The teaching and learning of languages in Germany in school contexts changed a lot in the last years. The trend in terms of education policy of standardization and competence orientation dominates more and more the German language teaching. The policy supports in an active way this reform. One of the most influential documents of this development is the Common European framework for languages. Its influence is in Germany especially strong since the authors of the German education standards for the first foreign language adopted nearly completely its concept.
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In this work I will show what the reform of language teaching in Germany mean. I will find answers for the question what competence orientated foreign language teaching is and I will consider how the Common European framework for languages and the German education standards for the first foreign language are related to this trend. Finally I will weight the positive aspects up against the problematic points of this development.
2. Reform of German foreign language teaching
– development of a competence orientated learning and teaching
For quite a while the teaching and learning of languages in Germany in school contexts is influenced from a trend in terms of educational policy, called ‘competence orientated teaching’. (Hu 2008: S. 1)
But what exactly is this trend, which dominates the discussion of the scientific community of those concerned with foreign language teaching and research? What is the potential of the changes which are accompanied by the ‘competence orientated teaching’ and which aspects of this trend are controversial?
A long time language teaching in German schools aimed to the instruction for four language skills: oral comprehension, written comprehension, speaking and writing. The teaching and learning of foreign languages was therefore clearly geared toward the language system of the respective language. (Hu, Leupold 2008: 52)
Changes of the conditions of the external world, such as the progression of the globalisation, an increase of mobility of the people, relating to the evolution of globalisation and the phenomenon of migration lead to a different target of language teaching. The objective of language teaching in German schools was now the training of a so-called competence of communication.
Before that time, the language system of the respective language was the focus of language teaching. After the change of the role of foreign languages in the life, the focus of learning and teaching languages was that the learners become able to express whatever it is they want to express. (Hu, Leupold 2008: 53)
The Pragmatics, a subfield of linguistic, explained the complexity of the competence of communication by dividing it in several parts: linguistic competence, socio-linguistic competence, competence of discourse, strategically competence, socio-cultural competence, social competence. (Hu, Leupold 2008: 53)
All in all, the development of language teaching in Germany is often described by scientific community as a change from orientation towards the ‘input’ to an orientation towards the ‘output’. No longer the contents that the pupil has to learn are considered as the most important question of educational policy. The competences, abilities that the pupils can achieve by learning quite different contents are now the focus of the discussion in terms of educational policy. (Weil 2010: 16)
In Germany that restructuring was especially driven forward after the so-called shock of Pisa in 2000.
The Kultusministerkonferenz  (KMK) developed a strategy, a key element of which are the German education standards for the first foreign language (English/French) and the included idea of competence orientated teaching. The plan is to develop medium or long term aims for each subject of the German education system. The targets should be competence orientated and clearly fixed, so that it is possible to peer-review them. This project both challenged and changed the teaching and learning of languages in Germany.
The idea of competence orientated language teaching is reflected in different parts of the German school system: in the education standards for the first foreign language, which is based on the Common European framework for languages, in exams comparing the accomplishment of all German pupils at a certain age, in types of exercises, which have to be involved in all language classes of German schools, etc.
One of the most important or maybe the most important event of the described reform of learning and teaching languages is the Common European framework of languages in Germany. That is why this document will be the focus of the next part of my work.
In the first part of this chapter I will look into what kind of document the CEFR is. In the second part I will show the implementation of the document in the German education system of language teaching. In the third part I will consider the reception of the CEFR and the idea of competence orientated teaching.
3. The Common European framework for languages
3.1 What is the CEFR?
The CEFR was published in 2000 as result of many years of work on the European level. One year later a version in German language was published. The primary goal of the document was to create a closer unity between the member states. Therefore the target of the CEFR is first of all politically motivated. (Hu 2008: 4)
Other important intentions of the CEFR can be summarized as follows:
Intensification of learning and teaching languages, so that the people of the European Union have more mobility and so that a international communication can be more effective
support of the concept of a European plurilingualism
lifelong language learning
to make the recognition of language qualifications easier
to create the possibility of comparison of programmes for language learning, for language certificates
to create more transparency and to describe realistic goals of language learning (chapter 1 of the CEFR)
In the CEFR language is always considered, as we can see in the first chapter of the long document, as kind of a human action. In the concept of the CEFR learning a language serves for communication.
The division of the complex ability to have mastered a foreign language in several parts, that can be assessed, has an especially huge influence of language teaching.
Here you can see which different competences, considered as important for learning a language, are listed in the CEFR:
declarative knowledge (savoir)
knowledge about the world
skills and procedural knowledge (savoir-faire)
competences of personality (savoir-être)
ability to learn (savoir-apprendre)
So the traditional targets of language learning are extended in the CEFR by up to other intentions, that where unconsidered until then: Techniques and strategies about how to learn are presented as important aspects of language learning. The cultural dimension of learning foreign languages is represented and the CEFR also pays some attention to the demands of the personality of the learner which are related to the process of language learning.
Besides this, the process of learning languages was, in the CEFR, for the first time analysed in an instrumental-functional way by dividing the process of learning in six levels. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 1) The reference levels of the CEFR serve to describe the progresses in the process of learning.
It is therefore evident that the underlying concept of language of the CEFR is an instrumental-functional one.
Appropriate to his competences a language learner belongs after the concept of the CEFR to one of the three broad divisions, which can be divided into six levels.
Here the structuring of learning languages which is developed by the authors of the CEFR:
A Basic Speaker
A1 Breakthrough or beginner
A2 Waystage or elementary
B Independent Speaker
B1 Threshold or pre-intermediate
B2 Vantage or intermediate
C Proficient Speaker
C1 Effective Operational Proficiency or upper intermediate
C2 Mastery or advanced
3.2 The implementation of the CEFR in Germany:
the CEFR as underlying concept of the education standards for the first foreign language
After I have outlined what kind of document the CEFR is, I will describe his implementation in the German education standards for the first foreign language and with that his enormous influence on language teaching in German schools.
In 2000, for the first time the international school study PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) was performed. This is an international evaluation of the scholastic performance of 15-year-old pupils, which is coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The relatively bad results of the German pupils (Born 2003) revealed the discrepancy between the targets and the requirements of the educational system and the real results.
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Because of the PISA results of 2000, the German educational policy was under big political pressure for action. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 1) In this conditions, the Kultusministerkonferenz passed education standards for the first foreign language (English/French) in 2003. These standards give information about the required standard of a pupil after having been at school for ten years, after the lower secondary school. These actions in term of educational policy should, at least at medium-term, improve the scholastic performance of German pupils and give Germany the chance to get a better ranking in the future. (Klieme, Leutner 2006: 876)
The standardization of learning languages was a special case because a system of levels already existed from the CEFR. So the existing work form the Council of Europe was taken up. The B1 level was used as the basis for the level, which was expected at the end of lower secondary school. The educational standards describe consequently as well as the CEFR the expected ‘normal’ level and not a minimal level. (Kunze 2007: 236)
Since the educational standards practically adopted the skills of the CEFR, two more or less simultaneous developments in educational policy with original different intentions, coincided: the possibility to compare language competences in Europe and the goal in term of educational policy to describe accurately which competences are expected from the pupils at a certain grade, so that the scholastic performance can be assessed in a well founded way. (Hu 2008: 5)
In spite of the different intentions the education standards for the first foreign language are clearly based on the CEFR.
Also the division of the very complex competence to have mastered a language follows the example of the CEFR. Merely the terms and the presentation are different. The concept is nearly the same:
skills of communication
handling of the language system (grammar and vocabulary)
pronunciation and intonation
comprehensive way to handle cultural differences
coping with intercultural situations in practice
competences of methods
reception of texts (oral and written comprehension)
ability to interact with texts
production of texts (speaking and writing)
strategies of learning
presentation; to handle with mediums
being conscious about the process of learning
By the implementation of the CEFR in the German education standards, the European Council’s document of learning and teaching of languages has a large influence on the language teaching in German schools. That is the reason why the CEFR is conspicuously often discussed by the German scientific community of those concerned with foreign language teaching and research.
3.3 Reception of the Common European framework for languages in Germany
In this last part of my work I will consider the controversial discussion about the CEFR, its positive aspects and its weak spots. First I will speak about the positive points of the CEFR. Later I will present aspects which are criticised and at last I will give a short personal view on the CEFR and the underlying concept of language learning.
3.3.1 Positive aspects of the CEFR
The CEFR led to a fundamental discussion of the teaching and learning of languages and it brought up the question about what the global targets of learning foreign languages are. The function of the CEFR as a stimulus to think about the being of language teaching is clearly profitable for future teaching and learning of languages. The process of rethinking traditions which was activated this way has shown for example one more time that the grammar focussed language teaching can not be justified by the actual point of view. (Neuner 2003)
Many see the standardization of language learning positively, especially in Germany. Since the sixteen federal states of the Federal Republic of Germany have developed their own targets up to that time, the demands in the various parts of Germany were often quite different. Therefore a standardization of the global intention and the expected competences from the pupil, was necessary to support the pupils in achieving mobility and to create more justice for the pupils in Germany. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 9)
A great step forward for language teaching, which is related to the CEFR, is the change of perspective on the process of learning. Before that, the judgements of the pupils’ performance was usually made deficit orientated. Faults and aspects of the language at which the pupils aren’t good were the focus of traditional language teaching. The CEFR lead however to a perspective in which the already acquired competences are focused. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 9-10)
Like this change of perspective, the division of the global language-competence in several parts, as well as the organization in six levels influence the motivation of learner and teacher in a positive way. The process of learning a language is getting more structured and can be better organized. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 10)
3.3.2 Criticised aspects of the CEFR and his implementation in the German education system
After the presentation of all this positive aspects I will show some examples of important points that are criticised.
Problematic in the reform of the German education system by the implementation of the described standards is, that the teachers aren’t sufficiently involved. There are only very little workshops for introducing the teacher to the new way. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 11)
Besides the underlying concept of language is often considered as one-sided: only the instrumental-functional aspect of language is taken into consideration. Aesthetic, creative and cultural dimensions of language are for example neglected. (Caspari, Grünewald etc. 2008: 12)
Another paradox problem related to the concept of competence orientated teaching is, that competences like intercultural competences, that are hard to assess, will be probably neglected in this reform, even if it is listed in the CEFR and the German education standards. Under the pressure of proving, that certain targets are reached, it is not surprising, that at first those goals which are hard to assess will be neglected. (Hu 2008: 6)
All in all the emotional aspect of learning a language is not sufficiently taken into consideration. The importance to consider the needs and interests of learners are not really appreciated. (Königs 2003: 115)
The precedent considerations about the development in educational policy show that a reform of language teaching in Germany was necessary. The results of the Pisa-studies 2000 made this necessity obvious. Nevertheless the changes are discussed in a controversial way and there are many aspects which have to be criticised. Especially the concept of language which underlie the idea of competence orientated language teaching is in several aspects problematic. It is one-sided instrumental-functional and overlook the creative, aesthetic and cultural dimension of languages. In my personal experience this aspects of foreign languages were always very important in the process of learning a language – a way which is sometimes hard to go. That is why the needs and interest of language learners are extremely important aspects in the language-learning-process and why they it is important to involve them more in the actual development.
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