Content-Based Instruction (CBI) as an approach has been defined as an approach to second language teaching in which teaching is organized around the content or information that students will acquire, rather than around a linguistic or other type of syllabus (Richard and Rodgers, 2001, p. 204). In this case, learners learn about some skills instead of learning about language. This teaching approach combines language and content, so it is considered as an effective teaching method by many researchers.
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CBI can be used in various ways for different skills and includes not only traditional teaching methods such as grammar-based instruction but also functional method such as Communicative Language Teaching. CBI is also supported by Krashen’s ‘Monitor Model’. According to this model, when learners receive comprehensible input, it is less difficult to learn the target language. And as a result, they can acquire it. And CBI has some features, including learning a language through academic skills and engaging in activities, that lead to meaningful and comprehensible input.
Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) indicates a major change in language teaching in twentieth century. The origins of CLT can be found in the changes in the British language teaching tradition. Until then, Situational Language Teaching was the major British approach to the teaching English as a foreign language. CLT centers on giving students opportunities to practice using communicative function. In these activities, students ‘use English to learn it’ rather than ‘learning to use English’.
Among the practices of communicative-based methods, CBI is one of the approaches that its popularity and applicability have been increased since the 1990s. Saint Augustine made some recommendations regarding focus on meaningful content in language teaching. This can be the reason that some researchers, including Brinton, Snow and Wesche, suggest that Saint Augustine was an early proponent of Content-Based Language Teaching.
In the 1970s, other educational plans had been designed. They all emphasize the principle of acquiring content through language rather than the study of language. Although there are slight differences in their aims, all the models agree with the role of language as a means of learning content. CBI took some of its theory and design from these plans. I will briefly take into account the role of content in these plans.
Language across the Curriculum is a suggestion for native language education. It was recommended by a British governmental commission in the 1970s. It emphasizes a focus on reading and writing in different subjects. It also had an effect on American education, and the slogan ‘every teacher, an English teacher’ became well-known to every instructor. However, this suggestion didn’t have an influential effect on classrooms.
Immersion Education had an effect on the theory of CBI as well. In this plan, the ordinary school syllabus is taught through the foreign language. The foreign language is not the subject of instruction. In fact, it’s a means for achieving content instruction. For example, a Spanish speaking child may enter an elementary school where the language of instruction for the entire content subject is French. Since the 1970s, immersion programs have been used in many parts of North America, and new forms of immersion have been planned. In the United States, immersion program can be considered in a number of languages, including French, German, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese.
Immigrant On-Arrival Program usually gives attention on the language of those immigrants who are recently arrived. Immigrants need to know the language of the country they live in. Australia was the first country that designed such a course. For a particular situation, notional, functional and grammatical instructions are integrated. And its usual course covers those parts of language that are needed to deal with government organization, shopping, finding a job, and so on. Australia uses Direct Method as the methodology of recently arrived immigrants.
Programs for Students with Limited English Proficiency are used for two groups of children. First, these programs are used for those children whose language competence is not adequately developed in order to participate in normal classrooms. Second, they are used for those children who have immigrated to another country, and their parents participate in immigrant on-arrival program. These programs try to make children ready in order to be able to enter the normal classrooms.
Language for Specific Purposes (LSP) is an attempt in order to perform particular roles (e.g. student, nurse, teacher, businessman, engineer, and technician) according to the needs of learners. LSP has paid special attention on English for Science and Technology (EST). In EST courses, learners learn to read technical articles or to write academic papers in different fields of science.
III. Definition, Theories & Ideas
CBI involves the integration of content learning with language teaching. It refers to the concurrent study of language and subject matter. In other words, students are learning content (e.g. math, science, social studies, business, etc) at the same time they are developing their target language skills. There is also a variety of definitions of ‘content’. Some researchers believe that content is clearly an academic subject matter while others believe that it can be any topic, theme or issue of interest.
It is indicated that language learning is more motivating when learners focus on something other than language. It can also be stated as “people learn a second language most successfully when the information they are acquiring is perceived as interesting, useful, and leading to a desired goal” (Richard & Rodgers, 2001, p. 204).
Usually, language is used for some purposes. And the purpose may refer to people’s jobs and education. So, it’s obvious that when people’s purposes are achieved through language learning, it will make gaining language knowledge a lot easier. Also, CBI classrooms can produce an increase in intrinsic motivation, since students are focus on subject matter that is important to their lives. And, students are beyond temporary extrinsic factors, like grades and tests. It can also be declared as “when language becomes the medium to convey informational content of interest and relevance to the learner, then learners are pointed toward matters of intrinsic concern” (Brown, 2001, p. 49).
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CBI shares the same basic principles with CLT and can be regarded as a logical development of some of the principles of CLT, particularly those rules that relate to the role of meaning in language learning. Because CBI provides an approach that is especially suited prepare ESL students to enter elementary or secondary education, it is widely used in English-speaking countries around the world.
A difference between CBI and other kinds of language syllabus is how the elements for language study are selected. For example, in a grammatical syllabus, the items that are supposed to be learned are grammar points. They are selected in advance either by second language researcher or by teachers’ judgments about what grammar points should be presented first, second, third, and so on. The syllabus can even be determined by the course textbook. However, in CBI classrooms, the form and sequence of language syllabus are determined by content material. Instead of having a pre-selected grammar syllabus or list of vocabulary items, the grammar and vocabulary that are supposed to be learned come from the content material. So, it can be stated that since CBI refers to an approach rather than a method, no particular techniques or activities are related with it.
IV. Assessment in CBI Classes
Assessment in CBI classes can be problematic, but it is essential that teachers should evaluate learners’ learning. Usually in EFL classes, a learner’s performance is evaluated by assessment tasks such as ‘discrete, de-contextualized tasks’. And their central focus is on linguistic structure or vocabulary. However, students in CBI classes cannot be evaluated in the traditional way because they are exposed to more input and content through the class. Instead, CBI assessment must be simultaneously authentic and interactive. Students are required to interact with academic materials according to meaningful and contextualized text in order to analyze their knowledge. Also, assessment of CBI should not be simple and isolated. Students must integrate information in order to form their own opinions about subject matter.
V. Models of CBI
In the 1980s, four models are made according to the principles of CBI. These models can only be applied at the university levels. The examples of the most common models of CBI are theme-based language instruction, and sheltered content instruction. Theme-based language instruction refers to a kind of class that is based on a particular theme or topic such ‘human rights’ or ‘discrimination’. Sheltered content instruction refers to a kind of class that learning of content material with only ‘incidental’ language learning is considered as the goal.
Today, Content-based courses are frequent in different countries since the 1980s, and this method is often used in ESP (English for Specific Purposes) classes where the content of input plays a significant role. It has been indicated that vocabulary is easier to acquire when there are contextual clues in order to make a connection between vocabulary and meaning. Moreover, when learners become aware of the relation between language learning and their favored goals, they become even more motivated to learn. Learners feel that learning is a kind of impressive thing because they know that they are studying authentic content material (not material that are made for all the foreign learners) in the target language. They know that it is a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It has also been proved to be a valid approach for language teaching at all stages of instruction, from elementary school to university levels, both in second or foreign language teaching settings.
Generally CBI advocates claim that this approach leads to more successful results in comparison with other language teaching approaches. Because it provides a number of opportunities for teachers in order to match learners’ interests and needs with interesting, meaningful and contextualized content.
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