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Expert in the spotlight in 2012: Piet van de Craen

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Piet Van De Craen studied Dutch, English, and neurolinguistics. In his doctorate, he emphasises the interactive aspects of discursive analysis, which he advocated a hermeneutic language analysis (Unlike the, at that time, dominant method of Chomsky). He applied this theory to three research areas:1) The domain of theoretical linguistics, 2) the domain of multilingual research and 3) the level of discursive analysis, focusing on 'particles'.
Van De Craen is full-time professor at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, where he teaches Dutch linguistics and general linguistics. He supervises a large number of licensed trades in the above research areas. Since 1997 he has been secretary of the European Language Council, and in 2003 he became vice-president of the Association belge de Linguistique Appliquée. He is a member of the Comité Taalkunde of the (Nationaal) Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (National Fund for Scientific Research). Within FOST ( Social & Cultural Food Studies) he was supervisor of the doctoral research of Steven Van den Berghe (source).

Face to face with Piet van de Craen

What is your background in the field of regional and minority languages/education/multilingualism? 

My fascination with multilingualism dates back to an early age when I was enrolled in a bilingual Belgium Dutch-French speaking school. It struck me how the mere fact of speaking another language could separate people while they are sharing the same country, city, habits and culture. Later on I started out studying languages and neurolinguistics in an attempt to find out more about the brain, languages and human beings. Two questions kept haunting me: (i) in what way pupils are influenced by the way they are educated, by the way they have learned languages, by the way they look at languages and (ii) will we ever be able to find better ways of learning languages in an attempt to improve learning and produce better learners.

What do you think is the major challenge in your field of work?

As a result of the previous my team got interested in content and language integrated learning (CLIL) that gained momentum by the end of the 1990s. The approach basically consists of learning languages while studying content.  We have been examining the results of CLIL schools all over Europe. We also erected a network of CLIL schools in Brussels (2001). Today, we are convinced that CLIL is a major learning tool that affects learners in many positive ways. We feel that CLIL represents, not only an innovative way for language learning, but learning in general. This is the essence of what we think is our major challenge: to spread the added value of CLIL and, at the same time, to create better learners

What is one of the hottest new projects / items you are working on?

One of the hottest projects my team and myself have been involved in has to do with children’s brain while being exposed to CLIL education. There is evidence that brains of CLIL pupils are better equipped for learning and that, as a consequence, the learners’ aptitude for learning improves. There is also evidence that the cognitive level of CLIL children is better developed than in traditional education. Finally, a Canadian study has shown that in elderly multilinguals the onset of Alzheimer’s disease is postponed by four years. We also feel that our research on CLIL learning contributes to the development of (i) the principles of implicit learning and (ii) language pedagogy into a more scientific field along the principles of evidence based learning. 

Are there any important references such as articles, links, etc. you would like to mention?

Here are some references to the previous.

Bialystok, E., F. Craik & M. Freedman. 2006. ‘Bilingualism as a protection against the onset of symptoms of dementia’. Neuropsychologia 45, 459-464.

Blakemore, S.-J. & U. Frith. 2005. The Learning Brain. Lessons for Education. Oxford: Blackwell.

Coyle, D., Ph. Hood & D. Marsh. 2010. Content and Language Integrated Learning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Goswami, U. 2008. Cognitive development. The Learning Brain. Hove & New York: Psychology Press.

Mondt, K., E. Struys, M. Van den Noort, D. Ballériaux, T. Metens, Ph. Paquier, P. Van de Craen, P. Bosch, & V. Denolin. 2011. ‘Neural differences in bilingual children’s arithmetic processing depending on language of instruction’. Mind, Brain and Education 5(2),  79-88;

Van de Craen, P., K. Lochtman, E. Ceuleers, K. Mondt & L. Allain. 2007a. ‘An interdisciplinary approach to CLIL learning in primary schools in Brussels. In: C. Dalton-Puffer & U. Smit (eds) Empirical Perspectives on CLIL Classroom Discourse. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 253-274. 

Van de Craen, P., E. Ceuleers & K. Mondt, 2007b. ‘Cognitive development and bilingualism in primary schools: teaching maths in a CLIL environment’. In: D. Marsh & D. Wolff (eds) Diverse Contexts – Converging Goals. CLIL in Europe. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 185-200. 

Van de Craen, P., K. Mondt, L. Allain & Y. Gao. 2007c. Why and How CLIL Works. An Outline for a CLIL Theory. Vienna English Working Papers 16(3), 70-78;

Van de Craen, P. E. Ceuleers, K. Mondt & L. Allain. 2008. ‘European multilingual language policies in Belgium and policy-driven research’. In: K. Lauridsen & D. Toudic (eds) Language at Work in Europe. Festschrift in Honour of Wolfgang Mackieiwcz. Göttingen: V&R Press, 139-151;

Van de Craen, P., K. Mondt, E. Ceuleers & Eva Migom. 2010. EMILE a douze and. Douze ans d’enseignement de type immersif en Belgique. Résultats et perspectives. Synergies – Monde 7, 127-140;

Websites of interest


Do you have any questions on these topics?

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Featured topic

Our focus this month lies on  Content and Integrated Learning (CLIL)