European survey on language competences
A European survey on language competences will be launched in order to measure the language competences of young Europeans. This survey will be carried out on a representative sample of pupils studying a foreign language from among the official languages of the European Union most widely taught in the Member States. The results collected will enable the establishment of a European Indicator of Language Competence and will provide reliable information on language learning and on the language competences of young people.
Communication from the Commission to the Council of 13 April 2007 entitled "Framework for the European survey on language competences" [COM (2007) 184 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
The aim of the European survey on language competences is to lay the foundations for a future European Indicator of Language Competence. This indicator will provide a means of measuring and improving foreign language learning in the European Union (EU).
The European Indicator of Language Competence will make it possible to identify best teaching and learning practices. It will also allow assessment of the progress made towards the objectives of the framework Strategy for Multilingualism on European Union citizens' access to multilingualism and of ensuring that at least two foreign languages are learnt from an early age.
The survey will be based on the scientific standards for sampling that are recognised and implemented at international level in order to ensure the reliability and comparability of the data obtained.
This survey will focus on testing three language skills, namely reading, listening and writing. Instruments for testing oral communication skills will be set up at a later stage.
These skills will be tested in the official languages of the Union that are the most widely taught as first and second foreign language. These languages are English, French, German, Spanish and Italian. However, Member States wishing to test competence in other languages will be able to use this instrument to do so.
This survey will also take into account factors other than education that might impact on pupils' language competences.
Framework for testing and testing instruments
The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) will serve as a basis for testing young people's language skills.
This tool was designed by the Council of Europe to promote and facilitate language learning. The Member States conform to the CEFR and most of them have already used the reference framework during previous language proficiency tests.
The CEFR provides several scales indicating the level of language proficiency reached. However, this framework will have to be adapted to language learning at school level, as it would take a long time for pupils to progress from one level to the next and be too expensive to test.
With respect to the target population, the survey will be aimed at young people in education between the ages of 14 and 16, learning the languages tested by this survey.
With regard to the testing instruments, the States taking part in the survey will have a choice between computer-based tests using open-source software or traditional tests based on paper. Nevertheless, even if computer-based tests have a clear advantage over paper tests, particularly in terms of costs, questions linked to software compatibility and computer and typing skills will have to be taken into account.
Implementation of the survey
As regards the financing, the Lifelong Learning Programme (2007-2013), will cover the international costs of the survey (development and coordination of the pilot tests and full tests, analysis of the results). The Member States will be in charge of organising the language proficiency tests in their territory (management of structures, training of examiners, material costs, etc.). However, the implementation of similar tests in the past and the existing organisational structures will enable Member States to achieve economies of scale.
The Member States must have the organisational structures necessary for the implementation of the survey. Those that have already participated in similar international surveys will be able to use their experience as a basis for planning the national organisational structures.
The Commission, for its part, will take the measures necessary for the implementation of the survey in close coordination with the Advisory Board on the European Indicator of Language Competence, comprising national experts and the Member States.
The preparation of the survey and the implementation of the pilot tests are planned for 2008. The implementation of full tests in the Member States is planned for the first half of 2010.
The action plan " Promoting language learning and linguistic diversity " commits the Commission to developing a language competence indicator as part of the process of " Education and Training 2010 ".