Wednesday, December 14, 2011

“The ELP + Me”: Self-Utilization of the European Language Portfolio

Throughout the past few decades, the European Union has been credited with formulating and implementing successful language learning projects. M + 2, or the EU initiative to promote acquisition of two non-native languages in addition to an individual’s mother tongue, explicitly supports language learning in the European Union. The ultimate goal is to improve language learning and show support for national, regional, and minority languages in member states (see Hugo Baetens Beardsmore, “Language Promotion by European Supra-national Institutions,” in Ofelia García, Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective, Wiley-Blackwell, 2011).

The European Union supports several supplemental projects to ensure the success of M + 2. One instrument is the European Language Portfolio (ELP). According to the Council of Europe, the ELP is a document to record language learning progress, competencies, and accomplishments. Language learners are its sole users; it is thought of by the Council of Europe as a “passport” of language experience, a personal biography, or a dossier. The ELP was designed to “support the development of learner autonomy, plurilingualism, and intercultural awareness and competence.” Although the ELP can be used by a variety of ages, case studies tend to focus on its use in teaching non-native languages to EU youth.

Popular critiques of the ELP stem from conceptions of its usefulness outside of the classroom. Scholars are apprehensive of its purpose because it does not guarantee high-quality outcomes. In other words, there is not a clear link between its use and success in a professional environment, and a personal record of language aptitude could have little value outside of an institutional setting (Beardsmore, 2011). For the ease of the hiring process, job recruiters may not request to view an individuals’ ELP and instead prefer a more concise list on a resume or CV (see David Little, “The European Language Portfolio: Structure, Origins, Implementation, and Challenges,” Language Teaching 35, no. 3 (2002): 182-189). Other critics have pointed out that the instrument relies on self-assessment. Although individual assessment is based on universal criteria provided by the European Union, there is a possibility of a bias in self-reporting individual accomplishments or overestimations of actual competencies (Beardsmore, 2011).

Despite the negative evaluations of the European Language Portfolio (ELP), the educational tool is still key in implementing the European Union’s M + 2 initiative. Critics are failing to view the ELP as an individual tool for self-achievement and fulfillment. Although most employers may not ask to see an applicant’s ELP, it is still considered a valuable instrument for putting language learning competencies into perspective. According to a longitudinal study of language learners across 15 EU member states, 68% of learners using the ELP felt that it was a beneficial tool and use of their time. Learners also considered the self-assessment aspect of the ELP an innovative approach and felt motivated by assessing their own language ability. If the goal of the M + 2 initiative is to promote non-native language acquisition, then the ELP has proven helpful in achieving this goal by empowering learners to recognize their language learning potential.

Despite some negative assessment of the usefulness of the ELP, the tool can only help, not inhibit, those who take advantage of it.

Allyce Husband is a first-year student in the Master of Arts in European Union Studies program at the University of Illinois. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Communication and Psychology from the University of Illinois in 2011. As an undergraduate, Allyce studied abroad in Florence, Italy. She was awarded a Foreign Language and Area Studies (FLAS) Fellowship for 2011-2012 to continue studying Italian as a graduate student. She plans to research immigration issues in the European Union.


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