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Graham Davies

The Common European Framework (CEF)

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It would be interesting to find out to what extent language teachers are aware of the Common European Framework (CEF) for Languages, a set of scales and descriptors relating to language proficiency that is widely used throughout Europe. Most language teachers in the UK seem to know little about it, even though it is mentioned - along with the European Portfolio - in several places in the important strategy document published by the DfES in December 2002:

Languages for all: languages for life - a strategy for England http://www.dfes.gov.uk/languagesstrategy

The diagnostic language tests - available free of charge at http://www.dialang.org - are closely geared to the Common European Framework.

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Germany is a federal system and everything related to education, even exams, are managed and regulated by the Laender. After what in Germany is called "PISA Shock" the German Laender have decided that some centralism might not be bad and they have agreed on nationwide standards for schools and exams.

So we now have nationwide standards for our A-level exams in English which are based on the European Framework for Languages. The most important innovation is the introduction of scales and descriptors for language proficiency which some of my colleagues believe to be too difficult, not precise enough to apply to our exams. I myself have made good experiences with the scales and descriptors because the students do not only know what they are bad at but also what they are already good at and encourages them than the old system of marking exams.

Some Laender have already introduced the language portfolio, Lower Saxon hasn't yet, but I know of some schools and colleagues who are experimenting with it.

Depending on the classes I will be teaching next schoolyear I will introduce the portfolio.

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Ulrike writes:

So we now have nationwide standards for our A-level exams in English which are based on the European Framework for Languages.

I presume that when you refer to A-Level you mean the Abitur. To which of the CEF levels does the Abitur correspond? There has been a good deal of debate in the UK concerning the correspondence between our national examinations system and the CEF. It is argued, for example, that a Higher GCSE grade here corresponds to CEF B1 - but I think this is optimistic. I used to teach on an international degree course in the 1990s that accepted students from the UK, Germany, France and Spain. The German students (aged 18+) always had a higher level of English than the French and Spanish students. Most of the German students probably had a CEF level of B2 in English. Students from the UK with a good A-level grade were just about up to the same standard as the students from our other European partners.

The DIALANG tests are geared closely towards the CEF levels. I have tried a few DIALANG tests myself. I achieved C1 in German across three skills (Reading, Writing and Listening), which is not too bad for an out-of-practice retired teacher of German, and B1 in Reading Dutch. I studied Medieval Dutch (not Modern Dutch) at London University in the 1960s, and I obviously still remember quite a bit as I had to read critical texts in Modern Dutch.

See http://www.dialang.org

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Good and/or very good marks in the A-level exams in English correspond with either B1,B2 and C1 standards of the CEF.

I also did the DIALANG text and if I can remember correctly I achieved B1 in it.

I personally think that the CEF as a awhole and the DIALANG test are not very wll known among my colleagues even though the new A-level standards are based on the CEF.

The teachers will have to read and reflect the CEF when centralised exams after year ten - those will be comparable to the GCSE- will be introduced this year. The standards for these exams - and every Grammar School student will have to do English - once again will refer to the CEF standards; they understandably will be below C and B.

In a couple of years the language portfolio will become obligatory as well.

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Ulrike writes:

I personally think that the CEF as a whole and the DIALANG test are not very wll known among my colleagues even though the new A-level standards are based on the CEF.

The CEF is not at all well known in the UK - except in the ESOL community, because exam boards like Cambridge relate their exams (e.g. First Certificate) to the CEF. In some EU countries, e.g. Finland, the CEF is widely accepted as the standard yardtick.

DIALANG has been advertised via the Association for Language Learning in the UK, but it is still largely unknown. In fact, language teachers are generally unaware of what is possible in language testing by computer. We have a module (No. 4.1) on Computer Aided Assessment at the ICT4LT website: http://www.ict4lt.org/en/en_mod4-1.htm

The administration for DIALANG is now based at the Freie Universität Berlin: http://www.dialang.org

I was involved in DIALANG as a consultant during its early stages. It started off as a project at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland and then moved to Berlin.

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