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CLIL: just a fad, or still rad?

To celebrate the launch of Project fourth edition, Tim Herdon writes about some of the practical implications of CLIL programmes and considers where we are going with CLIL (or where CLIL is taking us).  Tim Herdon is a Senior Teacher Trainer at OUP, and has been involved in CLIL for six years. 

For a number of years we’ve been hearing and reading about CLIL (Content and Language Integrated Learning).  CLIL programmes, in which a subject from the mainstream school curriculum is taught in a second language, have become increasingly common in both primary and secondary, especially in the last decade.  In the mid-90s, when CLIL was a new initiative, there was a certain amount of scepticism about this approach, which was natural and probably quite healthy – it would be chaotic if we jumped on every new bandwagon that came along.  However CLIL now looks set to stay and in many countries it has strong government support with funds allocated towards teacher training and syllabus and materials development.

In fact the impact of CLIL is such that it is even having a backwash effect on the way ELT coursebooks are published.  More and more courses now contain short cross-curricular sections in some or all of the units.  This has come to be called ‘soft CLIL’ – a short excursion into the world of CLIL rather than a full journey.  Predictably, ‘hard CLIL’ is the term used to describe the full journey:  the teaching of a complete subject, or a specific area of a subject, in L2, over a longer period of time.

This raises an interesting question for English teachers:  in the future will we see a gradual shift from soft CLIL to hard CLIL?  I would say that yes, I think we will:  CLIL continues to gain in popularity, and I think its impact on General English course materials will continue to increase.  And the way CLIL is implemented is partly responsible for changing perceptions: in schools the English teacher is often central to the implementation of CLIL programmes, both in terms of teaching and coordination.  In fact the increased contact between English teachers and teachers of other subjects through involvement in CLIL programmes has been one of the biggest benefits, and this has contributed to CLIL’s increasing popularity.

The Lexical Approach has come and gone, Audiolingualism has been dragged screaming from the room and the Silent Way has now fallen, well, silent…  what about CLIL?  Is it just a passing fad, or is it here to stay?  What do you think?

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A Storyline Approach to Language Teaching and Learning

Story on typewriterTom Hutchinson, co-author of Network, talks about the benefits of using storylines in English language teaching.

A prominent feature of the new Oxford American English course, Network, is the use of a storyline. Just as with a TV drama, we see episodes in the lives of a group of characters who frequent Cindy and Ryan’s cafe, Cozy Cup. What’s the idea behind this approach?

A storyline has many advantages in the language classroom:

1. Stories have a natural attraction for us, because they help to make events meaningful. This is such a strong instinct in us, that we even create stories out of otherwise unconnected events. Take these four sentences, for example:

  • The ball sailed through the air.
  • There was a loud crash.
  • Glass flew everywhere.
  • Bob and Marcie looked at each other.

There is, in fact, no link between these sentences – no reference, no connecting words, no repetition of words. And yet, nobody reads them as four separate sentences. You naturally create a story out of them in your own mind. Continue reading


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Why teaching culture is part of teaching Business English

John Hughes looks at how to approach teaching about culture in business English. John hosted a webinar on the topic of Intercultural communication in Business English on 17th October 2012.

I once taught a German student who needed to make regular telephone calls to counterparts in the UK. To help him, I introduced some language for making small talk at the beginning of the call. He accepted what I was suggesting but admitted: “I don’t like making this conversation on the phone. It isn’t efficient.”  Like my student, many of your business English students will also have lots of experience of working with many different cultures so it’s a ripe and useful topic for classroom discussion.

It’s also a crucial area. Many business relationships struggle, not because one person has lower level English but because there are misunderstood cultural differences. For example, take the business person who arrives at the exact time printed on the agenda and is kept waiting by another person who assumes that the time on the agenda is approximate, not rigid. Then, once these two people are in the meeting room, one of them wants to make plenty of small talk but the other wants to get down to business. One of them wants a working lunch with a sandwich while the other would prefer a three-course meal at a good restaurant that will extend through to the middle of the afternoon.

As well as working WITH different cultures, more and more of our business students are working FOR different cultures. In other words, different companies have different company cultures and different ‘ways of working.’ One company might have a top-down structure where people wait for decisions from head office. Other companies reward initiative and decision-making at the local branch level. Like moving from one country to another, there is a kind of culture shock that follows a move from one company to another. These company cultural differences also affect the language used. For example, the internal report written in English at one company might require a much more formal register than a similar report at another.

As teachers, how we approach ‘culture’ can vary. In the past, business English course books tended towards a ‘prescriptive’ approach. They included lists of tips for students that state rules like: ‘In country X it’s polite to use your host’s full title and don’t ask about their family.’ Personally, I’m not convinced by this approach.  It implies that within one country or one company, everyone responds uniformly. But this is not the case. Regions within a country will have different customs and people within companies will have different personalities and expectations.  I think we should take a more ‘descriptive’ approach. Students should be encouraged to describe how cultures vary in their experience and talk about their strategies for coping and dealing with different cultures. Into this, the job of the teacher is then to input the kind of language that will be appropriate for such situations.

I will be looking in more detail in the issues raised in this article and suggesting classroom activities you can use to teach language for intercultural communication in the forthcoming webinar on 17th October.

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Keeping ahead in uncertain times

Jeremy Comfort discusses the role that Business English teachers can play in developing a culture of innovation. Jeremy will be talking about Business and Culture at the BESIG annual conference in Dubrovnik on 19 November 2011.

As the storm clouds darken even further over Europe, it makes one reflect on our destiny. Economic power is shifting inexorably towards Asia and China in particular.

It seems that Europeans must accept a diminishing role.  The jury is still out on America as to whether they can recharge their batteries and once again be the strongest motor in the world economy.

A deciding factor will be technological innovation and where it comes from. Although Europeans have often been the initiators in terms of original research it has been the Americans and Japanese who have commercialized most of the big breakthroughs over the last fifty years. So the big question is whether the emerging economies can also take a lead in this area.

So what’s this got to do with Business English? I think the context is critical if we are to make our contributions beneficial for our clients. One of the ways into this is through looking at the culture of innovation.

I have been working closely with a small German fan-making company which is making big inroads into emerging markets. But they also have challenges in terms of adapting their innovations to these new markets especially in terms of the price–value relationship. On the other hand, the Chinese have started to really talk up the critical role innovation will play if they are to make another step in the development of their economy.

In both cases, they need to start by reflecting on where they currently stand – in other words, be mindful about their current business cultures. I often encourage my clients to use SWOT to focus on their current situation – what strengths do they have, what are their weaknesses, where are the opportunities, and what is going to get in their way (threats)?  My German client would certainly identify research and quality as key strengths, and a lack of adaptability and maybe humility as weaknesses. Their Chinese partners would probably see adaptability and speed as strong points, and maybe a lack of consistency as an obstacle.

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Tinker Tailor: Some thoughts on cultural perspective

Shady figure walking the streets at nightIn this post, Jeremy Comfort discusses cultural perspectives as seen in the media. Jeremy will be talking about the importance of culture in business at the BESIG conference in Dubrovnik.

I went last night to see Thomas Alfredson’s interpretation of John Le Carré’s Tinker Tailor, Soldier, Spy. I loved it, but was struck that this feeling was by no means universal. Last year another very British film – The King’s Speech – swept all before it at the Oscars while Tinker Tailor failed to win a mention at the recent Cannes festival. The King’s Speech fitted well with many foreigners’ perception of Britain – royalty, class and pluck in the face of adversity, whereas Tinker Tailor was stuck in the rather grubby mire of Cold War England.

On the large and small screen, Britain has done well selling its nostalgia for a more glorious past. Many years ago, Chariots of Fire took Hollywood by storm and more recently Downton Abbey (another upstairs-downstairs drama) is being sold to networks across the world. France has mined different veins but reinforced stereotypes in the films of Chabrol which usually portray the breakdown of bourgeois life and also a certain whimsicality in films like Amélie.

Here in the UK, things are beginning to stir. Fiction and the small screen is being invaded by very culturally specific offerings from Scandinavia – the Stieg Larsson Millenium trilogy and Wallander from Sweden, the gripping TV series The Killing from Denmark and the thrillers of Jo Nesbo from Norway. We have also been much absorbed by series imports from the States – notably The Wire and Mad Men.

Of course we like them firstly because they are good – strong stories, well-acted. But I think we also like them because they can give us an insight into a different culture, even if we still need to guard against stereotyping. Britain has been very slow to embrace foreign films with subtitles (I, on the other hand, have to admit to even watching the Baltimore-based series The Wire with the subtitles switched on!) but it seems finally we are changing. This sort of cultural curiosity is what we need to develop in all our Business English students.

International business is breaking out from the Anglo-Saxon hegemony which has dominated for so long. Companies are increasingly appointing their new generation of leaders from emerging markets. Business English also needs to break the mould. The dominant models of British and American English have led to an over-dominant cultural framework. We are beginning to draw on new perspectives and these need to be from non-native trainers and writers from the emerging economies.

The business world is changing very rapidly and we all need to keep our heads up and alive to these changes.

Do you think Business English materials are sufficiently international? What kind of foreign imports in your media do you benefit or suffer from?

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