Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The CEFR and Standardising Language Learning

If you speak a foreign language and live within the EU, you may be familiar with the Central European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment, which is usually referred to as CEFR.

The framework is an initiative that for the last two decades has aimed to establish standardised levels for gauging a language user's proficiency in any given foreign language throughout the EU. The most widely-recognised feature of the CEFR is the letter and number classification given as a reference to language speakers.

The classifications go from A1, which is used to describe those beginning their language-learning journey, to C2, which describes those who have mastered their foreign language. Between those two extremes you have A2, B1, B2, and C1.

The CEFR is certainly useful when it comes to employment as there are a number of exams that language users can take in order to prove to what level they can use their foreign language. On the one hand, this helps employers, who can have these claims verified and backed up by an employee's exam results. On the other hand, it can also open doors for language users looking for work, if they have completed any of the appropriate exams.

It's great that this framework promotes language learning around Europe and encourages many people, especially adult learners, to continue learning foreign languages that they may have studied in school, or even pick up completely new ones.

However, this framework can become an issue when it takes on the form of red tape and bureaucracy. When students consider learning a language to be little more than a means to a certificate and take no joy in it, it makes me incredibly sad. Of course, everybody has their reasons for learning a language, but when you make it a joyless business venture or just something to put on your CV, I think you might be missing a much bigger picture...

I don't think I could ever tell someone not to learn another language, even if I think it's for all the wrong reasons. I just think that if you learn a language only for employability, it's a lot like stargazing during the day.