Content learning in the L1 and in the L2: A comparative study of CLIL students in grade 9 and grade 10 in Dutch secondary schools
Goede, L. de
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This study has focused on content learning in bilingual education in the Netherlands. Throughout the Netherlands, over 120 schools have adopted bilingual programmes allowing students to both learn a second language (most often English) and study part of their school subjects through this same language, an approach coined Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL). Various researchers, teachers as well as parents have expressed their doubts with regards to the effect this has on students’ ability to fully understand and express what they are asked to learn in school. Based on similar research by Gablasova (2012), the goal of this study was to assess and compare the effect of L1- versus L2-mediated learning on the acquisition of content knowledge, and on learning new content words specifically. Furthermore, the study aimed to address the fact that in the Netherlands, students are confronted with a ‘language switch’ after grade 9: from then on, many of the (content) subjects previously taught in English are instead taught in Dutch, due to the national final examinations also being in Dutch. Students also receive fewer hours of English-taught lessons from grade 10 and onwards. To assess these matters, 45 students in 9th grade and 51 students in 10th grade were asked to read and listen to an academic text on a historical topic. Half of the students in both grades read an English version of the text, while the other half read the Dutch version. All students were then asked to complete a written test which asked them to recall and define 13 target words included in the text, half of them in English and half of them in Dutch. The results showed that students performed best in the language in which they also read the text, regardless of whether this was their L1 or L2. L1 readers in grade 9 were found to struggle when translating their knowledge into their L2, possibly due to the fact they are still acquiring this language. Overall, L2 readers performed best in grade 9, whereas in grade 10, L1 readers outperformed the L2 readers. Furthermore, L2-instructed students in grade 9 outperformed the L2-instructed students in grade 10. One of the possible causes of these differences can be sought in the language shift between grade 9 and 10 and the reduced amount of English-taught lessons.