Language courses and language assessment are at the core of provision for migrants seeking to improve their skills in the language of the country to which they have migrated. The design and quality of the courses and the tests are of critical importance both for migrants themselves and for the national or provincial authorities who establish the goals and often provide funding for the provision. This section covers three interlinked areas – provision of courses, tests and other forms of assessment aimed at migrants, and quality assurance issues surrounding such courses and tests. For each area there are various resources prepared under Council of Europe auspices are available. These include:
Under each heading below brief information about these resources and links to them are provided.
Council of Europe member states are increasingly requiring adult migrants to attain certain minimum levels of proficiency in the language of the country before they are granted the right to long-term residence and, beyond that, to citizenship. In support of such policies, many member states directly provide or fund the provision by other entities of language courses for adult migrants who do not yet have the level of proficiency in the language that is required. Such provision evidently involves careful reflection on various aspects of course design and delivery, for example the way in which adult migrants’ individual needs are assessed and taken into account in specifying the objectives, structure and content of the language courses offered to them.
Assessment of adult migrants’ language ability is carried out for various purposes and may take various forms:
i) In relation to language courses for adult migrants, the main functions of
assessment by the course providers are:
- To assess students’ language level and needs before they are placed in a class so that the course they are placed in is suitable.
- To assess students’ progress during the course and to identify difficulties that individual students may be experiencing so that teaching is adapted to learners’ needs. This kind of assessment can be done in a wide variety of ways, including through continuous assessment by the teacher, assessment of students while they are carrying out a language learning tasks, etc...
- At the end of many courses, learners’ achievement may be assessed so that they can be awarded a certificate.
Institutions using tests in these ways need to ensure that they are valid and reliable.
ii) Self-assessment by learners of their own language proficiency can also be useful and motivating. The version of the European Language Portfolio designed specifically for adult migrants and accompanied by a guide for teachers and self-assessment checklists, serves this purpose. It enables adult migrants regularly to assess and record their progress in any of the languages in their repertoire including the language of the country they have migrated to.
iii)In some countries, migrants are asked to take official tests in order to demonstrate that they have reached a level required for residence, citizenship or even for family reunion. Increasingly, they are asked to take such tests before they leave their home country. There is, of course, a possibility that such tests are disproportionate and discriminatory. In addition, examination bodies offer public examinations which adult migrants and other language learners can take or are advised to take in order to demonstrate that they have achieved a given level of proficiency. As with all language tests and examinations, great care is needed to ensure that they are valid, fair and reliable, and that migrants have access to relevant training to help prepare for the examinations.
Language education provision for adult migrants varies in quantity, price and aims from country to country, and the same is true of tests and other forms of assessment which adult migrants are subject to. Language training for adult migrants is critically important from the point of view of social and economic integration, and the amount of effort and money being invested in it are rightly considerable. There is therefore a need to ensure that such language learning and language assessment services are relevant and effective in delivering the intended outcomes, and are supported by a system for ensuring that the quality both of the educational experience and of the outcomes remains consistently high and that opportunities for continuous updating and improvement are identified and responded to. National education authorities organise ‘inspections’ or other forms of external assessment at school level, but there is commonly a less systematic approach to quality assurance in further and adult education, whether in the state or in the independent sector. However, evaluating and managing the quality of language courses and tests for adult migrants is essential, both for the benefit of those taking the courses and the tests, and for the authorities who are responsible for organising and funding the courses, which in many member states are wholly or partially financed from taxes.