Issues Ideas Educ.

Content Teachers' Written Comments on Their Life-long English Language Profiles

Francesca Costa

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CLIL, identity, linguistic profiles

PUBLISHED DATE November 2017
PUBLISHER The Author(s) 2017. This article is published with open access at

CLIL in Italy has been compulsory by law since 2003 (Moratti’s Law) for the last year of all secondary schools. Subject-matter teachers were chosen to be the CLIL teachers, and only in 2012 did methodological and linguistic training begin (provided by universities all over the country). This study explores the profile of content teachers attending CLIL training not in terms of their linguistic competence but in terms of their relationship with English as an additional language. To do so, 115 trainees were asked to fill in a questionnaire composed of 10 open-ended questions and 2 close-ended ones. This questionnaire had both a research and training goal, since it was submitted at the beginning of the training course to investigate content teachers’ perceived linguistic profiles, which served as a psychological and pedagogical starting point for the course. Results show that content teachers have a specific linguistic identity and have had similar past experiences with the English language. These results could have repercussions and be exported to other training programmes, especially in terms of shifting teachers’ personae from subject-matter to fully-fledged CLIL teachers.


CLIL is a methodological approach that is growing in Europe (Nikula, 2017), and Italy is a clear example of this trend. In fact, in secondary schools in particular, CLIL has received a noticeable boost since it was mandated by law (Moratti law 53/2003). This law requires all secondary schools to teach a subject or part of one in a foreign language during the last year of high school. In language high schools two subjects must be taught in a foreign language (one of which English) already starting in the third year.

This decision is still evolving, since it requires training for many teachers who are already teaching or are at the start of their career in order for them to become CLIL teachers. Moreover, the law provides that only non-language subject-matter teachers can have such training provided by universities, even if on July 25, 2014, a document was published containing pedagogic guidelines, such as the creation of CLIL teams where English teachers are welcome to participate. Beginning in 2012, the first group of in-service teachers began their CLIL training (departmental decree 6/2012). The training activity has taken two paths: in-service training and incoming training (Aiello, Di Martino, Di Sabato, 2015).

With regard to in-service training (departmental decree of 16 April 2012 e079c910-cc4e-4eab-b3db-fc9f8da55099/dd6_profilo_docenteclil.pdf), the admission criteria were: certification for teaching a non-language subject and a B1 level of English (with the goal of achieving a C1 level at the end of the training programme). The training entails both methodology as well as language. The methodological-didactic approach calls for 20 training credits and is open only to those already in possession of a C1 certificate.

The teachers’ linguistic profile must show competence at the C1 level in the foreign language, appropriate linguistic skills in dealing with subject matters in a foreign language, a mastery of the micro-language of the subject, and the ability to treat disciplinary concepts and notions in a foreign language. The linguistic competences are well-defined in the same way that the requirements for entry into the methodological training programme are. However, the language competences are determined on certifications, not in terms of how the teachers participating in the training perceive their linguistic profile nor, above all, on their personal experience with English.

In this context, teacher training becomes a fundamental occasion to train teachers capable of applying a methodological approach such as CLIL. As Cammarata and Tedick (2012) have rightly noted, the transition from being a normal teacher to a CLIL teacher implies a true transformation of the teacher’s persona. They speak of a true reconstruction in order to become a content and language teacher (Cammarata and Tedick, 2012:257) as well as an “identity transformation” and an “awakening” in this sense. Therefore, there must exist a true shift in a teacher’s persona, and, since in Italy CLIL teachers are content teachers, this shift must occur through a greater awareness of the language aspect of CLIL. Normally the subject-matter teacher might not be so interested in dealing with the language aspect, which instead is essential for in CLIL (see in this regard the recent publication on the integration of language and content by Nikula, Dafouz, Moore and Smit, 2016). To produce this shift, Costa (2012) suggests an awareness raising given that language is important and already present in the lives of content teachers, an awareness that can be the starting point of a training programme in this regard.

The present study starts from these assumptions in an attempt to investigate the personal experience of content teachers as language learners, starting with their perceived linguistic profiles, and thus from reflecting on their identity as learners and users of English. Therefore, there is a twofold objective: on the one hand, to provide data on the perceived linguistic profile of CLIL teachers, and on the other a more pedagogical-didactic aim of serving as an instrument for teacher training, given that the study was planned at the start of CLIL training courses in two Italian universities.

Page(s) 143-154
ISSN Print : 2320-7655, Online : 2320-8805

As far as the data in general are concerned, there are no differences among the various groups or even among public and private schools. Moreover, the data are very similar to that from the pilot study. As regards a joint analysis of the number of answers and the comments to the open-ended questions, common themes can be noted.

In most cases, the first contact with English is at school, which underscores the important responsibility of schools in this regard. The language profile that emerges from the study is one of interest in and attraction toward countries and cultures other than our own, as if the learning path in English has led teacher trainees to open themselves at the intercultural and multilinguistic levels (see also D’Angelo, 2013; Skinnari and Bovellan, 2016). The insecurities that emerged regarding their mastery of English (above all, spoken English and listening comprehension) are a sign of real problems with the language, but at the same time indicate a capacity (probably unconscious) to reflect on language and a high level of interest in and attention to the language. This interest is also revealed in answers to the question on what language means to them, which shows an almost poetic view of language. The teachers indicated they often used English for their doctoral studies or work before they began teaching. Moreover, most of them had already used CLIL and are both enthusiastic and concerned at the same time about English. This sense of inadequacy is an integral part in becoming a CLIL teacher, which often entails having to leave one’s comfort zone (Costa, 2014).

It should be kept in mind that, as this was a qualitative study, it is not possible to make generalisations about the results and this represents a limitation; however, it is possible to give methodological indications on how to set up a CLIL teacher training course. In fact, the initial questionnaire and the final comments of the teachers turned out themselves to be an instrument of training and this is an original and innovative finding. The questionnaire made it possible to gain awareness of the extent to which English is an integral part of the interests and life of the trainees, which is indispensable for transforming them into CLIL teachers. This awareness helped the teacher trainees to recall that they, too, were (and still are) learners of English. As the questionnaire forced them to explicitly consider their thoughts, they were able to rediscover their identity as English language learners, which made them more sensitive to the hypothetical language problems their students will have to deal with. However, an awareness of the fact that most of the teacher trainees were not only learners of English but CLIL learners did not emerge only from the questionnaire. In fact, many of them had already used English as a medium if instruction in their past studies, an aspect they were completely unaware of until they had gotten back the questionnaire.

Finally, the last two, close-ended questions revealed groups of teacher trainees open to change and collaboration with others, as if, in some way, there has been from the start a self-selection of CLIL teachers. This area is definitely worth studying in further research.

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