The Potential of Teaching Politics in English

Bachelor Thesis, 2012

40 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. The concept of bilingualism
2.1. The linguistic concept,
2.2. CLIL in German schools
2.2.1. Development ofbilingual instruction in Germany.
2.2.2. Legitimisation of CLIL
2.2.3. Objections to CLIL
2.2.4. The rationale of CLIL
a) The integration of content and language learning
b) Support oflanguage learning
c) Development of subject specific competences
d) CLIL and the importance of the mother tongue
2.2.5. Teachers and learners in bilingual classrooms

3. Intercultural learning - the ideological frame of CLIL

4. Politics in English: CLIL in political education in Saxon grammar schools
4.1. Objectives ofpolitical education
4.1.1. Political awareness and intercultural competence
4.1.2. Politicaljudgement in CLIL
4.2. Didactic conventions of political education in relation to foreign language learning and intercultural learning
4.3. Politics and language awareness

5. Conclusion: The potential of teaching politics in English

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Within the last twenty years the concept of content and language integrated learning (CLIL) has gained enormous popularity among German schools. An increasing number of parents and students favour this approach of connecting both content and language learning as the acquisition of a foreign language in schools is often experienced as artificial and demotivating. This trend might indicate a positive development towards increased bilingual competence in different fields, such as social studies, science and technology. To support this progress, more and more teaching materials are being developed. However, many teachers are sceptic. They are afraid that by teaching their subject in another language than the students’ mother tongue, they lose precious time necessary for teaching subject specific contents. The question of how an integration of language and content learning should be established is still being discussed. It is generally agreed upon the fact that CLIL is not to be considered as simple extension of foreign language learning but as interweaving of content and language - of theoretical and practical knowledge. Nevertheless emphasis is laid on subject specific contents, many teachers are not sure to what extent and in which way the foreign language as the predominant medium of instruction is to be taught. Moreover, in Saxony there neither is a curriculum, nor are there any recommendations specifically developed on the needs of different subjects taught in the integrated way. Fortunately, teachers in other federal states, especially in North-Rhine Westphalia, can already draw back on recommendations for CLIL in different subjects. As teachers from different parts of Germany exchange their experiences, ideas, concepts and materials, they establish a network that not only supports teachers but at the same time develops further different methods, models and concepts of content and language integrated learning. This relatively new concept of instruction requires teachers to be strongly committed and willing to invest extra time and work in order to turn the idea of CLIL into a successful attempt of learning and teaching. Considering the effort that has to be made, there must be a strong motivation for establishing such learning environments. Some teachers may think that by learning contents through the medium of a foreign language, foreign language acquisition happens automatically; others favour the potential of intercultural learning. In order to find out about some of the reasons why content and language integrated learning is currently being such a success in German schools, I would like to examine the example of political education in Saxony and its potential of being taught in English. For clarifying the notions applied later on, I will firstly consider the linguistic concept of bilingualism and then outline the rationale of content and language integrated learning giving an overview of current approaches towards CLIL. Afterwards I will consider general principles and aims of political education and foreign language teaching. By analysing and comparing the Saxon curricula of the subjects English and politics I will try to find the benefits and challenges emerging from teaching politics in English.

2. The concept of bilingualism

2.1. The linguistic concept

Within academic discourse there is a great variety of attempts to define the term bilingualism. The definitions and descriptions try to explain the phenomenon in terms of different categories, scales and dichotomies (cf. ROMAINE, 11).

In the 1930s BLOOMFIELD considers a speaker only as bilingual if he or she gains native­like proficiency in two languages. Accordingly, the number of bilingual speakers would be strictly limited. This definition is problematic as for finding out who actually is a bilingual speaker, native-like fluencies need to be operationalised in order to measure the speaker’s proficiency. However, BLOOMFIELD does not explain in what way this could be done (cf. BUTLER/HAKUTA, 114).

Another extreme approach to bilingualism is HAUGEN’s understanding of the concept. In the 1950s he assumed that a bilingual speaker is an individual fluent in one language, a person who is additionally able to “produce meaningful utterances in the other language” (HAUGEN, 7.). This implies that even early second language learners can be considered as bilingual speakers. His broad view of a minimal definition is shared by many researchers of the field. HAKUTA, MACNAMARA and MOHANTY are among those who take HAUGEN’s definition as basis for further addition of various degrees of proficiency in order to make the approach more precise (cf. BUTLER / HAKUTA, 114).

Another minimal definition is offered by DIEBOLD who introduces the term ‘incipient bilingualism’ (qtd. in ROMAINE, 11). In his description of the initial stages of contact between two languages, he refers to a passive or receptive kind of bilingualism. According to DIEBOLD, bilingualism begins with the ability to understand utterances although the speaker is still incapable of actively producing meaningful language (cf. ibid.).

By the 1990s bilingual researches shifted focus from acquisition of formal rules to communicative skills. Bilinguals were now considered as individuals or groups of people who acquire communicative skills aiming at interaction with speakers of another language. The linguistic competences of bilinguals may vary in degrees of proficiency and be applied to oral and / or written forms of language (cf. BUTLER / HAKUTA, 115). The concept of bilingualism is understood as complex psychological and social state of the individual and at the same time seen as result of interaction through two or possibly more languages (cf. ibid.). The complexity of bilingualism can easily be illustrated by the variety of dimensions applied to the concept, such as balance (similar degrees of proficiency in first and second language) and dominance (higher proficiency in one language) or early and late bilingualism (referring to the age of acquiring two or more languages) (cf. ibid., 118). These continuous dimensions can be considered for different aspects of language, as for instance reading, writing or basic interpersonal communicative skills. Besides, proficiencies may change over time. Consequently, bilingualism is of dynamic character (cf. ibid.).

It seems that these different attempts to define bilingualism share that the phenomenon implies knowledge, the use of more than one language and that it is a complex psychological and socio-cultural behaviour. Yet, it is arbitrary to determine when exactly a language becomes the second language. It should rather be referred to as the alternate use of two or more languages closely linked to questions of proficiency, function, alternation and interference of the languages (cf. ROMAINE, 12).

2.2. CLIL in German schools

Before I will continue with the development of content and language integrated learning in German classrooms, it is important to clarify the further use of the term bilingual. In the following paragraphs I will apply the terms bilingual and bilingual instruction with reference to CLIL. I will neither refer to concepts of integration of immigrants into monolingual societies as applied in the USA, nor will I refer to concepts of total immersion aiming at integration into bilingual social contexts as applied in Canada (cf. BACH, 14).

2.2.1. Development ofbilingual instruction in Germany

Bilingual instruction in German classrooms roots back to the 1960s. With the establishment of the Franco-German Cooperation in 1963, the concept called “Begegnungssprache” (ibid., 9) emerged. It implied the use of foreign languages as early as in kindergartens and primary schools. The first bilingual trace with French as language of instruction was established in 1969. In the following years an increasing number of schools, especially grammar schools offered bilingual education with French but also English as language of instruction (cf. KMK, 7).

From 1980 - 1995 researchers in the field of foreign language teaching were trying to find ways of improving and optimising foreign language learning. Apart from formal aspects, activities in the classroom should now also concentrate on communicative language use within authentic contexts. One way of implementing these ideas was to declare the foreign language as medium of communication in other subjects as within this context the use of the foreign language is rather of a functional nature than of a formal one. By introducing bilingual modules, pupils were slowly familiarised with the idea of content and language integrated learning (cf. KMK, 8).

With the introduction of the European Single Market and increasing economic and cultural globalisation, English became the most important language for bilingual instruction (cf. BONNET / BREIDBACH / HALLET, 172). Linguistic and intercultural education now seems to be as important as it had never been before. As a consequence, projects of bilingual education emerge in more and more primary and secondary schools, no matter whether comprehensive, middle or grammar schools. While in 1999 there were 366 schools with bilingual education on offer, there were 847 such schools in 2006 (cf. KMK, 9). Different forms of organisation illustrate the variety of bilingual instruction offered in Germany. Apart from bilingual traces and cross-curricular CLIL modules, there are also a few schools that apply bilingualism as central tenet of their whole school organisation (cf. BOSENIUS Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht, 127). Since many schools are not able to offer long-term bilingual traces, they offer short-phase bilingual modules. In case of bilingual traces, students usually take part in enhanced foreign language teaching in grades five and six for preparation for the introduction of one or two bilingual subjects from grade seven to ten. In grades eleven, twelve and thirteen usually one subject is continued to be taught in the foreign language (cf. BONNET / BREIDBACH / HALLET, 172).

As some federal states published curricula and recommendations for bilingual education and an increasing number of universities offer special courses for future bilingual teachers the consolidation of CLIL is in progress (cf. OTTEN / WILDHAGE, 16).

2.2.2. Legitimisation of CLIL

Within the discourse of science and didactics the growing demand for CLIL is first and foremost seen as consequence of the latest international developments. Apart from processes of globalisation in science and industry, the introduction of the European Single Market led to growing social mobility between the countries. In order to be well-prepared for future challenges in their professional life, pupils need to be able to communicate in a foreign language. Foreign language competence, mobility, ability to teamwork and open-mindedness are considered the basic requirements for working and participating in the European culture (cf. Bach, 10). For this reason, there is an increasing demand for more language contact and more opportunities to use English as a means of communication (cf. NIEMEIER, 32).

Since multiliteracy is considered high value qualification within the united Europe, pupils should be enabled to study in a foreign language, develop cultural awareness and acquire strategies for getting into contact with other cultures (cf. ibid., 33). With the objectives of promoting people’s proficiency in more than one language and by this providing them with new opportunities for employment, CLIL needs to be understood as an integral part of European language policy (cf. BOSENIUS Content and Language Integrated Learning, 15). The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages was therefore introduced as instrument for supporting the development of intercultural communicative competence by standardising language teaching methods and forms of assessment (cf. CEF). Its concept of multiliteracy includes linguistic and more general competences, such as the acquisition of knowledge, strategic competences for language learning, communicative competence and media literacy (cf. ibid, 16). Content and language integrated learning seems to offer good opportunities for achieving these aims. As lessons are mainly structured by subject matters, they provide a clear context for task- and content-oriented work that includes structured access to information and communication technology (especially the World Wide Web). Additionally, subject specific methods often rely on the ability to work with different kinds of texts, and various learning and working strategies are addressed and conveyed in the medium of the foreign language (cf. ibid., 18).

2.2.3. Objections to CLIL

Although CLIL seemingly offers great opportunities for fostering intercultural communicative competence and preparing pupils for their future in a globalised world, many teachers are not yet convinced of the concept. One of the reasons for their rejection roots in the organisational form of German schools. A variety of subjects determines the daily routines. This results in very limited time resources for conveying numerous contents and skills given in the curricula. Different subjects seem to be competing for precious time in order to achieve as many objectives as possible (cf. BREIDBACH Bilinguale Didaktik, 165). In the following paragraph I would like to discuss the most commonly mentioned objections and give some suggestions ofhow to cope with the anticipated problems.

Many teachers are afraid that pupils with minor language competences will be excluded from classroom discussions as they will not be able to actively participate in the foreign language. In most CLIL classrooms the foreign language is the medium of instruction. However, it is not necessary to ban the pupils’ mother tongue completely from the classroom. It is not only for the reason that contents and concepts need to be acquired in both, first and second language, but also the objective of intercultural learning that justifies a well-reasoned temporary use of the mother tongue (cf. HÜBNER / GRAMMES / STORK, 240). I will discuss the role of the first language in CLIL later on.

Another common reason for scepticism is the assumption that subject specific contents are being neglected in the course of using a foreign language as medium of classroom interaction. In order to ensure that contents are well-understood, language-caused misunderstandings have to be prevented. Therefore, it would be necessary to focus on language aspects which thus would result in inferior quality of content learning (cf. ibid., 241). Although language is an important factor of CLIL, it has to be focused on in a functional way. If language mistakes do not result in misunderstandings or in disrupting the discussion, they do not need to be corrected. Emphasis should be laid on contents and language support should be offered when absolutely necessary.

Apart from these worries, some teachers even expect CLIL to have effects that strongly contradict its basic objectives. As pupils’ proficiency in the foreign language is not as high as in their mother tongue, teachers are afraid that contents and problems of the subject can only be considered in a much reduced manner and thus might support and strengthen stereotypes (cf. ibid., 243). Different analyses of CLIL lessons could not prove this assumption. On the contrary, the analysis of sources in a foreign language requires careful reading and the consideration of first and foreign language concepts which fosters the acquisition of subject specific knowledge and competences (cf. ibid., 244).

The last problem I would like to mention is the idea that a foreign language as medium for classroom interaction might result in a lack of technical terms in the pupils’ first language. Since the introduced concepts should be discussed from different cultural perspectives, it is useful to use the German terms when discussing specifically German associations with the term. Technical terms should be introduced in the first as well as in the foreign language.

2.2.4. The rationale of CLIL

Bilingual education is Germany is mostly offered in traces, i.e. a number of subjects (most commonly history, geography and politics) are taught in a foreign language as medium of classroom interaction. With this development a third type of language teaching emerges: it is neither a grammar-oriented, nor an exclusively content-oriented approach. The aim is to integrate both approaches with focus on conveying subject specific contents and competences via the target language. This implies a functional focus on form or negotiation of form to support the learners in precise understanding and language production in the context of the subject (cf. VOLLMER Bilingualer Sachfachunterricht als Inhalts- und Sprachlernen, 49). The development of language proficiency is understood as long and dynamic process including the development of discourse competence and subject literacy (cf. ibid., 56). CLIL is primarily focused on content-oriented learning. Nevertheless, the language learning process does not only include the acquisition of linguistic knowledge for mere functional and appropriate application. It also includes the development of language awareness and language learning awareness, since in the production of utterances the learner is increasingly expressing complex ideas and concepts. Only if the learner recognises the relation of form and function within the language, he or she will be able to develop discourse competence and different subject specific methods of thought (cf. ibid., 57). The challenge of bilingual instruction is to get pupils acquiring subject specific knowledge in connection with language functions of the foreign language (cf. ibid., 63).

a) The integration of content and language learning

As the improvement of both, language and subject specific competences, is the goal of CLIL, it has to be discussed in what ways language and content learning should be integrated. OTTEN and WILDHAGE offer one approach towards this question. They provide teachers with an instructional framework for CLIL based on the following theses: First of all they claim that an integration of content and language learning in bilingual classrooms implies the use of the foreign language as language of instruction. The didactical foundations of the lesson are provided by the scientific subject, not the language. Foreign language teaching methods and concepts should support subject specific learning processes (cf. OTTEN / WILDHAGE, 24). The special value of bilingual instruction enfolds itself in the opportunity of intercultural learning by applying the foreign language. Furthermore, they state, that lexico-grammatical work has to be determined by subject specific learning processes and discourse. The further development of linguistic competence is not to be considered as mere work on vocabulary but as process of discursive character (cf. ibid., 27). Therefore, the integration of language and content for optimising subject specific teaching and learning processes implies a systematic and well-guided support of the pupil’s language acquisition in complex learning situations. This includes basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS), which should be primarily focused on in traditional foreign language classes, as well as cognitive academic linguistic proficiency (CALP) that is especially focused on in CLIL (cf. ibid., 28). According to WILDHAGE and OTTEN in CLIL teachers need to apply the principle of functional multilingualism. By working with bilingual materials pupils have the opportunity to gain insights into different cultural perspectives which should be supported by contrastive and comparing methods that foster the subject specific creation of meaning and concepts. Whether pupils use the foreign language or their mother tongue for communication depends on the specific contents and methods applied and on cognitive and communicative requirements of the respective task (cf. ibid., 31). In order to integrate language and content learning, WILDHAGE and OTTEN call for better interdisciplinary coordination, especially in terms of better cooperation between foreign language teaching and the CLIL subjects. In this context they refer to the approach called ‘Language(s) Across the Curriculum’ aiming at a cooperation between bilingual subjects, foreign language teaching and first language instruction. Only then language competences can optimally be transferred and thereby support the authentic use of the foreign language in bilingual classrooms (cf. ibid., 33). Cross­curricular cooperation also includes interdisciplinary methods and cooperation in terms of contents and cross-curricular work (cf. ibid., 32).

Based on these assumptions, WILDHAGE and OTTEN developed a heuristic model of CLIL which includes the explicit practice of foreign language learning in complex subject specific contexts and implicit support oflanguage learning.

illustration not visible in this excerpt

Figure 1: Integration oflanguage and subject specific learning. Translated by Janine Franke. (cf. WILDHAGE / OTTEN, 35.)

The model also illustrates that intercultural learning should be systematically supported by CLIL. Therefore, the teacher needs to consider different cognitive and affective aspects when talking about linguistic and cultural differences in the course of CLIL in order to enable the learner to develop empathy (cf. ibid., 36). Further, CLIL supports the ability for subject specific discourse, especially in terms of receptive and productive skills and competences.


Excerpt out of 40 pages


The Potential of Teaching Politics in English
Dresden Technical University
Gemeinschaftskunde / Sozialkunde, English
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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707 KB
CLIL, Politics, Social Studies, English, Bilingualer Unterricht
Quote paper
Janine Franke (Author), 2012, The Potential of Teaching Politics in English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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