- European Commission publishes a study led by University of Cambridge ESOL Examinations (Cambridge ESOL) surveying the language skills of secondary school students.
- More than 50,000 pupils in 1,200 schools in 14 countries were assessed.
- Despite high standards in some countries, most of Europe needs major improvement.
The European Survey on Language Competences, published today by the European Commission, is a major study on language learning in schools across 14 countries.
The Survey - the first rigorous study on such a large scale - compares the achievement of secondary school pupils in each country and looks in depth at the factors which influence successful language teaching and learning.
Nearly 54,000 pupils in 1,200 schools took part in specially developed tests of their language skills. They also completed questionnaires about how they learn and use languages. The Survey was delivered by SurveyLang, a group of eight expert organisations in the fields of language assessment, questionnaire design, sampling, translation processes, and psychometrics, led by Cambridge ESOL.
"The survey confirms that levels of achievement vary widely across Europe," explained Project Director Dr Neil Jones from Cambridge ESOL. He continues: "There are success stories but too many students are not being given the skills they need. The Survey shows that it's essential to base language teaching on effective communication skills and not just on grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. The results have highlighted the importance of teaching language as a means of communication, not just an academic subject. It's very easy to focus the differences between countries, but what is important is to concentrate on the things that make a real difference to language learning."
Key findings of the survey include:
∙ The value of starting language learning at an early age.
∙ The benefits of exposure to language outside the classroom, through films, music, travel and other opportunities to incorporate the language into the students' lives.
∙ A higher level of mastery for pupils learning English than for any other language.
∙ Consistently high standards of teaching and teacher training across Europe.
Dr Mike Milanovic, Chief Executive of Cambridge ESOL says: "This survey should be a wake up call for policy-makers and curriculum planners. The findings confirm what specialists in language learning have known for a long time - that communication skills need to be at the heart of all language teaching. Students need to be taught and encouraged to treat foreign languages as part of their everyday lives. The Cambridge English exams and their equivalent in other European languages encourage and reward the skills students need for success in language learning."
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Contact For more information or to organise an interview with the Project Director, please contact Steve McKenna on firstname.lastname@example.org
An executive summary of the European Survey on Language Competences can be read here.
The full report is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/languages/eslc/docs/en/final-report-escl_en.pdf
The European Commission's conclusions:
1. Language competences still need to be significantly improved, and educational systems must step up their efforts to prepare all pupils for further education and the labour market. The exchange of good practice within the Open Method of Coordination will constitute one of the main tools in pursuing the Barcelona objective of teaching and mastering at least two foreign languages from a very early age.
2. Language policies should address the creation of language-friendly living and learning environments inside as well as outside schools and other educational institutions. Language policies should promote informal learning opportunities outside school, and consider the exposure to language through traditional and new media, including the effects of using dubbing or subtitles in television and cinemas. Overall, language policy should support that people in general, and young people in particular, feel capable of language learning and see it as useful.
3. The wide range of ability among Member States in language competences indicates the rich potential for peer learning in language policy and learning. The Survey points out those educational systems can make a positive difference with an early onset of foreign language learning, increase the number of foreign languages learnt and promote methods enabling pupils and teachers to use foreign languages for meaningful communication in lessons.
4. The importance of the English language as a basic skill and as a tool for employability and professional development requires concrete actions to improve competences in this language.
5. While all languages are not equally relevant when entering the labour market, linguistic diversity remains vitally important for cultural and personal development. Therefore, the need to improve language skills for employability in a globalised world must be combined with the promotion of linguistic diversity and intercultural dialogue.