all of the top-down factors are instrumental in supporting bottom-up initiatives from teachers and the classroom.” That is to say that, in addition to government support, it is vital that within the school itself, school managers create “a ‘whole-school’ ownership of the CLIL project”. This means having everyone in the school on the same page, by creating an awareness of what the aims of the programme are. Furthermore, given that CLIL teachers need extra time to prepare for classes, managers and department heads need to allocate time for this in the curriculum.

2 – Teachers: first of all, it should be noted that when it comes to CLIL, having a native speaker is not necessarily an advantage. In fact, sharing a mother tongue with the students can be a huge advantage, and use of the mother tongue should be encouraged in cases where it supports the learner’s development of the target language. That said, a competent language level is still vital. According to Kelly, “If you’re a CLIL teacher, you should be able to do everything you ask the students to do in your subject in English as a foreign language”. He proposes a level somewhere between B1 and B2 in a school context. It should be noted that regarding EMI at university level, the indicative level is suggested to be about C1 for lecturers and a minimum of B2 for participants (Kling, 2016).

3 – Resources: when it comes to choosing a textbook, there are three options: using native speaker resources, translating native speaker resources, or using a custom-made CLIL resources. Given that the first two options are likely to be too advanced linguistically speaking, the ideal would be to use a custom-made coursebook.  An ideal CLIL textbook needs to be language level appropriate (that is, not full of language which is too advanced for the students learning it) as well as highly dynamic in activities, demanding that students take part in various communicative activities.

4 – Learners: first of all, it should be noted that while to date CLIL has been the domain of the educational elite, this most certainly should not be the case. When it comes to number of hours, quite simply, the more the better. Kelly notes that in order for the learner to reap the most benefits from a CLIL programme, there needs to be continuity of both language and content. That is to say, “the curriculum needs also to be coordinated so that what a History teacher is doing complements what the Maths teacher is doing, and what the English language teacher is doing”.

Want to see how CLIL-ready you and your school are? Click here to check out Kelly’s questionnaire.


The programme itself: what kind of EMI Teacher Training is required?

An interview with Helena Roquet, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya

Helena Roquet

— Universitat Internacional de Catalunya

What kind of teacher training provisions do EMI (English Medium Instruction) teachers require?
From my experience and that of our ICL-HE (Integrated Content and Language in Higher Education) teaching staff at Universitat Internacional de Catalunya,, I have learnt that, first of all, this depends on previous teaching experience and training.

Obviously, prospective EMI teachers need linguistic support in order to achieve the appropriate English competence levels needed to teach in English. This is generally accepted as a C1 level according to the Common European Framework. In general, EMI teachers also need to learn specific pedagogical methods for teaching in a language which is L2 for themselves and for their students.

They need to identify the English competence level of their students and adapt their learning teaching and lecturing style accordingly. It’s not the same teaching content in English to a classroom of students with a B2-C1 level as a B1 level, or even A2 level, (surprisingly some students in these courses do have such low levels!). Content teachers need to be aware of this factor and how to adapt to it.

Although they do need to draw on their previous public speaking experience in English, they need to understand that presenting in English to fellow specialists at a conference is not the same as lecturing to students. Many teachers are unaware of the difference.

With respect to EMI pedagogical adaptations EMI teachers need to:
Make very explicit their learning competencies, learning objectives, and assessment of objectives. All teachers need to do this, but when doing it in a language that is neither the first language of the teacher nor of the students, teachers must be sure that these contents are extremely clear.
Until now, EMI has not included explicit linguistic learning objectives. Learning objectives of EMI are normally content based. The learning objectives of ICL-HE, content courses taught by ICL-HE linguistic experts, on the other hand, do include linguistic objectives. These linguistic objectives, however, are not aimed at general English competencies, but rather are related to professional discourse in English, including highly specific reading, listening, writing and speaking skills and highly specific grammar and vocabulary of professionally related genres.

This distinction between EMI and ICL-HE is very important and I believe that EMI teachers should know it and try to include linguistic learning objectives as much as possible.

Even if they do not establish explicit linguistic learning objectives, the fact that the lesson is led in L2 can present additional content learning obstacles (as well as learning opportunities of course!) for the students. EMI teachers need to learn new methodology to compensate for the difficulties which may arise when teaching content in English, much of it derived from SLA methodology. This may imply editing the amount of material to be presented in lectures, adjusting lecture speed, incorporating techniques to check student comprehension, finding alternative ways to present materials both within and outside the classroom, making learning activities more student centered, and so on.

At what point? Before, during their teaching?

Ideally EMI teachers need introductory training before they start teaching, but this training should continue during the period in which they begin teaching, including classroom observation and self-evaluation. 

What needs should training meet?

The needs will differ from person to person and depend on the teaching which will be done. For this reason teaching support should be open-structured. The needs and methodology of teacher support should be established by the participants and should ideally include specialists in teaching ICL-HE.

What kind of feelings should unexperienced EMI teachers overcome with those courses?

Most EMI teachers feel comfortable lecturing about their content. Problems arise when interaction occurs, so student questions are a common worry. Teachers also sometimes express worry about having a lower linguistic competency level as compared with their students. Another common worry is to be able to “cover” the material in order to meet content based learning objectives. Due to time limitations, EMI teachers are “forced” to use more student-centered learning methods in order to achieve these objectives.

With what kind of internal organization should those courses be planned?
Setting up “support” groups between language and content (EMI) teachers where ideally both learn from each other. In practice, however, very often language teachers are the ones who support EMI teachers according to their specific needs. This is something we have offered at our institution for several years and both language and content teachers are very satisfied.

I believe these support groups should include several EMI teachers working together to share their growing knowledge. This has great potential for learning and sharing of EMI “expertise”. This could be face to face or online collaboration, for example creating a Blog to share teaching experiences, ideas, etc.

How about EMI students? What specific support do they need?
Sometimes universities take for granted that EMI students have a competent language level in English to carry out these courses and they are not provided with any help. In my opinion this is a mistake and these students should have access to “tutorials”, that is, content and linguistic support outside of the classroom, either face to face or online, particularly for students with lower linguistic competencies. If individual tutorials are not possible, students should always have the possibility to attend general language courses, ideally offered by the university in their specific language centres. At our institution, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, the Institute for Multilingualism is the Department in charge of organizing these activities.

Should universities regulate the use of the target language in EMI courses? , I.e. obligation to use it at all times…

Although as much English as possible is ideal (because it increases the amount of EFL input, which is, according to Krashen, one of the main tenets of EFL), universities need to recognize that in certain circumstances (particularly when English competencies are low or when content material becomes very dense), use of L1 scaffolds content learning and is necessary.
At this point, I’d like to highlight the idea of plurilingualism in class. EMI teachers, as well as all teachers, should be aware of the fact that in recent years the concept of plurilingualism has grown in importance in the Council of Europe’s approach to language learning. The aim of language education is no longer seen as achieving a proficiency level in one or two or three languages, with the ideal native speaker in mind, but the aim is to develop a linguistic repertoire in which all language abilities have a place. This implies that languages offered should be diversified (not only English!) and that the use of other languages, as well as minority, heritage and or immigrant languages should not only be allowed but respected.
From this perspective, the use of different languages that appear spontaneously in EMI courses should be allowed, especially because these languages will be used to scaffold the meaning of the content. Finding the balance between providing the students with as much English as possible and also allowing the use of other languages from time to time may not be an easy job at the beginning, but I am sure it is definitely worth it if, ultimately, this means educating plurilingual, responsible, tolerant and nonracist citizens.