Tom Morton Abstract

TITLE: ‘Content and language integration in multilingual education as a ‘wicked problem’: towards a transdisciplinary approach’


Approaches to bi/multilingual education in which the learning and teaching of academic content and a second/foreign/additional language are combined are attracting increasing interest throughout the world. These approaches can have different labels, such as content and language integrated learning (CLIL), content-based language instruction (CBI), immersion, or English-medium instruction (EMI). Whatever the labels, they all have a similar concern with the issue of ‘integration’, i.e. finding ways to combine content and language and their respective pedagogies (Nikula, Dalton-Puffer, Llinares, & Lorenzo 2016). In this talk I will argue that the integration of content and language pedagogies in bi/multilingual education is a ‘wicked problem’. Wicked problems are complex issues which defy complete definition, have no final solution, and cannot be effectively solved by existing research methods or decision-making processes (Brown, Harris & Russell 2010). They can best be tackled by taking a trans-disciplinary approach, which incorporates not only different disciplinary perspectives, but also the knowledge and worldviews of all those affected by the issue.

Drawing on findings from ongoing interdisciplinary research on content and language integration in bi/multilingual education carried out by teams in Europe, Asia, and North America, the talk will survey the different ways in which ‘content’ and ‘language’ and their integration have been conceptualised and operationalised. I will present a framework (Leung & Morton 2016) which attempts to capture the range of possibilities in the ways in which integration has been addressed. The talk will then turn to some of the different disciplinary perspectives and methods which have been used in applied linguistics research on CLIL, as described in Llinares & Morton (2017). These perspectives are second language acquisition (SLA), systemic functional linguistics (SFL), discourse analysis, and sociolinguistics. While these disciplinary approaches and the methods they use have been extremely beneficial in illuminating practices, possibilities and problems in the integration of content and language, I will argue that we need to take a further step – towards a transdisciplinary approach. Such an approach would increase the possibility that new ways of thinking about the ‘wicked problem’ of content and language integration in bi/multilingual education may emerge, and the possibility of imaginative and creative solutions that would benefit researchers and practitioners. The talk will conclude with some suggestions and proposals for what such a transdisciplinary approach would look like, and some of the emerging issues in integrating content and language in bi/multilingual education that it could address.


Brown, V. A., Harris, J. A., & Russell, J. Y. (2010). Tackling wicked problems through the transdisciplinary imagination. London: Earthscan.

Leung, C., & Morton, T. (2016). Language competence, learning and pedagogy in CLIL:    deepening and broadening integration. In T. Nikula, E. Dafouz Milne, P. Moore & U.                Smit (Eds.). Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp. 235-248.

Llinares, A., & Morton, T. (2017). Applied linguistics perspectives on CLIL. Amsterdam: John          Benjamins.

Nikula, T., Dalton-Puffer, C., Llinares, A. & Lorenzo, F. (2016). More than content and   language: the complexity of integration in CLIL and multilingual education. In Nikula, T., Dafouz, E. Moore, P. & U. Smit (eds.),  Conceptualising integration in CLIL and multilingual education. Bristol: Multilingual Matters, pp.1-25.