Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Motivating and Motivation in Bilingual Education

What motivates learners in bilingual education to learn English and how can and do teaching practices contribute to that motivation?

2017 - 2020
Tessa Mearns
Meesterschapsteam Vakdidactiek Moderne Vreemde Talen


  • dr. T.L. Mearns
  • dr. N.H. de Jong

Research question

Pupils who choose to follow bilingual secondary education in the Netherlands (TTO) are often thought to be highly motivated to learn English to a high standard. This project hopes to find out whether this is indeed the case and, if so, why.

What and why? TTO, CLIL and gaps in the research

Bilingual Education (Tweetalig onderwijs – TTO)

The Netherlands is home to one of the best-established and most structured examples of bilingual teaching and learning (Perez Cañado 2012). Tweetalig onderwijs (TTO) – or bilingual education – at secondary level gives pupils the opportunity to develop their proficiency in English and their international orientation while still following the Dutch national curriculum.

Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)

CLIL plays an important role in supporting the development of both language and content knowledge within the bilingual education context. CLIL has grown in popularity over the past two decades due to its reputation for accelerating language acquisition and increasing motivation (Coyle, Hood & Marsh 2010).

Motivation in CLIL/TTO: need for scientific evidence

As in many CLIL contexts, TTO is an elective and often selective educational route. The pupils who opt to follow TTO often have clearly-defined reasons for doing so and are aturally more academically-oriented than those who do not (Mearns 2015, 2016; Mearns, de Graaff & Coyle 2017). Early research into CLIL did not always take these features of CLIL learners into account when claiming advantages of the approach. Higher academic results or increased motivation were interpreted as proving the positive effects of CLIL, but inherent differences in the population were not always taken into consideration (Broca 2016). 

Pupil perspectives

This project aims to focus specifically on this special group of pupils, who have opted to follow a bilingual (TTO) route. It seeks not to compare them with those in ‘regular’ education, but to establish a picture of the nature of their motivation to learn English, (a) identifying trends in motivation in terms of age, gender and educational stream, and (b) listening to their perspectives on what they consider to be motivating (English/CLIL) teaching. It is hoped that it will thus provide insights into which groups of pupils within TTO need which kinds of motivational support. Furthermore, it may help us to establish to what extent CLIL is found to be motivating and, if so, why.

Teacher perspectives

At the same time, the study also addresses teachers’ perspectives on motivating CLIL learners. This may establish (i) how the TTO English teacher attempts to motivate pupils for English and (ii) whether teachers of English-medium (content-driven) subjects employ similar strategies. The aim in this is to identify the potential impact of CLIL on motivation and also the areas through which CLIL learner motivation might be better-supported. Through triangulation of data collected from pupils and teachers, it may also be possible to create a comprehensive picture of the effects of teachers’ motivational strategies on actual learner motivation.

Research questions

The research questions at the heart of the research are:

  1. What are the roles played by internal and external factors in the English motivation of learners in bilingual education?
  2. Which strategies are employed by language and subject teachers in bilingual education in order to motivate their pupils to learn English?
  3. What can teachers of English and of English-medium subjects in bilingual education do in order to make a greater contribution to their pupils’ motivation?


The timeline for the research is as follows:

Phase I

  • ‘CLIL Motivational State’ questionnaire completed by 2,000 pupils in 1st, 3rd and 5th year of bilingual education (TTO), across 20 schools in the Netherlands. Repeated measurements in subsequent years;
  • Pupil interviews to expand on questionnaire responses;
  • ‘Motivating in TTO’ questionnaire completed by 200 teachers of English or other English-medium subjects in TTO across the country.

Phase II

Lesson observations with focus on motivational ‘good practices’ in TTO, followed by discussions with pupils and teachers.

  • Poster: ‘Measuring motivation in Dutch bilingual education: Work in progress’, Anéla Najaarsstudiedag, 22 September 2017
  • Presentation: ‘Motivating & motivation in TTO: Initial findings’, National TTO Conference, 10 November 2017

Conceptualising and developing the practice of CLIL teachers

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