Pluriligualism in Europe

Table of Content

1. 1. Language policy From the onset of the European Union in 1992, language teaching has figured prominently in Community recommendations regarding education. The promotion of linguistic diversity in education and training has always been an important consideration in planning the successful construction of Europe. Back in 1995, the European Council Resolution for development and promotion of language learning (March 31, 1995) stated clearly that linguistic policy in Europe should be based on pluriligualism.

It stated that all EU citizens, by the time they leave compulsory schooling, should be able to speak two languages other than the mother tongue. We will look more closely in subsequent sections at what is meant by ‘speak’, but for now, the policy statement is all that concerns us. By making this policy official, the European Union was in effect committing itself to the administrative and financial implications of establishing this very plurilingualism. Efficient plurilingualism cannot happen automatically, of course.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

It requires policy. During the same Council Resolution there arose a debate as to whether the current practices of language teaching were sufficient/appropriate for realising this stated ambition. The conclusion was ‘no’. This was hardly a novel conclusion. The Lingua Programme, set up in 1990, had already declared the importance of ‘promoting innovation in methods of foreign language training’ (Eurydice, 2006), and the 1995 Resolution itself spoke of; ‘… ncouraging exchange with Member States of higher education students working as language assistants in schools, endeavouring to give priority to prospective language teachers or those called upon to teach their subjects in a language other than their own’ (Ibid page 8)

In the same year, the European Commission, in its White Paper on education and training (Teaching and Learning – Towards the Learning Society) wrote that; ‘… it could even be argued that secondary school pupils should study certain subjects in the first foreign language learned… In many countries, as we shall see, pupils were already doing this. But the acronym CLIL had not yet been born, and the nature of this ‘content-based’ te 1. 2. A little bit of history Content-based learning, as it used to be called, has a long history. Parents in Ancient Rome, at least those who belonged to the middle and upper classes, tended to educate their children in Greek, seeing it as a more prestigious, more academic language. It is not known whether this caused the teachers to re-think their classroom management, but you never know!

In more recent times, children of the British upper and middle-classes would send their children (usually girls) to ‘Finishing School’, where they would invariably complete their education exclusively through the medium of French. Switzerland was famous for this type of school, whose heyday was the late 19th century, up to the late 1950’s. In Britain, as in Tsarist Russia, French was considered to be the superior living language for academic study, and the perfect complement to a thorough knowledge of Latin.

When the social class aspect began to decline (or when state schools began to improve post-war) this type of language provision became more public and more extensive, but mainly in regions that were linguistically distinctive (close to several borders, or naturally plurilingual like Luxembourg). The aim was to turn the children into bilinguals by enabling them to acquire proficiency comparable to native speakers. The term often used was ‘bilingual teaching’. During the 1970s and 1980s, this type of provision was best characterised by the enormously important Canadian experiment with immersion learning.

This began as a result of English-speaking parents living in the province of Quebec who considered that proficiency in French was vital in a French-speaking environment. This project has given rise to a great deal of interesting research, especially from the teaching perspective. It should be pointed out that ultimately, the project was not considered wholly transferable to the European context, but that aspects of it could be. It has stimulated research into immersion teaching and has stimulated a whole range of experimental activity, particularly in Europe.

Nevertheless, although CLIL is obviously a close relative of immersion, it is not the same thing. 1. 3. Why now? If we mean ‘now’ to encompass the 21st century, why has CLIL emerged so strongly as the new candidate to effect a paradigm shift in the world of language teaching? The answer would seem to lie in the phrase ‘post-modern’, and its often elusive meaning. Post-modernity seems to refer to a period that has undermined and then replaced the ‘modern’ world, the one that dated from the Renaissance onwards.

Modernity was encapsulated by the death of the ‘Ancien Regime’ – giving rise to a society based on social classes. The results of this – capitalist economies, secularism, the Industrial Revolution, regicide, the rise of modern states, urban expansion – meant that languages needed to be codified and standardised. Languages came to symbolise (and define) national identities, which in turn contributed to the idea of the ‘native speaker’. Suddenly, this world seems to have been swept away by globalisation.

So if globalisation defines the onset of a new era, what palpable effects has post-modernity had so far? In many ways, we could descibe them as technological and demographic, two engines that have been driven by, and continue to drive, linguistic change. The emergence of English as the world’s lingua franca pre-dates the post-modern era, but there is little doubt that the changes wrought by the internet, and by the collapse of borders throughout the European Community, have both accelerated these changes.

So many people are learning English around the world now that it seems strange to write that it is still being ‘learned as a foreign language’. The term ‘ELF’ – English as a Lingua Franca – has been coined recently to challenge the old concept of ‘EFL’, and shows us clearly that even the concept of ‘native speaker of English’ is undergoing change. As English becomes an essential add-on to any curricular programme around the world, it is moving, as mentioned in the introduction, into a position where it is a core skill – a subject that pupils learn in order to do something else.

This sounds very much like the Lingua Programme statement from 1990. 1. 4. Curriculum constraints Returning to the theme of core skills, there is nothing surprising about the expansion of this concept with regard to school life. A post-modern world creates new subjects, new disciplines. One of them is ICT, ‘Information and Communication Technology’, now a key subject in all national curricula in Europe and in most of the world. It is difficult to study this subject, or to even dream of advancing academically within it, without some knowledge of English.

Not surprisingly therefore, in many European countries where the level of English was socio-culturally quite advanced (Holland, Austria, and the Scandinavian countries for example) – so much so that it functioned as an unoffical second language – it seemed logical to study an area such as ICT in English. By doing this, time was freed up for other subjects, in an already over-crowded curriculum. All that was needed was a subject teacher who spoke an acceptable level of English (in this case) and who possessed enough self-confidence to deliver the content through the medium of another language.

That content would also, of course, be written in English too. This was a practical solution to a growing problem (timetable constraints), but it is not difficult to see how once this step was taken, further subjects might be considered for the same, or similar purposes. And the levels and ages at which this was practised was never going to be limited to say, upper-secondary or tertiary education. Also, there is simply not enough time (on most curricula) devoted to a target language in order to fulfil the multilingual goals already expressed.

This brings in different considerations for different socio-linguistic contexts, of course. In a country like Spain, or Chile, English still suffers from an insignificant ‘street’ presence compared to a country like Holland, for example. So in Spain, CLIL can be used effectively to increase the contact-time with the language, whereas in Holland, where almost everyone possesses a good functional level of English, CLIL can be used to fine-tune the academic discourse in the subject, to work on higher-level areas of accuracy. The country’s citizens have no problems with fluency in English, and so their objectives are distinct.

How successful the implantation of CLIL turns out to be in any given country must always, therefore, be measured against the specific objectives for its adoption in the first place. This is very important. In primary education, the curricular content has traditionally been what we could call ‘content-based’, and so why not kill two birds with one stone and introduce a foreign language at an earlier age? And so where once the ‘foreign’ language was introduced at eleven, or at eight, now it is introduced in many countries (depending on the linguistic context) at the age of six, or even at four.

The priority here is slightly different, in the sense that the objective is to improve language learning by extending the contact hours available for it in the school. By contrast, in standard CLIL contexts in secondary education, the objective is to teach the subject content – what we might call a ‘conceptual objective’ (as opposed to a linguistic one) in which the teacher’s priorities do not differ in any way from those of the ‘normal’ L1 subject teacher. The difference is, of course, that the language (in this case English) is the vehicle for the learning, not the object. . 5. The problem with language teaching We have looked briefly at some practical reasons why English has begun to appear in CLIL-type programmes with more frequency, but the paradigm shift is unlikely to occur if the stimulus for the new approach is merely pragmatic. If CLIL is to expand (and we will try to define it very soon) then it needs to be able to do things as well, or better, than its predecessors, and it needs to have long-term appeal. So, talking about the predecessors, what did they do wrong, or defectively?

You know from your study of Methodological Approaches that movements such as ‘Grammar Translation’ became obsolete, in their purest form, when practitioners began to realise that language was a living entity, to be used. This was a shift in emphasis from a structuralist view of language to a more functional one, one in which theories of interaction and discourse were inevitably mixed. Or in simpler terms, there was no point just studying a language and talking about it. That was an academic skill. Languages were there to be spoken, to be produced.

These ‘explosions’ or shifts were obviously accompanied by new methodological considerations. If you abandon the study of grammar as an entity in itself, and the exams that you set are no longer based on the analysis and the translation of text, you might just have to think about classroom management! If students are expected to talk, how are they actually going to do this? As we now know, a whole myriad of methods and techniques were created in the EFL boom period, between the mid 1960s and the mid 1980s.

This inventive period was mostly centred, though not exclusively so, on the practice of ‘TEFL’ as it came to be called, largely because Teaching English as a Foreign Language became an industry, and one that has subsequently earned the United Kingdom billions of pounds in direct and indirect revenue. Nevertheless, despite this plethora of methods and schools of thought, despite the undoubted dynamism of the emergent TEFL scene, the problem remained – and still remains. This is the central question that CLIL is attempting to answer.

What is the content of language teaching? 1. 6. Slaves to the language. ‘Disposable’ content Grammar-translationists felt that the content was the language itself. So, in order to study French (for example) in a British secondary school in the 1960’s (since GT was still the dominant scholastic paradigm) one would begin by leaning to conjugate verbs and to decline nouns, in exactly the same way as one might when studying classical Latin. The various tenses were practised deductively, and always labelled.

One could study French from the age of 11 to 18 under this system, and never be required to express an opinion (for example) in the target language. After seven years, a competent student would no doubt be able to construct the phrase ‘Je pense que les femmes son plus intelligentes que les hommes’ but that student would be unlikely to be asked by the teacher. Debates (for example) about the relative merits of men and women were unthinkable, and certainly not seen as beneficial to the learning of the target language.

The Communicative Movement changed all that, particularly its more humanist branch. Abstract grammatical knowledge was not prohibited, but was simply no longer the starter on the menu. Humanists felt that content should be personalised, so as to make it more significant for the learner. Standard EFL textbooks began to produce chapters entitled ‘My interests’, ‘My family’, ‘My feelings’ – depending perhaps on the level and age of the learner.

Meanwhile, the notional-functional school of thought was insisting on real-life content, where students would learn how – should they ever need it – to ask for a pound (kilo) of oranges in an English market, to ask directions to the airport (to get home from their language-learning holiday! ) and to talk about ‘topics’ – themes which would contain a high level of ‘notional’ language. All fine so far. The classrooms in which all this was taking place were no doubt livelier and more interesting places than the ones that had previously echoed to the content of the grammar-translationists.

The problem with all this was that the content was still subordinated to the priority of language. If you were to have glanced at the contents pages of any of the textbooks which operated under these approaches, each chapter or unit would have possessed a linguistic objective. So even in the most extreme of cases, a ‘humanist’ textbook might encourage a student to talk about his feelings during childhood – but the underlying motive would be to practise the Past Simple. This could be called ‘disposable content’, and shows the basic problem in language teaching.

At lower levels of language attainment, it is even more obvious. It is not wrong, of course, but it creates a problem when the textbook talks of the material being ‘motivating’. How can it be motivating when you are being asked to talk around a topic, but when what you then say is in fact of no ultimate value?

At the end of the term, you will be assessed on your language attainment, not what you can say about your past experiences. Topical content seems to be disposable. It is a slave to the linguistic objective. 1. 7. How do we decide on the content? This leads us to the fundamental Achilles Heel of language teaching. On what basis do we decide on the content? If the students are to speak, then what about? If they are to listen, what to? If they are to read, exactly what? And if they are to write, what are they going to write about? These are enormously complex questions which to some extent are dealt with in your subject ‘Curriculum and Course Design’. There you will read that the basic twin principles for course design are selection and grading.

In very simple terms, the criterion for selection is the utility of a body of content, and for grading we talk of the content’s learnability. For example – utility, in a History syllabus for eleven year-old pupils in an English state school, might determine that ‘The Romans in Britain’ is a good place to start studying History in secondary school, since the Romans’ presence in Britain is a fundamental key to understanding the further progress of English/British history.

The learnability of this content can then be manipulated to fit the cognitive level of the pupils (related to their ages) – perhaps avoiding political content, for example, and using a certain type/range of language. The above considerations seem comfortingly simple. However, when we turn to language teaching, the weather seems much more cloudy. In short, let us simply say that when an author is asked by a major ELT publisher to write an ‘Intermediate’ textbook for the Spanish market, or for the South American market, he or she has little problem in determining content with regard to its ‘learnability’.

He/she knows what ‘Intermediate’ more or less means in terms of language attainment, and anyway, there are thousands of other textbooks he/she can refer to, in order to check on the items and structures (the language content) that are usually studied at this level. This is what we mean by the ‘eclectic’ nature of ELT publishing. At intermediate level, for example, the concept of modal verbs is always introduced, as are the differences between the First and the Second Conditionals. How will the author introduce these items? In ‘Headway Intermediate’ (OUP 2003) modals are introduced in Chapter 9 through the topic of ‘Relationships’.

The relevant structures are presented, in very basic terms, and then the students read ‘Susie’s Problem Page’ in which several modal items are distributed about the text and the exercises about the topic itself will be expected to produce some modality: ‘Dear Pam: My boyfriend doesn’t even look at me any more. He must be in love with someone else! So far so good. But the problem of content remains – and it is a problem in two important senses. 1. We might agree that the study of modals is appropriate for the Intermediate stage, linguistically speaking.

But the actual material cited from ‘Headway’ is aimed at adolescents or adults. Are adults therefore obliged to wait until the Intermediate stage before expressing themselves modally? In their native languages, this is clearly not the case. Children use modals from the age of six. Viewed like this, it seems to be a strange and artificial world, the world of language learning. The cognitive considerations seem vague at best. 2. Why, on the particular day that the teacher begins Chapter 9 of Headway Intermediate, must the students talk about ‘Relationships’? Maybe they don’t mind, but maybe they do.

They had probably not come to class expecting to talk about the content associated with a ‘Problem Page’. But more importantly, there is no authentic functional reason for using modals on that particular day. The teacher has created the context, with the help of the author who has written the materials. This leads to the practice of modal verbs. The previous chapter (Chapter 8) is called ‘Just Imagine’ and has no thematic (notional) connection to Chapter 9 whatsoever. It may have some linguistic connection, but this is not necessarily evident to the student.

The above example seems to suggest that in standard language teaching, there is an excessive prioritisation of the ‘learnability’ criterion, and an almost complete neglect of the ‘utility’ one. The content – ‘modals’, can clearly be learned at this attainment level (Intermediate), but the criterion of ‘utility’ is completely absent. What is the reason, at this point, for studying modals? What is the reason, at this point, for talking about the problems associated with ‘relationships’? There are no reasons, of course.

The only possible justification for the content is that the text chosen by the authors enables the practice, in subsequent exercises, of certain modals (see above). The texts themselves (the problem pages) contain none at all! So – there appear to be three aspects missing in standard foreign language teaching, if by ‘standard’ we judge the approach as represented by its most successful and best-selling textbooks. Language teaching appears to lack… 1. conceptual authenticity/depth (disposable content) 2. functional logic (why are we doing this today? ) 3. onceptual continuity (conceptual sequencing). This is not necessarily the case, of course, and you may feel that this is an unreasonable attack, based on an isolated example. But at this point we are merely trying to see what might be defective, and how the paradigm can be improved. Nevertheless, when we turn to the wider curriculum, and look at the content of subjects other than languages, we see something remarkable. We see the criteria of utility and learnability walking hand in hand. We see thematic continuity. We see ‘horizontal logic’ (Kuhn, 1977). But most of all, we see conceptual sequencing.

If we return to our History class, and we learned yesterday that the Romans landed on the south coast of England in 56 BC, we might expect the lesson today to be telling us something about the early years of Roman conquest. People seem to learn rather well in this way. But language teaching? Like it or not, there appears to be a problem at the heart of the practice, a problem that was never solved by methodological innovation alone. The question of content – and then of the methodology that best works alongside it – are crucial considerations when discussing the issue of paradigm change in language teaching. LIL claims to have the answers.

Cite this page

Pluriligualism in Europe. (2017, Jan 09). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront