CLIL biology: The linguistic challenges
Project funded by own resources
Project title CLIL biology: The linguistic challenges
Principal Investigator(s) Locher, Miriam
Bieri, Aline
Organisation / Research unit Departement Sprach- und Literaturwissenschaften / English Linguistics (Locher)
Project start 01.02.2016
Probable end 31.01.2020
Status Active

In her MA thesis entitled “’That’s something we have time for in English classes, in biology
we learn biology’: A Descriptive-Comparative Study of Biology Lessons in a CLIL and Non-
CLIL Context at the Gymnasium Oberwil” the author already aimed at making a contribution
to the on-going debate about the actual role of language in CLIL programmes: in a four-week
study conducted at the Gymnasium Oberwil (Canton of Baselland, Switzerlamd) the author
compared biology lessons taught in English (CLIL programme) with those taught in the
mainstream language (German), something no previous study known to the author has
attempted. By analysing the interaction of four biology lessons as well as evaluating a student
survey and interviews with the respective teachers, the author was able to show that one
aspect in particular seems to complicate communication in CLIL biology lessons: The
technical terms used in English do often not coincide with the technical terms used in
German. As a consequence, teacher and students have to engage in a linguistic
metadiscourse, that is, in many exchanges they first have to negotiate or agree on the
necessary linguistic resources before being able to talk about the actual content or topic. It is
this interface of language and content that needs to be examined more closely and in larger
corpora in order to obtain more representative data. The findings of the MA thesis thus
present an ideal departure point for future research on teacher didactics that aims at better
integrating language in CLIL programmes.

This is why the proposed dissertation project aims at expanding this unique linguistic
case study. To do so, it follows two main steps: First, due to the limited scope of the MA
thesis, the author could not take full advantage of the rich data she collected and was only
able to analyse four biology lessons instead of the 31 lessons that have been recorded for the
purpose of the MA thesis. Thus, in a first step, this already available data will be analysed
and the question of whether this linguistic metadiscourse in connection to technical terms is a
more common phenomenon or only a particular occurrence in the lessons under investigation
will be addressed. In a second step, this dissertation project seeks to investigate the interface
of biology as a subject and its linguistic requirements for students as well as for teachers in a
CLIL environment more closely, with a particular focus on the negotiation of meaning and
the relationship between English and German technical terms. Based on this knowledge,
specific teaching strategies and didactics could be developed in order to improve language
integration for CLIL biology.

Keywords CLIL
Financed by University funds

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