British Council Brussels and the Language Rich Europe Project have together organised a one-day conference on Understanding the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) for better language assessment in a diverse society on 29 April 2011. The event gathered more than 100 participants and speakers from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and beyond. You can read a full report of the event and download all the presentations from the British Council Brussels website.
Our report writer Michael Creek has interviewed participants at the event and reports back on our blog.
How do we measure how well someone speaks a foreign language? And how do we compare a Polish native’s level of French with the Italian of a Belgian? When teachers and policymakers came together in Brussels for a conference on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), it was an opportunity not only to reflect on how we measure and compare proficiency in language learning, but also to take a look at what this entails for the diversity in our classrooms. The CEFR helps teachers to individualise learning, and encourages them to adapt to the diversity of their students.
To hear more from the participants, I asked language teachers about their views on the CEFR and the linguistic diversity in their classrooms.
Birgit Pauwels, teacher of English as a foreign language, CVO-KHNB, Brussels:
I’ve enjoyed the Conference so far, especially the presentation about English Profile. It gives a more practical implementation of CEFR. The topic search is really useful to get a clear idea of which levels are expected to use which vocabulary and grammar in relation to different themes.
My students classify themselves according to CEFR levels. Most of my students are international, and their backgrounds are very mixed, from PhD students to people who left school very young. When the classroom is multilingual, the students learn from each other more. And I always use students’ cultural backgrounds in the class. In one class we discussed advertising, and it was striking to hear from the students the differences between how women are portrayed in Italy compared to China, for example.
I always hear from foreigners: “oh, Belgians are lucky to have three national languages.” But language education in secondary school used to be better. Children can now opt out of the national languages, and this gives the wrong message. I learned Dutch, French, German and English at school and I think all four should be obligatory in Belgian schools.
Tomoko Nagase, teacher of Japanese as a foreign language, CLT, Leuven:
Japan is creating something similar to the CEFR, but my opinion is that the Japanese are really looking for a methodology. People in Europe know that CEFR is a framework – it’s not something you have to follow. Reading the Japanese equivalent of the CEFR, I also have the impression that some of the subtleties have been lost in translation concerning the vocabulary at each level.
Japanese is a very unusual language structurally, and to acquire it requires a different type of thinking. The Japan Foundation invests a lot to encourage Japanese learning abroad, particularly in the US and Australia. In Europe, Japanese is still seen as a very elite language, associated with business since the 80s. But the majority of my students are young people, interested in manga, anime and video games. This is a new trend in Japanese learning, and the Japan Foundation has built a great website (http://anime-manga.jp/) based on this perspective.
Karine Saleck, teacher of English as a foreign language, Lycée Français, Brussels:
I have found the conference extremely interesting so far – especially the English Profile project. It’s great to get concrete examples of the CEFR in practice.
It’s been great to discuss diversity in the classroom too. The Lycée Français is an example of a school where the range of native languages among the students is very broad. But despite being very multilingual, the students are not very multicultural. Most have grown up in the same environment: the international community of expatriates in Belgium. So despite the mixed nationalities, there is an unusual lack of diversity, and perhaps it’s not as interesting as the mix of backgrounds you would find in other schools.
For more information visit: http://www.britishcouncil.org/brussels-learning-cefr-conference.htm