The European Language Portfolio: the story so far (1991-2011)
The ELP was first proposed at the Rüschlikon Symposium in 1991 together with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). The CEFR provides tools for the development of language curricula, programmes of teaching and learning, textbooks, and assessment instruments. The ELP is designed to mediate to learners, teachers and schools, and other stakeholders the ethos that underpins the CEFR: respect for linguistic and cultural diversity, mutual understanding beyond national, institutional and social boundaries, the promotion of plurilingual and intercultural education, and the development of the autonomy of the individual citizen.
In 1997 the Council of Europe published the second draft of the CEFR together with a collection of preliminary studies that explored how the ELP might be implemented in different domains of language learning. From 1998 to 2000 ELP pilot projects were conducted in 15 Council of Europe member states and by three INGOs. In 2000 the then Education Committee of the Council of Europe established the ELP Validation Committee with a mandate to receive draft ELPs and determine whether or not they were in conformity with the ELP Principles and Guidelines, also established by the Education Committee.
In 2001, the European Year of Languages, the ELP was launched at the first European ELP Seminar, held in Coimbra, Portugal. By December 2010 116 ELPs had been validated, from 32 Council of Europe member states and 6 INGOs/international consortia (a complete list is appended to this document). ELPs have been designed and implemented for all educational domains: primary, lower and upper secondary, vocational, adult, further and tertiary. In his report for 2007, the Rapporteur General estimated that 2.5 million individual ELPs had been produced/distributed. Although 584,000 learners were estimated to be using an ELP, however, the average number of copies in use per validated ELP model was only 6,600: evidence that sustained use of the ELP on a large scale in individual member states remained elusive.
The reports prepared by the Rapporteur General, the impact study carried out on behalf of the Validation Committee, and the eight European ELP Seminars held between 2001 and 2009 confirm that the ELP has proved itself an innovative and practical tool. It embodies a set of principles – reflective learning, self-assessment, learner autonomy, plurilingualism, intercultural learning – which stimulate good practice in a multitude of educational contexts and help to develop skills of life-long learning. These principles challenge traditional beliefs and practices, however, and this helps to explain why the adoption and implementation of the ELP has still not reached the levels hoped for when it was first launched.
While celebrating the ELP’s success, it is important to recognise that Europe’s linguistic fabric has changed beyond recognition since the ELP was first conceived in the early 1990s. At that time the emphasis was still mainly on second and foreign language learning, as the ELP Principles and Guidelines remind us. Now, largely as a result of new waves of migration, “natural” plurilingualism has become an increasingly common phenomenon in many European societies, and this challenges us to find new ways of extending the reach of the principles that underlie the ELP. It seems appropriate, for example, to adopt a portfolio approach to the development of competence in the language of schooling, whether or not it is the individual learner’s home language, and to focus more closely on languages learnt outside school. This does not necessarily mean expanding the scope of the ELP as such, for to do so would risk making it unwieldy. Finding a solution to this challenge is one of the tasks that confront the Languages in/for Education project, which seeks to promote plurilingual and intercultural education for all.
In April 2011 the validation and accreditation of ELPs was replaced by an online registration process based on the principle of self-declaration. The website designed for this purpose provides step-be-step instructions on how to develop an ELP using generic elements developed by the Validation Committee. These generic elements were shaped by the accumulated good practice of the past ten years. They should allow educational authorities, institutions and organisations to assemble their own high-quality ELPs without committing themselves to a major developmental effort. The registration process is managed and monitored by the secretariat of the Language Policy Division.
The European Centre for Modern Languages (ECML), a Council of Europe institution based in Graz, Austria, functions as a catalyst for reform in the teaching and learning of languages. The ECML’s second medium-term programme (2004–2007) included two projects focused on the ELP. Impel – ELP implementation support designed a web site to support ELP implementation projects, and ELP-TT – Training teachers to use the European Language Portfolio developed a kit of ELP-related training materials, trialled the materials at a central workshop, and used them selectively at national training events in 17 ECML member states. The ECML’s third medium-term programme (2008–2011) included three ELP projects. ELP-TT2 extended the work of ELP-TT, contributing to training events in 10 further ECML member states; ELP-WSU – The ELP in whole-school use coordinated projects in 10 ECML member states; and ELP-TT3 developed a new platform to support ELP implementation.
The number of validated ELPs confirms the success of the ELP project at European level, as does the general growth of interest in self-assessment, learner autonomy and reflective language learning. What is more, the ECML’s ELP-WSU project confirms that, when it is used on a whole-school basis, to support the learning of all second and foreign languages in the curriculum and to stimulate reflection on the language of schooling and other languages taught or present in the school, the ELP goes a long way towards achieving the core language education goals of the Languages in/for Education project. The development of new ELPs and the revision of existing models will continue; the registration process will capture this ongoing work and make it available to the international community; and the ECML will continue to provide support for ELP implementation in all educational sectors. It is for the Languages in/for Education project to explore ways of extending the ELP’s pedagogical principles and procedures into new areas of language education.
David Little, Francis Goullier and Gareth Hughes