Article - BETA | IATEFL Affiliate

Anke Fedrowitz
Europe is primarily defined by the democratic development of the individual European
states, by its diversity of languages and cultures and by the ability and willingness of
European citizens to communicate across cultural and linguistic borders.
The Council of Europe's European Language Portfolio documents the skills necessary to
communicate in a multilingual Europe in such a way that they are readily accepted and
understood in different countries.The Portfolio contains three parts:
The Language Passport indicates the level of proficiency reached in all the languages
spoken by the holder of the Passport.
Language knowledge and skills are differentiated in line with the Council of Europe's
competence levels for the teaching and learning of foreign languages.Furthermore, the
Language Passport contains information regarding, for example, certificates and diplomas
which have been awarded, type and length of language learning, stays abroad in areas
where the target language is spoken and projects concerning intercultural and cross-border
The Language Passport can inform interested parties what the learner can do in different
languages and can be used for example when applying for a job, starting a new job,
changing schools or educational institutions, taking further education courses.
The Language Learning Biography documents the holder's personal language and
intercultural learning history and progresses and supports self-assessment. It encourages
dialogue with teachers and helps young people to organise and take responsibility for their
own language learning. At the end of each educational level the data from the Language
Learning Biography is summarised and recorded in the Language Passport.
The Dossier contains a listed collection of all types of personal work which the holder of
the Portfolio considers to be especially successful. Any kind of work can be brought
together in the Dossier-examples of written work in the languages contained in the
Language Learning Biography, recordings of oral communication, special productions on
audio or video cassette, diskette or CD-ROM. The Dossier has a double function- on the
one hand it helps to make the learner conscious of learning progress, on the other hand it
can be used to document skills ,for example when applying for a job.
The acquired skills in each language are described in terms of areas of use and levels of
Areas of use: Listening / Reading / Spoken interaction / Spoken production / Writing
Language Competence Level: A1=breakthrough / A2=waystage / B1=threshold /
B2=vantage/ C1=effective proficiency / C2=mastery.
The Portfolio is published by CILT and is available by mail order from: Central Books Ltd,
99 Wallis Road London E9 5LN /
Working with the Portfolio
I have been working with the Portfolio since 2001 in English and in German as a second
language - but always with migrant children, who are at least bilingual, at the age of 10 to
13. They attend school in Osnabrueck / Niedersachsen, class 5 and 6 - the so called and,
from next term on, abolished Orientierungsstufe.
The first reason for introducing the Portfolio was my personal anger about the arrogance
towards the children's multilingual competence - as long as their first language is not one
of the traditional school foreign languages English, French and perhaps Italian or Spanish.
All the other languages - at our school for example Russian, Turkish, Portuguese,
Albanian, Bosnian, Arabic and Polish - seem to be second rate and not worth being
mentioned, sometimes even seen as a handicap for the task to succeed in our school
system. There are teachers who talk about "sprachlose Kinder" meaning children who don't
speak German yet. It's ridiculous, because we would live on a rather quiet planet if all
„Non-German - speakers" were really "sprachlos". The lack of respect as far as the migrant
children’s language abilities are concerned still makes me angry - even a few months
before my retirement.
One of the most important questions in this context is of course: What is multilingualism
/ plurilingualism?
In recent years the concept of plurilingualism has grown in importance in the Council of
Europe's approach to language learning. Plurilingualism differs from multilingualism,
which is the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different
languages in a given society. Multilingualism may be attained by simply diversifying the
languages on offer in a particular school or educational system, or by encouraging pupils to
learn more than one foreign language or by supporting existing mother tongues
Beyond this the plurilingual approach emphasises the fact that as an individual person's
experience of language in its cultural contexts expands, from the language of the home to
that of society at large and then to the languages of other peoples (whether learnt at school
or college , or by direct experience) , he or she does not keep these languages and cultures
in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative
competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which
languages interrelate and interact.
In different situations a person can call flexibly upon different parts of this competence to
achieve effective communication. For instance, partners may switch from one language or
dialect to another, exploiting the ability of each to express themselves in one language and
to understand the other, or a person may call upon the knowledge of a number of languages
to make sense of a text, written or even spoken, in a previously "unknown" language,
recognising words from a common international store in a new guise.
From this perspective, the aim of language education is profoundly modified. It is no
longer seen as simply to achieve „mastery" of one or two, or even three languages, each
taken in isolation, with the "ideal native speaker" as the ultimate model. Instead, the aim is
to develop a linguistic repertoire in which all linguistic abilities have a place. This implies,
of course, that the languages offered in educational institutions should be diversified and
students given the opportunity to develop a plurilingual competence.
Furthermore, once it is recognised that language learning is a lifelong task, the
development of a young person's motivation, skill and confidence in facing new language
experience out of school comes to be of central importance.
The recent developments in the Council of Europe's language programme have been
designed to produce tools for use by all members of the language teaching profession in
the promotion of plurilingualism. In particular, The European Language Portfolio
provides a format in which language learning and intercultural experiences of the most
diverse kinds can be recorded and formally recognised. The Portfolio makes it possible for
learners to document their progress by recording learning experiences of all kinds over a
wide range of languages, much of which would otherwise be unattested and unrecognised.
The difficulty for normal teachers (whoever they are) is that introducing the Portfolio costs
a lot of time, especially with younger pupils. Working with fixed material - book, cassettes,
computer-programmes etc. - is problematical enough, especially if one has to reach a
certain level and a certain amount of units in a given book have to be worked through in
very different classes of increasing numbers. But the pupils love working with the
Portfolio because it includes a lot of discussion and individual work. But they want it to be
correct and well presented, that means a lot of extra correcting-work for the teacher, and
not everybody has got that time and energy.
I could and can only take a small group of migrant children to deal with the Portfolio
because of the time-factor for me and the pupils. We spent several extra hours with it - at
school in the afternoons or sometimes at my house with hot chocolate and biscuits. But it
is fun and highly worthwhile - not just because of the biscuits! It is fascinating to hear
the children talking about languages - they all deal with several of them in different
situations. Here are some of their quotes:
"When I think about it, I am sure that I forgot all my Russian. But when I phone my
grandma in Kazakhstan I speak it, because she can't speak German. The words come all by
themselves!" (Viktor, 12)
"I didn't speak Georgian for quite a while, because I speak Russian at home and German at
school with my friends and teachers. But I am not worried about it - I am sure that the
Georgian language is in my head somewhere." (Nino, 11)
"I have to go to the Turkish lessons because my grandfather would be furious if I would
make mistakes in our family language. He would get at my parents for not bringing me up
properly - we can't risk that." (Mehmet, 12)
"Sometimes there is a big knot in my head - a knot of words and languages. I have to take a
deep breath then to calm down. It can be really worrying and the worst bit is if anybody
just turns to me and says:" What does that word mean in Portuguese?" Sometimes I can
answer, but sometimes I can't especially when I get the feeling that the other person wants
to test me proving or at least trying to prove that I don't really master two languages."
(Lara, 12)
"Lara is right! It is so important how I feel - with a friendly person I can talk endlessly - in
Russian or German. Sometimes I don't even notice which language I'm using. But as soon
as I feel under pressure, I start stuttering, searching for words." (Olga, 11)
"Perhaps that's the reason why it is so easy to talk to my Grandma in Russia. I know she is
interested in me and does not wait for mistakes. We simply want to communicate."
(Milana, 12)
I have got some of the children's Portfolios - in English and in German. The kids preferred
the German ones, not because of the language but because of their age: The English
Portfolio is for younger children- 12-year-olds want to be taken more seriously... But
nevertheless: It was great fun to work with it! And we all felt great dealing with different
The children are all going to change school at the end of this term - and they are going to
take their Portfolio with them. I can only hope that some teachers will be interested in this
sort of work and go on with it! Some of "last-year-Portfolio-kids" went on their own phoning from time to time and joining the "hot-chocolate-and-biscuit-group" to show the
results and discuss them. But I'm afraid that won't last (see "time-factor") - unless the
European Language Portfolio becomes part of the curriculum - so that is not exotic
but a normal in day-to-day school life.
Contact: Anke Fedrowitz, Intercultural Advisor
Blumenthalstr.2, 49076 Osnabrück / Germany