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Developing plurilingual competence in Europe
by Chrysanthi Pavlidou
Multilingualism ≠ Plurilingualism
 Multilingualism is ‘the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of
different languages in a given society’. Multilingualism may be attained by simply diversifying
the languages on offer in a particular school or educational system, or by encouraging pupils
to learn more than one foreign language, or reducing the dominant position of English in
international communication (Council of Europe, 2001: 4).
 Plurilingualism emphasizes ‘the fact that as an individual person’s experience of language
in its cultural context expands, from the language of the home to that of society at large and
then to the languages of other peoples [...], he or she does not keep these languages and
cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative
competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which
languages interrelate and interact’ (Council of Europe, 2001: 4).
Aim of language education
The aim is to achieve ‘mastery’ of one or two, or even three languages, each
taken in isolation, with the ‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model.
The aim is to develop a linguistic repertory, in which all
linguistic abilities have a place.
The languages offered in educational institutions should be diversified and
students given the opportunity to develop a plurilingual competence.
(Council of Europe, 2001: 5)
Plurilingual competence
The plurilingual competence is the practical manifestation of the capacity for
language that all human beings possess genetically and that can successively be
invested in several languages. The competence is more developed in some than
others, according to the individual’s linguistic environment and personal or
social path, so that actual monolingualism in a social actor is to be regarded
merely as the default form of plurilingualism (Beacco, 2005: 19).
Plurilingual competence
The concept of plurilingual competence tends to:
• move away from the supposed balanced dichotomy established by the
customary L1/L2 pairing by stressing plurilingualism where bilingualism is just
one particular case;
• consider that a given individual does not have a collection of distinct and
separate competences to communicate depending on the languages he/she
knows, but rather a plurilingual competence encompassing the full range of the
languages available to him/her;
• stress the pluricultural dimensions of this multiple competence but without
necessarily suggesting links between the development of abilities concerned
with relating to other cultures and the development of linguistic communicative
proficiency.
(Council of Europe, 2001: 168)
Characteristics of plurilingual competence
• The strategies used in carrying out tasks may vary according to the language or
language combinations employed.
• Attitudes and values stressing openness, conviviality and goodwill (as in the use of
gestures, mime, proxemics) may, in the case of a language in which the individual
has limited linguistic competence, make up for relative limitations in the course of
interaction with a native speaker, whereas in a language he knows better this same
individual may adopt a more distant or reserved attitude.
• The task involving a language activity may thus be redefined, the linguistic message
reshaped or redistributed according to the resources actually available to the actor
and his perception of these resources or his perception of his interlocutor's
resources (like the possible use of forms of codeswitching and bilingual speech, i.e.
passing from one language to another in the same conversational exchange).
(Coste, Moore, & Zarate, 2009: 11)
Principles of plurilingual competence
1. Plurilingual individuals develop different competences in each language, and
these competences are neither necessarily equal nor totally similar to those of
monolinguals.
2. They fulfill a range of different functions, depending on what is necessary to
meet specific and different communication needs.
3. The commonest trait of plurilingual competence is a state of imbalance; it is
simultaneously complex and dynamic, and leaves room for original phenomena,
such as bilingual speech.
4. Imbalance is part of a plurilingual competence. The issue at stake in the
construction of school or out-ofschool plurilingualism, is the strategic
management of imbalance.
(Coste, Moore, & Zarate, 2009: 19-20)
Europeans and their language skills (1)
• 6000-7000 spoken languages in the world (Price, 2000).
• Around 275 languages in Europe (Price, 2000).
• The majority of citizens of the EU are not plurilingual.
• The Council of Education Ministers (31 March 1995) stated that ‘it is becoming
necessary for everyone, irrespective of training and education routes chosen, to be
able to acquire and keep up their ability to communicate in at least two
Community languages in addition to their mother tongue’. (Official Journal of the
European Communities 207, 1995: 1).
• Among 15,900 people: 47,3% they do not speak any foreign language & 52,7%
speak at least one (INRA, 2001).
Europeans and their language skills (2)
Table 1 Foreign languages spoken by citizens in the former 15 EU member states
Adapted from: European Commission (2001: 3)
These results are in sharp contrast with the fact that 93% of parents of children under
20 believe that language learning is important (European Commission, 2001: 8).
Undoubtedly, some efficient measures will have to be taken to ensure for the long
term that EU citizens improve their linguistic proficiency.
English French German Spanish Italian
1st FL 32.6 9.5 4.2 1.5 0.8
2nd FL 6.8 7.8 4.3 3.0 1.0
3rd FL 1.1 1.6 1.6 1.5 0.9
Total % 40.5 18.9 10.1 6.0 2.7
Why is plurilingualism important for Europe? (1)
 Enhancing plurilingalism is a key requirement for bringing people from different
linguistic backgrounds together (Wandruszka, 1971, as cited in Glaser, 2005: 199).
 Skutnabb-Kangas (2002: 13) provided 2 scenarios for the year 2100:
1. Optimistic: 2% of biological species but 50% of languages may be dead (or
moribund) in a 100 years’ time.
2. Pessimistic: 20% of biological species but 90% of languages may be dead (or
moribund) in 100 years’ time.
 Plurilingualism enhances creativity. High-level Plurilinguals as a group do better than
corresponding monolinguals on tests measuring several aspects of ‘intelligence’,
creativity, divergent thinking, cognitive flexibility, etc (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2002: 14).
 Education that leads to high levels of plurilingualism produces not only local
linguistic and cultural capital but knowledge capital that will be exchangeable for
other types of capital in the information society (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2002: 15).
Why is plurilingualism important for Europe? (2)
Development of potential for plurilingual competence is fundamental to Europe, but
not only because it would enable all Europeans to be effective citizens nationally
and transnationally. In Europe, open-ended cultural affiliation involves, among other
things, being able to recognize the wealth of linguistic repertoires and identify
collectively and affectively with that multiplicity. Linguistic civility and benevolence
towards whatever or whoever is foreign to our experience is not unknown in
European history and could be the basis of a type of affiliation that, rather than
elevating a particular language, develops an openness to languages – an awareness
of the diversity of Europeans’ plurilingual repertoires and a shared but plural
manifestation of identity/ies (Beacco, 2005: 21).
Recommendations to promote plurilingualism
The White Paper (1995) suggested that:
• Learning of the first foreign language should start at pre-school level
and should become more systematic in primary school.
• A second Community foreign language should then be taken up in
secondary school where, ideally, some of the subjects should be
studied in the first foreign language.
• By the end of secondary school, ‘everyone should be proficient in
two Community foreign languages (European Commission, 1995:
47). To this day, very few member states have implemented this
recommendation.
Recommendation No. R (98) 6 encourages member
states to promote widespread plurilingualism:
• By encouraging all Europeans to achieve a degree of communicative ability in a number of
languages.
• By diversifying the languages on offer and setting objectives appropriate to each language.
• By encouraging teaching programs at all levels that use a flexible approach – including modular
courses and those which aim to develop partial competences – and giving them appropriate
recognition in national qualification systems, in particular public examinations.
• By encouraging the use of foreign languages in the teaching of non-linguistic subjects (for
example history, geography, mathematics) and creating favorable conditions for such teaching.
• By supporting the application of communication and information technologies to disseminate
teaching and learning materials for all European national or regional languages.
• By supporting the development of links and exchanges with institutions and persons at all
levels of education in other countries so as to offer to all the possibility of authentic experience
of the language and culture of others.
• By facilitating lifelong language learning through the provision of appropriate resources.
(Council of Europe, 2006: 10)
Policies for plurilingualism
Council of Europe policy attaches particular importance to the development
of plurilingualism –the lifelong enrichment of the individual’s plurilingual
repertoire. This repertoire is made up of different languages and language
varieties at different levels of proficiency and includes different types of
competences. It is dynamic and changes in its composition throughout an
individual’s life.
The use and development of an individual’s plurilingual competence is
possible because different languages are not learned in isolation and can
influence each other both in the learning process and communicative use.
Education systems need to ensure the harmonious development of learner’s
plurilingual competence through a coherent, transversal and integrated
approach that takes into account all the languages in learners’ plurilingual
repertoire and their respective functions. This includes promoting learners’
consciousness of their existing repertoires and potential to develop and
adapt those repertoires to changing circumstances.
(Council of Europe, 2006: 5)
Policy instruments and initiatives (2001-2016)
• Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching,
Assessment (CEFR) → an instrument to assist member states to develop policies for
plurilingualism.
• Reference Level Descriptions for national/regional languages → policy on teaching the
national/official and regional languages of member states as a second or foreign language.
• European Language Portfolio (ELP)→ designed to promote plurilingualism by enhancing
motivation and support for improved and lifelong language learning.
• Guide for the Development of Language Education Policies in Europe → describes how
language education policy can provide an inclusive and coherent education for
plurilingualism.
• Language Education Policy Profile → offer countries of regions or municipalities the
opportunity to undertake a self-evaluation of their policy in a spirits of a dialogue with
Council of Europe experts, with a view to possible future policy developments.
(Council of Europe, 2006: 13)
Conclusion
 Policies to develop plurilingualism among individuals need to counterbalance the market
forces which tend to lead to linguistic homogenisation, thus limiting the potential of
citizens to develop their unique individual linguistic repertoire.
 The development of plurilingualism among individuals provides the necessary conditions
for mobility for work and leisure purposes in multilingual Europe, where the plurilingualism
of the workforce is a crucial part of human capital in a global economy.
 Plurilingualism is a key factor in ensuring participation in democratic processes in
multilingual national and international contexts. It is particularly crucial for social and
political inclusion of all members of society, and for active shared democratic citizenship
among Europeans.
 Plurilingualism is vital in an information and learning society where access to and the
management of knowledge and learning are crucial factors in social and economic
developments.
 Plurilingualism needs to be developed, not just for utilitarian or professional reasons, but
also as a value that plays an essential role in raising awareness of and respect for linguistic
diversity.
‘A plurilingual habitus has to come into being so that
the danger of ethnic fragmentation and widespread
civil conflict based on linguistic affiliation will
become unthinkable’
(Neville, 2003)

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Developing plurilingual competence in Europe

  • 1. Developing plurilingual competence in Europe by Chrysanthi Pavlidou
  • 2. Multilingualism ≠ Plurilingualism  Multilingualism is ‘the knowledge of a number of languages, or the co-existence of different languages in a given society’. Multilingualism may be attained by simply diversifying the languages on offer in a particular school or educational system, or by encouraging pupils to learn more than one foreign language, or reducing the dominant position of English in international communication (Council of Europe, 2001: 4).  Plurilingualism emphasizes ‘the fact that as an individual person’s experience of language in its cultural context expands, from the language of the home to that of society at large and then to the languages of other peoples [...], he or she does not keep these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and interact’ (Council of Europe, 2001: 4).
  • 3. Aim of language education The aim is to achieve ‘mastery’ of one or two, or even three languages, each taken in isolation, with the ‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model. The aim is to develop a linguistic repertory, in which all linguistic abilities have a place. The languages offered in educational institutions should be diversified and students given the opportunity to develop a plurilingual competence. (Council of Europe, 2001: 5)
  • 4. Plurilingual competence The plurilingual competence is the practical manifestation of the capacity for language that all human beings possess genetically and that can successively be invested in several languages. The competence is more developed in some than others, according to the individual’s linguistic environment and personal or social path, so that actual monolingualism in a social actor is to be regarded merely as the default form of plurilingualism (Beacco, 2005: 19).
  • 5. Plurilingual competence The concept of plurilingual competence tends to: • move away from the supposed balanced dichotomy established by the customary L1/L2 pairing by stressing plurilingualism where bilingualism is just one particular case; • consider that a given individual does not have a collection of distinct and separate competences to communicate depending on the languages he/she knows, but rather a plurilingual competence encompassing the full range of the languages available to him/her; • stress the pluricultural dimensions of this multiple competence but without necessarily suggesting links between the development of abilities concerned with relating to other cultures and the development of linguistic communicative proficiency. (Council of Europe, 2001: 168)
  • 6. Characteristics of plurilingual competence • The strategies used in carrying out tasks may vary according to the language or language combinations employed. • Attitudes and values stressing openness, conviviality and goodwill (as in the use of gestures, mime, proxemics) may, in the case of a language in which the individual has limited linguistic competence, make up for relative limitations in the course of interaction with a native speaker, whereas in a language he knows better this same individual may adopt a more distant or reserved attitude. • The task involving a language activity may thus be redefined, the linguistic message reshaped or redistributed according to the resources actually available to the actor and his perception of these resources or his perception of his interlocutor's resources (like the possible use of forms of codeswitching and bilingual speech, i.e. passing from one language to another in the same conversational exchange). (Coste, Moore, & Zarate, 2009: 11)
  • 7. Principles of plurilingual competence 1. Plurilingual individuals develop different competences in each language, and these competences are neither necessarily equal nor totally similar to those of monolinguals. 2. They fulfill a range of different functions, depending on what is necessary to meet specific and different communication needs. 3. The commonest trait of plurilingual competence is a state of imbalance; it is simultaneously complex and dynamic, and leaves room for original phenomena, such as bilingual speech. 4. Imbalance is part of a plurilingual competence. The issue at stake in the construction of school or out-ofschool plurilingualism, is the strategic management of imbalance. (Coste, Moore, & Zarate, 2009: 19-20)
  • 8. Europeans and their language skills (1) • 6000-7000 spoken languages in the world (Price, 2000). • Around 275 languages in Europe (Price, 2000). • The majority of citizens of the EU are not plurilingual. • The Council of Education Ministers (31 March 1995) stated that ‘it is becoming necessary for everyone, irrespective of training and education routes chosen, to be able to acquire and keep up their ability to communicate in at least two Community languages in addition to their mother tongue’. (Official Journal of the European Communities 207, 1995: 1). • Among 15,900 people: 47,3% they do not speak any foreign language & 52,7% speak at least one (INRA, 2001).
  • 9. Europeans and their language skills (2) Table 1 Foreign languages spoken by citizens in the former 15 EU member states Adapted from: European Commission (2001: 3) These results are in sharp contrast with the fact that 93% of parents of children under 20 believe that language learning is important (European Commission, 2001: 8). Undoubtedly, some efficient measures will have to be taken to ensure for the long term that EU citizens improve their linguistic proficiency. English French German Spanish Italian 1st FL 32.6 9.5 4.2 1.5 0.8 2nd FL 6.8 7.8 4.3 3.0 1.0 3rd FL 1.1 1.6 1.6 1.5 0.9 Total % 40.5 18.9 10.1 6.0 2.7
  • 10. Why is plurilingualism important for Europe? (1)  Enhancing plurilingalism is a key requirement for bringing people from different linguistic backgrounds together (Wandruszka, 1971, as cited in Glaser, 2005: 199).  Skutnabb-Kangas (2002: 13) provided 2 scenarios for the year 2100: 1. Optimistic: 2% of biological species but 50% of languages may be dead (or moribund) in a 100 years’ time. 2. Pessimistic: 20% of biological species but 90% of languages may be dead (or moribund) in 100 years’ time.  Plurilingualism enhances creativity. High-level Plurilinguals as a group do better than corresponding monolinguals on tests measuring several aspects of ‘intelligence’, creativity, divergent thinking, cognitive flexibility, etc (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2002: 14).  Education that leads to high levels of plurilingualism produces not only local linguistic and cultural capital but knowledge capital that will be exchangeable for other types of capital in the information society (Skutnabb-Kangas, 2002: 15).
  • 11. Why is plurilingualism important for Europe? (2) Development of potential for plurilingual competence is fundamental to Europe, but not only because it would enable all Europeans to be effective citizens nationally and transnationally. In Europe, open-ended cultural affiliation involves, among other things, being able to recognize the wealth of linguistic repertoires and identify collectively and affectively with that multiplicity. Linguistic civility and benevolence towards whatever or whoever is foreign to our experience is not unknown in European history and could be the basis of a type of affiliation that, rather than elevating a particular language, develops an openness to languages – an awareness of the diversity of Europeans’ plurilingual repertoires and a shared but plural manifestation of identity/ies (Beacco, 2005: 21).
  • 12. Recommendations to promote plurilingualism The White Paper (1995) suggested that: • Learning of the first foreign language should start at pre-school level and should become more systematic in primary school. • A second Community foreign language should then be taken up in secondary school where, ideally, some of the subjects should be studied in the first foreign language. • By the end of secondary school, ‘everyone should be proficient in two Community foreign languages (European Commission, 1995: 47). To this day, very few member states have implemented this recommendation.
  • 13. Recommendation No. R (98) 6 encourages member states to promote widespread plurilingualism: • By encouraging all Europeans to achieve a degree of communicative ability in a number of languages. • By diversifying the languages on offer and setting objectives appropriate to each language. • By encouraging teaching programs at all levels that use a flexible approach – including modular courses and those which aim to develop partial competences – and giving them appropriate recognition in national qualification systems, in particular public examinations. • By encouraging the use of foreign languages in the teaching of non-linguistic subjects (for example history, geography, mathematics) and creating favorable conditions for such teaching. • By supporting the application of communication and information technologies to disseminate teaching and learning materials for all European national or regional languages. • By supporting the development of links and exchanges with institutions and persons at all levels of education in other countries so as to offer to all the possibility of authentic experience of the language and culture of others. • By facilitating lifelong language learning through the provision of appropriate resources. (Council of Europe, 2006: 10)
  • 14. Policies for plurilingualism Council of Europe policy attaches particular importance to the development of plurilingualism –the lifelong enrichment of the individual’s plurilingual repertoire. This repertoire is made up of different languages and language varieties at different levels of proficiency and includes different types of competences. It is dynamic and changes in its composition throughout an individual’s life. The use and development of an individual’s plurilingual competence is possible because different languages are not learned in isolation and can influence each other both in the learning process and communicative use. Education systems need to ensure the harmonious development of learner’s plurilingual competence through a coherent, transversal and integrated approach that takes into account all the languages in learners’ plurilingual repertoire and their respective functions. This includes promoting learners’ consciousness of their existing repertoires and potential to develop and adapt those repertoires to changing circumstances. (Council of Europe, 2006: 5)
  • 15. Policy instruments and initiatives (2001-2016) • Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) → an instrument to assist member states to develop policies for plurilingualism. • Reference Level Descriptions for national/regional languages → policy on teaching the national/official and regional languages of member states as a second or foreign language. • European Language Portfolio (ELP)→ designed to promote plurilingualism by enhancing motivation and support for improved and lifelong language learning. • Guide for the Development of Language Education Policies in Europe → describes how language education policy can provide an inclusive and coherent education for plurilingualism. • Language Education Policy Profile → offer countries of regions or municipalities the opportunity to undertake a self-evaluation of their policy in a spirits of a dialogue with Council of Europe experts, with a view to possible future policy developments. (Council of Europe, 2006: 13)
  • 16. Conclusion  Policies to develop plurilingualism among individuals need to counterbalance the market forces which tend to lead to linguistic homogenisation, thus limiting the potential of citizens to develop their unique individual linguistic repertoire.  The development of plurilingualism among individuals provides the necessary conditions for mobility for work and leisure purposes in multilingual Europe, where the plurilingualism of the workforce is a crucial part of human capital in a global economy.  Plurilingualism is a key factor in ensuring participation in democratic processes in multilingual national and international contexts. It is particularly crucial for social and political inclusion of all members of society, and for active shared democratic citizenship among Europeans.  Plurilingualism is vital in an information and learning society where access to and the management of knowledge and learning are crucial factors in social and economic developments.  Plurilingualism needs to be developed, not just for utilitarian or professional reasons, but also as a value that plays an essential role in raising awareness of and respect for linguistic diversity.
  • 17. ‘A plurilingual habitus has to come into being so that the danger of ethnic fragmentation and widespread civil conflict based on linguistic affiliation will become unthinkable’ (Neville, 2003)

Editor's Notes

  1. Since the early 2000s, the Council of Europe has preferred the term plurilingualism in order to highlight the notion of a plurilingual competence (Castellotti & Moore, 2002). This definition focuses on the interconnectivity of language competences developed by the individual as well as on the importance of accepting various levels of mastery of the language learned.