Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) vs English as First Language (EFL)

The study of any language has always been critical. It basically involves learning and applying of the vocabulary in varied contexts based on the culture and traditions of the native speakers of the particular language. It means that learning any language can only be effective if the customs of the natives of the same language accompany the process. In most cases, teachers and learners of English as a second language ignore this fact. Therefore, they end up paying much focus on building the vocabulary plainly without any clue about its relevant context. Eventually, they use it bombastically in speaking and writing, hence corrupting its intended meaning. Words are not supposed to be used indiscriminately simply because one has learned them. Understanding how to use vocabulary units appropriate for events of a particular setting is the only thing that ensures good communication using the same words. Apart from that, the comprehension of the correspondence between words and the time during which the communicative situation happened adds logic to the particular context. It means that the proper learning of the vocabulary of any language cannot be complete without articulating on the parts of speech.

The latter are the main elements that form the language structure, including nouns, pronouns, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, adjectives, interjections, and conjunctions. Once these elements are exhaustively covered, learners can say they know the vocabulary of the language and can converse without causing any embarrassment to the audience. It is important to delineate how significant this argument is in the learning of the English language. Thus, this research paper compares the productive vocabulary of students of Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) and those who learn English as their first language (EFL). The comparison is based on the topic of Feudal Life, differences between feudal times and today, and the causes and consequences of the Plague. Five students from CLIL category from a 2nd-year state school in a lower-middle class area in the south of Madrid took part in writing. Five other participants were 1st years, native English students attending private school. The paper highlights the differences and similarities that exist between the two categories.

Differences between CLIL and EFL Students’ Writings

The choice of vocabulary on the topic Feudal Life, differences between feudal times and today, and the causes and consequences of the Plague depicts that the writing of students of CLIL portrayed superficial content as compared to the EFL counterparts. The shallowness of their vocabulary demonstrated how oblivious they were about the history of Europe in feudal times. It means that their approach to learning English paid little or no attention to the culture of the natives of this language (Milton, 2009). It was evident as they clearly found it difficult to explain or rather describe the causes and consequences of the plague. Even their shoddy description of the setting of the feudal times could not be clearly comprehended as the words they chose never correlated with those times. On the contrary, EFL students demonstrated clearly their cognizance with the history of the feudal times. They had an extensive vocabulary as can be confirmed from numerous terms they used. They include manor, which was the official place of lords; knights, who were the aide-de-camps of those lords; ale, which was the popular drink that usually accompanied their meals. Such results depict that EFL participants found the assignment easier not because they were brighter than their CLIL counterparts, but because they were conversant about the culture of people who lived during feudalism. Had their friends also gotten that hint, they could as well have successfully performed the task.

Apart from that, the texts written by CLIL students showed blatant grammatical mistakes as compared to those written by EFL students. The former are seemingly grappling with the interference of their first language as seen in some of the common vocabulary mistakes (Lee & Muncie, 2006). Some failed to get the spellings of ‘a strategic’ and ended up writing ‘estrategic’. The CLIL participants misspelled such words as ‘tecnology’ for ‘technology’, ‘movile phone’ instead of ‘mobile phone’, ‘efford’ for ‘effort’, and ‘derty’ instead of ‘dirty’ among others. These are just examples of how the effects of their first language may have been manifested in their learning of English. On the other hand, their counterparts of EFL had very minimal mistakes associated with grammar. Usually, if people learn a language as their first language, they tend to find it easy. Foreigners may actually find it difficult since they have to learn everything from the scratch, including the pronunciation, spelling, semantics, and synonyms among other components. The natives will have an easy time since their studying will only involve building on the vocabulary and its literary use in various contexts (Benjamin, 2013). When it comes to writing, one seldom comes across spelling mistakes of this magnitude. It is because there is no other language known to them prior to English which may confuse them in writing. Here it transpires that speaking has a great influence on writing; individuals will always write depending on how they pronounce particular words (Lee & Muncie, 2006). The difference here is also brought about through varied pedagogical approaches in handling English in the two set ups. The curriculum for EFL is largely emphatic on phonology rather than morphology as the case may dictate with CLIL. Therefore, the students tend to be perfect in writing because they were introduced to the sounds of the words before the meanings.

Furthermore, there is a clear distinction in the way the two categories described feudal times. The description of CLIL students of this period seems to be based on guesswork rather than facts. The content articulated does not bring out the setting as clear as their counterparts have depicted it. They may have read the stories pertaining to feudalism, but then probably also failed to understand certain vocabulary. Consequently, even the words selected do not really match the factual description of the period. For instance, some of them have consistently mentioned words such as ‘kings’ instead of ‘lords’, ‘country life’ or ‘rural life’ instead of ‘ancient life’, and other phrases like ‘auto sufficient’. The selected vocabulary may not actually make much sense, especially considering the period they were describing. It is an area where their counterparts had an advantage because their description really captured the setting and the period, which could be confirmed by their choice of words. EFL students showed a clear distinction between the vocabulary used then and the modern vocabulary. For instance, during feudalism, the natives never had kings but lords guarded by knights as opposed to the contemporary times. These terminologies no longer apply to the current lifestyle as well as political, social, and economic organization. Similarly, the native EFL students have a clear understanding of the manner in which the society members organized themselves and how the annual seasons affected their activities. The vocabulary they have used indicates that they have the comprehension of the culture of this society. None of the CLIL students articulated on the seasonal characteristics of feudal society not because they did not know anything about it. They simply had shallow knowledge concerning the lifestyle of people during the time of feudalism as compared to the contemporary lives. Therefore, as it was earlier said, the best way to build a vocabulary is to learn the culture of the natives of that language.

Concerning the general language structure, there is a clear distinction between the two categories. The CLIL students do not seem to have an idea about the use of capital and small letters as exhibited by their EFL friends. The five texts of the CLIL students under analysis exhibit an outright violation of this rule. For instance, it is a common knowledge that the proper noun vocabulary unit should always begin with a capital letter irrespective of its position in the sentence. The former category did not adhere to this rule. A word like Sunday, which is a day of the week, can under no circumstances be written beginning with the small ‘s’. However, some students tried to respect the rule, especially while mentioning the names of places such as feudal Europe, and the Black Death as the name given to the infamous plague. All of them also attempted to adhere to the rule of capitalizing the first letter of each sentence. It is, perhaps, a conventional rule that may as well be applicable in their native language. It is also worth noting that languages have a number of similarities, especially when it comes to rules which apply to writing. Despite there are conspicuous differences in pronunciation and spelling of words, there are also underlying common rules for most if not all the languages.

Moreover, there is the rule of punctuation, which was well brought out in the texts written by the native students. For instance, the way the parentheses, commas, and periods have been used clearly depicted a good command of the students in the use of punctuation. The latter is significant since it determines the meaning of the vocabulary used in the text (Lee & Muncie, 2006). Correct, but poorly punctuated vocabulary hardly conveys the intended meaning. In fact, the logic carried by the vocabulary in any text is usually dependent on the style of punctuation. It is the reason one will try as much as possible to guess the meaning of the text when reading the works of the CLIL students, whose punctuation is not up to date. Important marks such as commas, periods, and apostrophes are haphazardly used as compared to the native students. Although native students also had some issues with their grammar such as wrong spelling of certain words, the manner in which they punctuated their work makes it easier for the readers to comprehend what they intended to convey. It means that, sometimes, lexicon deviation can still be understood only if the writers have punctuated their work correctly.

Finally, the use of more descriptive words or adjectives by the native students shows that their command of the language is much advanced as compared to their CLIL counterparts. Adjectives are words used to modify nouns. There are adjectives that describe the form, material, color, and size.. Their correct use also adds logic to the statement being written. When people scan through the texts written by the students of CLIL, they will notice that they are all brief. The reason is the adverse lack of descriptive words that would modify the vocabulary used to add more weight to them apart from elongating them. Therefore, it is attributed to the level that these students have reached in terms of exploring the vocabulary in different contexts.
All things concluded, learning a language is not just about cramming the vocabulary randomly and searching for its meanings. If it were a perfect way, then even dictionaries alone could suffice to teach one a language. The surest way to learn the language is to explore the vocabulary from the content and learn its appropriate usage. No matter if people have seen a dictionary or not as long as they are well guided in mastering the words that apply in a particular context. In this case, they, she can still be an expert in a given language.

Similarities between CLIL and EFL Students’ Writings

Nonetheless, a keen look at texts from both categories depicts a number of ways in which they are similar. First, the writers seemed not conversant about the rule concerning the use of contractions and acronyms. Contractions are words which are shortened, such as “aren’t” instead of “are not”, “I’m” instead of “I am”, “isn’t” instead of “is not”, among others. Although these words are English, they are used sparing only in informal writing such as friendly letters and literary works only. They are also allowed in spoken English. However, formal writings do not recognize the use of such shortened forms (Yu & Odlin, 2015). It is because it is not good to leave the reader imagining what one intended to insinuate in the text. Apart from that, formal writings discourage the use of abbreviations unless they are conventionally recognized. Such abbreviations and acronyms, such as ‘e.g. ’, which means ‘for example’, ‘etc.’, which means ‘and so on’ are also not allowed. However, conventionally allowed acronyms such as A.M. (Ante meridiem) and P.M (Post Meridiem) can be used even in formal writings. In this case, the students from both categories used all the contractions and acronyms mentioned above. However, it was an official piece of work; therefore, they could have avoided writing unofficial terms. Similarly, those who used conventionally accepted acronyms of periods of the day also failed to write the correct forms; P.M. and A.M., instead wrote “am” and “pm”, which is inappropriate. Sometimes, such mistakes are made not because instructors did not teach their students the right things, but because they tend to imagine that these are details which may never count as mistakes. What they forget is that in learning the language every aspect matters and can fail or merit someone. A full stop, for instance, is a small character in writing. Nevertheless, if it misses in a sentence, that sentence will definitely lack meaning despite good and relevant vocabulary used (Barcroft, 2006). Therefore, students should take such rules seriously.

It is also worth noting that here were widespread spelling mistakes across the texts from both categories. The spelling mistakes noted in the CLIL students were purely a result of the influence of their first language. On the contrary, the native students’ spelling mistakes may have been a result of rushing through the assignment. Such words as ‘breackfast’, ‘satt’, ‘porage’, and ‘plow’ have been spotted in the texts written by the native students. The correct spellings of such words could have however been ‘breakfast’, ‘salt’, ‘porridge’, and ‘plough’ respectively. Nevertheless, owing to the way these very words have been used in the context, the reader does not find it hard to understand the intended meaning despite the wrong spelling. It shows that EFL students had a better mastery of the vocabulary of the context about which they were writing. On the contrary, after analyzing CLIL participants’ texts, one clearly notices that the writers actually were trying to imagine the meaning and the pronunciation of the word at the same time. Thus, they ended up just using words not because they had a relevant meaning to the context, but because they probably needed to fill that space and move on.

Despite that, the comparison of the feudal Europe and the contemporary time was generally good across the texts. Students from both categories, the native and CLIL students, attempted to articulate on the issue of social organization of people during feudalism. They dwelt on how individuals used to marry off their children at a tender age, the manner of houses they lived, and so on as compared to modern times. Moreover, they also described how the technology of those times was feeble in comparison to these days. Thus, someone brought up the use of mobile phones and vehicles, which is the technology that is quite pervasive today unlike during the feudal time. The economic organization was also quite explicit in the texts of both categories. Students articulated on the vocabulary of farmers of those days and their entire plight which revolved around their lives. It was a good description, which shows that the entire group really understood the question and strived to meet its requirements.

Finally, all students tried to explain how the feudal Europe was organized politically. The vocabulary they used to describe the political organization was indeed varied. However, the underlying fact is that they brought in that aspect and tried to explain how the peasants underwent untold tribulations as a result of that kind of leadership. Therefore, it is evident that students from the two categories had a general idea in mind about what they should write. Nevertheless, the native speakers of English enjoyed an added advantage of having more knowledge about feudalism. Without that, perhaps, both groups could have portrayed similar abilities in expressing themselves in writing on this particular topic. At the same time, it shows that despite the EFL students had an added advantage, the difference in terms of proficiency between them and the CLIL students is marginal. Consequently, it is possible that with proper assistance, the CLIL students are likely to perform virtually better than EFL ones. Teachers can only compare the strengths and weaknesses that exist between the two groups and derive strategies which can suffice to harmonize learning in both categories (Sun, Zhang, & Scardamalia, 2013).


The learning of English can be gripping if the strategies and approaches adopted are clearly synchronized with the goal being pursued. In most cases, learners of English as CLIL fail to meet their expectations. The main reason is the approach used by their teachers, which usually makes them feel like the language is more of an obstacle than a good goal worth pursuing. Thus, it is imperative for the teachers in both categories to work together in harmonizing certain aspects in the two curricula. They should also work thoroughly on their students’ attitudes towards English. Students should grow understanding that knowing the language is more than mere mastery of the meaning of the vocabulary, but the comprehension of the culture of the natives of that particular language. This aspect enhances interaction between teachers and learners, leading to mutual benefits. Learning the vocabulary and not knowing how it applies in different contexts is as good as having not learned anything about that language. In other words, words learned are supposed to be used for communication and not just for knowing purposes. Each word only suits a particular situation in order for it to serve its right purpose. Therefore, studying the culture of natives becomes almost an inevitable part in learning the language. Nevertheless, CLIL students have exhibited great potential so far and can still improve if the comments mentioned earlier are considered thoroughly while helping them. If much emphasis is put on phonology rather than morphology in the initial stages of learning, English could be easier for the students who learn it as the second language.

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