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Implementing CLIL Snapshot Series: Using CLIL pedagogy for teaching Japanese in Australian schools

Implementing CLIL: Teacher snapshots from around the world

The papers in this series are drawn from coursework completed by Deakin students in a unit on CLIL pedagogy in 2019 The students’ diverse views and educational and teaching backgrounds led to vibrant discussion around the practicalities of implementing CLIL in different contexts. The content of the students’ papers was too good to keep to ourselves, so we’d like to share them with you to keep the CLIL discussion going.

CLIL: The 60-second summary

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) is derived from the bilingual immersion programs practised in Canada, where students learn about 50 per cent of the curriculum in the target language. In 2004, the EU recognised that CLIL could boost their ‘one plus two’ strategy, which encourages people to be proficient in three languages: their national language plus two other EU languages.

However, immersive teaching focuses on content while learning through the medium of another language, whereas CLIL focuses on learning language and content at the same time. So, for example, a student in Australia might be doing a mathematics class in Italian, with a simultaneous focus on mathematics and Italian.

The key theory behind CLIL is that learning is based on a gradual and active construction of knowledge and skills—and if new knowledge is constructed through the target language it boosts the acquisition of both language and content, as each reinforces the other. CLIL has four key building blocks, known as the 4Cs:

Content: the subject or domain, e.g. maths, ICT, Spanish.

• Communication: the language used to ‘create and communicate meaning about the knowledge, concepts and skills being learned’ (Coyle 2006).

Cognition: the ways we think and make sense of the world around us by remembering, evaluating, understanding, etc.

Culture: the ways that we interact and engage.

While CLIL has become an increasingly popular pedagogy in Australia, especially in the curriculum domain of Languages, much of the thinking and teaching behind it is based on Anglophone CLIL literature. So how does CLIL transfer to different educational settings? How do practitioners in contexts other than Europe implement CLIL programs? How do teachers adjust CLIL pedagogy to suit their own classrooms?

To find out, we are showcasing student reflections on the feasibility and value of CLIL in non-Anglophone contexts. In this instalment, Samuel Ryan investigates using CLIL methods to teach Japanese in Australian schools.

Using CLIL pedagogy for teaching Japanese in Australian schools: Reflections of a pre-service Language teacher

by Samuel Ryan


I had little exposure to language classes in Australia, as most of my experience comes from a short period teaching conversational English at university in Australia, and from diverse English teaching settings in Japan. In this paper I reflect on:

• my experiences teaching English in Japan

• which experiences I can apply to Japanese language classes in the future.

• how I wish to develop my pedagogy with a particular focus on CLIL.

Setting the scene

I believe that second-language acquisition needs to be gradual and scaffolded. Some people are concerned that using the first language in the classroom may lower second-language learning and exposure (Lin, 2015). This is something I witnessed in Japan and fought against, because I could see that students did not understand the English content without some guidance through Japanese—although this use of first language does seem to be an approach that is dominant in Asia (Lin, 2015).

Genesee and Hamayan (2016) advocate that teachers should immerse students in the target language while keeping students’ abilities in mind, and that strict separation is not needed as use of the students’ dominant language will be important when constructing knowledge (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016; Lin, 2015).

Ultimately, what students need is to be able to use language in a fashion that can open doors to further study or work (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016) through authentic language learning activities, at a cognitively appropriate level and without latent bias springing from teachers’ prior experience or the dismissal of student stress (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016; Urban, 2018).

With a basic understanding of the systematic needs that lead to success, CLIL programs can more readily connect language instruction with students’ needs that lead to proficiency (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016). Communication is a key target of language learning, and it requires interest and motivation from students and a critically reflective pedagogy from teachers (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016). And although students’ levels of bilingual ability depend on a number of factors, dual-language instruction has been shown to benefit students’ knowledge and conceptual and cognitive growth (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016).


Personally, I find it difficult to picture a teaching program before its inception, due not only to context but to the many personalities and agendas that will help form the final design of the program (Paran, 2013). Looking at the agency I had in the past, the influence of policies and agendas was quite clear to see. For example, it took much more effort to persuade other stakeholders of the school community of the benefit of changes to content or class design in public schools than in private schools.

I can see similarities between my teaching in Japan and teaching in Australia. In both settings, collaboration is important, and the resources and school culture for each context need to be weighed in order to maximise program benefits (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016). Because of this, I can see the benefits of early total immersion, especially at the primary level. When learners are free from intense assessment regimes and other pressures that come with the later years, they can gain language abilities that are not yet too challenging either conceptually or cognitively (Genesee & Hamayan, 2016).

Immersion programs and CLIL programs can potentially benefit from each other, and semantic and content knowledge can be brought to the fore to include the demands of both content and language (Lin, 2015). Lin (2015) gives examples of language-specific conceptual and cultural understandings, and I can see the relevance of these through my own experience teaching Japanese. For example, even in the lower levels of Japanese language learning, CLIL could help students to understand the conceptual difference between 熱い (atsui/hot—relating to things) and 暑い (atsui/hot—relating to weather) or 冷たい (tsumetai/cold—relating to touch) and 寒い (samui/cold—relating to weather).

These differences can be taught with the help of setting and body language to bring the students into the desired ‘context’ to impart knowledge in a multi-sensory fashion, allowing a greater chance for students to engage and retain learning. This could be achieved with the above examples through hand gestures while practising vocabulary or dialogues.

Dialogue and co-construction of shared knowledge are the foundations of CLIL programs—however, students still need to be scaffolded through dialogue (Lin & Lo, 2017). This means that before my students can start to construct meaning or transform their understanding, they first need to engage their existing knowledge.

In my future teaching, while considering both the language and content areas of the curriculum and using different dialogue strategies, I will need to consider the benefits of the discursive environment and their representations, the opportunities for social interaction, and the context (Lin & Lo, 2017). I will need to carefully plan what is to be taught, particularly with new and young learners, by looking at different strategies such as:

• task-based activities

• pre-learning and post-learning phases to complement activities and lessons

• paying specific attention to language use in the classroom (Jäppinen, 2005).

I will need to check language meanings in a planned and systematic process and connect this to the students’ thinking processes (Jäppinen, 2005), and be aware that my students are not just developing vocabularies—they are creating an understanding of how language is used and constructed (Jäppinen, 2005). In this way, I hope to use a CLIL approach to support students’ learning in a more integrated manner, and help them to understand genres and registers, as well as how to operate in meaningful ways through a second language (Jäppinen, 2005).

Debate still persists about the ideologies that surround immersion programs. However, a key requirement is the need to give students the opportunities to engage with the target language in developmentally appropriate ways. In the language or CLIL classroom, both teachers and students engage with and ‘construct’ new knowledge together through multiple discourses, to push learning and form concepts (Lin & Lo, 2017).

The languaging process can promote students’ thinking and learning, as well as contribute to their physical and symbolic realities (Lin & Lo, 2017). Language acquisition is a prime tool for making sense of society in a process of co-construction that allows students to make sense of the world around them (Lin & Lo, 2017).

Summing up

Research cited in Jäppinen (2005) shows that students learning content via CLIL methodology demonstrate similar or higher conceptual and cognitive development than students studying in their first language. This shows that demanding content and language programs positively affect cognitive growth, and although more research—and more experience on my part—is needed, it is evident that teachers can help to socialise students in and through both the content and the language (Jäppinen, 2005), as seen in the examples of Wellers Hill State School (Queensland Government, 2019) and Sydney Japanese International School (Sydney Japanese International School, 2019).

Language learning through CLIL is challenged by language, culture and content, and CLIL students have the unique opportunity, through negotiated understandings with teachers and peers, to practise and create concepts relevant across language and content settings and to be socialised through subject and language cultures (Jäppinen, 2005).


Coyle, D. (2006). Content and language integrated learning. Motivating learners and teachers. Scottish Language Review, 13, 1–18.

Genesee, F., & Hamayan, E. (2016). CLIL in context: Practical guidance for educators. Cambridge University Press.

Jäppinen, A-K. (2005). Thinking and content learning of mathematics and science as cognitional development in Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL): Teaching through a foreign language in Finland. Language and Education, 19(2), 149–169.

Lin, A. (2015). Conceptualising the potential role of L1 in CLIL. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 28(1), 74–89.

Lin, A., & Lo, Y. Y. (2017). Trans/Languaging and the triadic dialogue in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) classrooms. Language and Education, 31(1), 26–45.

Paran, A. (2013). Content and language integrated learning: Panacea or policy borrowing myth? Applied Linguistic Review, 4(2), 317–342.

Queensland Government. (2019). Wellers State School [website].

Sydney Japanese International School. (2019). シドニー日本人国際学校ホームページ. Sydney Japanese International School.

Urban, Rebecca. (2018, 15 June). Students’ stress levels up and confidence down. The Australian.

About the author

Samuel Ryan is a trained primary and secondary teacher with the Department of Education in Tasmania. He has spent the last 15 years teaching English in Japan to students in kindergartens, primary schools, and junior and senior high schools, as well as in various private institutes. In 2021 Samuel designed and taught a Japanese immersion program at a small rural public primary school in Southern Tasmania. The program includes students from Prep to Grade 6, and has an emphasis on delivering STEM through the Japanese language.


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