Bridging the Gap between ESP and CLIL in the University Context


  • Vanessa Leonardi



Further to the establishment of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA), many European countries have joined the Bologna Process in order to standardise their higher education systems to create an open market for both European and non-European citizens (Wächter 2008). As a result, universities felt the need of internationalising their curricula to foster academic cooperation, thus encouraging staff and student mobility. Internationalisation of tertiary institutions implies the use of English as a lingua franca to both attract students and staff from other countries as well as allowing one’s own peoples to move abroad. University teachers of English, then, can choose whether to implement CLIL or teach ESP courses in order to meet these needs of standardisation and internationalisation. The present paper attempts to explore the relationship between ESP and CLIL in the context of tertiary level education. These teaching approaches have been at the core of heated controversies as to whether they are different methodologies or two different terms used for the same approach. From a theoretical point of view, ESP and CLIL share several key features, such as 1) the use of context from different non-linguistic subjects, 2) the use of communicative language teaching methodology and 3) the development of academic and communication skills, among others. Nevertheless, there are also some significant differences between ESP and CLIL such as 1) the objectives and learning outcomes, 2) different approach to L2 and 3) different teachers’ roles, among the most important features. In broad terms, ESP is viewed as being single-focused on language, whereas CLIL is meant to teach both language and subject content simultaneously. This work supports the belief that there are more areas of convergence than divergence between ESP and CLIL and, therefore, English language learning in university contexts could benefit from a gradual and mutual collaboration between these two approaches.