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‘Welcome to the CLIL in Germany issue of the ICRJ. CLIL is clearly on its way to becoming an option – not yet an obligation – for mainstream learners in German schools. This has occurred half a century after the 1961 ‘Hamburg Agreement’ (Hamburger Abkommen) between the Ministers of Education of the regional governments of West-Germany calling for compulsory foreign language education for all pupils in Germany. The future will show if the current CLIL trend will become a requirement.

There are two major forces providing a strong tailwind for CLIL. On the one hand, European language policies increasingly promote CLIL citing its perceived potential for language learning and education in general. On the other hand, parents’ increased awareness of what they perceive as an international element in their children’s education has helped  ‘CLIL for all’ to become a feasible scenario no longer carrying a political risk for regional governments. Re-election may even be fostered by CLIL.

Most research into CLIL in Germany has been published in German. We compiled this volume of ICRJ as a special-topic issue to provide non-German speaking scholars greater access to German research. The articles in this issue cover a cross-section of research fields as they have developed in Germany within the past twenty years. The scope of papers is by no means all-encompassing: they provide a sample of German research whilst seeking to offer a systematic insight into the CLIL research landscape in Germany (cf. reader’s rough guide below). We believe that CLIL research in Germany has produced insights which also have relevance for those working in other national contexts.

CLIL in Germany has a particular historical background, which explains why the German CLIL discourse has its own special agenda, including a focus on intercultural learning and a markedly strong leaning towards aspects of grammar school education. Much more than in other countries, CLIL in Germany has been conceptualised from its start in the late 1960s as an instrument to foster European integration. CLIL was seen as an opportunity to better foster the learning of the target language (initially usually French). Schools also quickly discovered CLIL as a means to develop a special niche market and to filter student intake – to attract what they perceived to be more-able students. Another characteristic which makes Germany appear to be a special environment for CLIL can be found in teacher education. Traditionally, German teachers teach two subjects, which can be considered an asset for CLIL. Still, despite the long-standing CLIL tradition in Germany, school authorities by and large are still not legally allowed to favour hiring certified CLIL teachers over other teachers.

German CLIL research is embedded in this particular context of educational and research policies. Thus, there is a national flavour to German CLIL research mirroring the public debates about the aims and organisation of mainstream education, and the academic controversies about disciplinary boundaries and research methodologies. In the ‘In Focus’ article, Stephan Breidbach and Britta Viebrock make the connection between German educational policies and the inherited ideologies underpinning the educational system. The institutional and social backdrop against which CLIL unfolds as an educational practice, and the changing landscape in CLIL research rose to the forefront from the mid-1990s onwards.

In terms of research, CLIL used to be a field dominated by linguists. Wolfgang Zydatiß takes this perspective as his point of departure, discussing in his article evidence from empirical data generated in an evaluative survey of lower secondary CLIL learners in Berlin. He examines the interdependency between linguistic competences in the working language (English) and ‘academic discourse competences which are relevant to subject-matter teaching’. The data analysis reveals that there apparently exists a lower and an upper language threshold for foreign language CLIL learners in a similar way as it had been found for second language students in immersion settings.

At the same time, CLIL research has also become more open to questions about the effects on subject matter learning. Anke Wegner reports on results from a reconstructive study of two English language CLIL-Politics classrooms. She views teachers and learners as social agents, who co-construct the CLIL classroom as a place for subject-matter centred interaction and learning. In reconstructing the individuals’ subjective points of view and fusing these with detailed classroom observations, Wegner shows that diverging expectations regarding teaching responsibilities, learning content and the subject-related educational goals of CLIL can lead to competing conceptualisations of CLIL and even missed learning opportunities for both teachers and students.

Ute Massler also takes into view the stakeholders’ perspectives in her article. She reports on findings from a study conducted at a number of primary schools in the South-West of Germany. She explores  teachers’, parents’ and children’s acceptance of CLIL modules. While the modules receive general acceptance from all groups, the study highlights the overriding importance of active participation of all relevant groups as one of the most important factors in the ‘successful implementation of CLIL’. This is in line with findings from implementation research in other CLIL settings and national contexts.

Carsten Apsel takes current European and German policies to expand CLIL to all mainstream learners as a starting point for his article. He finds this prevailing optimism to be based on the assumption that research findings unambiguously display the beneficial effects of CLIL on language and subject-matter learning. Based on an extensive literature review, Apsel criticises a prevailing methodological misconception since most of the research findings come from non-comprehensive, non-representative studies in which only small numbers of learners were involved. He argues that for an expansion of CLIL to be pedagogically feasible, a more solid evidence base is needed which will inform teachers and administrators alike about the teaching and learning conditions conducive to learning in mainstream CLIL classrooms. His article finishes with a short report on his on-going research project in which he takes what might be called a ‘reverse’ approach in that he tries to understand the reasons why learners drop out of CLIL streams in order to identify and describe the minimal standards for the successful implementation of CLIL in mainstream classrooms.

As Wegner’s article foreshadows, there has also been an expansion of scientific interest to address not only outcome-oriented research questions but also process-oriented research. Such research focuses on the emergence of learners’ conceptual knowledge and on classroom cultures through descriptions of teachers and learners doing CLIL. Prue Goredema’s article bears witness to this. Her study, in which she follows a Grade 9 CLIL class at a Berlin grammar school throughout one academic year takes a quasi-ethnographic approach ‘to investigate in detail how CLIL is practiced.’ Alongside qualitative methods to analyse data generated from in-class observations and interviews on a variety of focus areas she also uses quantifiable data on student performance especially in written tasks in order to understand how different factors evolve over time and impact on student subject-matter performance.

Last but not least, the development of CLIL research in the past decade has been influenced by increased methodological awareness in German educational research.

In the concluding ‘In Depth’ article, Andreas Bonnet picks up on the overarching theme of this volume – the prospects of expansive CLIL policies. He argues strongly in favour of a much wider evidence base as compared to the existing empirical knowledge base in order to underpin both political structural decisions and classroom pedagogies. He offers nothing less than a full-blown research programme for CLIL, which features as its main characteristic a double integration in terms of ‘approach (qualitative and quantitative) and perspective (product, process and participant)’. As a case in point, Bonnet spells out a research strategy based on the ‘documentary method’. In allowing for the double integration of approaches and perspectives, such a strategy has the potential to move CLIL research further into the cross-section of linguistics, subject matter pedagogy and educational studies to provide not only a wider but also a more conclusive evidence base for further German and potentially other CLIL policymakers.

To sum up this short introduction, the following table can be used as a rough guide to the research areas and main foci addressed in this volume of ICRJ:

Article / research area, main focus Product Process Language learning Subject-
matter learning
S. Breidbach/B. Viebrock General introduction to CLIL contexts and research in Germany
W. Zydatiß
A. Wegner
U. Massler
C. Apsel
P. Goredema
A. Bonnet

The collection of articles in this volume of ICRJ is intended to reflect the development of CLIL research in Germany and to capture the expanding variety of the field in terms of epistemology, research methods and focal points. We hope that researchers, students of CLIL and political decision-makers find the arguments and research findings presented in this issue instructive and thought-provoking.

The next issue of the ICRJ will focus on CLIL in Japan.


Berlin / Frankfurt / London

Stephan Breidbach and Britta Viebrock, with Peeter Mehisto