Using Language Portfolios

Date: 1 November, 2001
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Workshop

Event report

by Alison Dickens

This half-day event explored the use of language portfolios as tool for independent and lifelong language learning. In three case study presentations, a variety of exemplars of portfolios were presented along with information about their implementation within a Higher Education context.

The following summary and links outline the three models presented:

1. The European Language Portfolio (ELP): John Thorogood, Languages NTO

John gave an overview of the nature, contents and purpose of the European Language Portfolio developed by the Council of Europe and the version developed and validated by the LNTO for Adult Education in the UK. The principle aim of the ELP is to support language learning in the context of the common principles of the European Union. These are:

  • Political - to foster mutual understanding
  • Social - to encourage respect for others
  • Cultural - to protect linguistic and cultural diversity
  • Linguistic - to develop plurilingualism as a lifelong process, independent language learning, transparency and coherence in language programmes (transfer from one learning environment to another); to provide a clear description of competence; to enhance employment opportunities and mobility.

The Portfolio consists of :

  • A Passport (normally A5) which will contain records of learning, levels achieved and certificates gained. It includes the levels outlined by the Common European Framework as a self-evaluation tool against which a learner can measure attainment and which will be understood across the European Community.
  • A Language Biography which is intended to stimulate reflection on personal learning goals and to provide a more informal record of learning e.g. a case study of the owner's learning journey;
  • A Dossier which will contain materials that exemplify language learning activities and outcomes.

The Council of Europe provides templates to guide the organisation and content of all three components although the biography and dossier can be designed to cater for different types of learner and language level. Each version must be validated by the Council of Europe. Currently, UK versions for Primary learners and for Adult learners (LNTO) have been validated and published. The primary version can be downloaded from the NACELL website. The LNTO are hoping to have the adult version available for use by the start of the academic year 2002/3 and to have a number of printed copies available soon so that institutions can view before committing themselves to an order (price will vary according to take up but hopefully will not be much more than two or three pounds).

Response from participants to the European Language Portfolio (ELP) was very positive with particular interest from LSE, Manchester and Nottingham Trent in trialling it. It was seen as particularly useful for students on an institution wide language programme (IWLP) who may not automatically have their language learning recognised in their degree.

2. Nick Byrne, London School of Economics Language Centre

In the second case study Nick Byrne, London School of Economics Language Centre, reported on the use of an HE version of ELP developed by Trinity College, Dublin for CERCLES as part of a Council of Europe project. This version is still in the process of validation, but was used by LSE to cater for 1500 students who take language courses that are not part of their main degree. The ELP was also seen to offer more for degree option students than the current 80% exam.

With permission, LSE adapted the Trinity portfolio it to give individual record sheets for different language skills (Understanding, Speaking and Writing). Later elements relating to academic skills and subject specific items were then added.

The ELP was seen as a way of providing a grading system for assessment; of assisting students with time management and task completion skills. It is of particular use in a heavily exam-oriented institution, such as LSE, in that it enables the process of language learning to be assessed in addition to the product. It is also a useful way of presenting work to potential employers or institutions (in the case of PG work). Feedback from students suggests that it is seen as a useful tool (for the marketplace) but that the process of self-evaluation can seem to some (already skilled language learners) as a detracter from the actual process of learning. It has also been observed by tutors that it is not always easy to evaluate students against the Common European Framework descriptors e.g. the degrees of fluency offered at higher levels are very similar. However, Nick did point out that help may be at hand in the form of the Dialang computer-based system, currently under EU development, which uses the Common European Framework to provide diagnostic testing in speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary for 14 languages.

3. Jocelyn Wyburd, University of Manchester Language Centre

In the final case study Jocelyn Wyburd, University of Manchester Language Centre described the use of portfolios, developed at the University of Manchester as a tool to support the Independent Language Learning Programme (ILLP) developed by the Language Centre.

The ILLP Portfolio is used for both IWLP and Language Honours degree programmes. It is intended to help students to structure, manage and evaluate their language learning and is used to provide evidence of learning which is either assessed (IWLP) or counted as class attendance (Honours Programme). The portfolio is also used as part of a Tandem Learning Course Unit developed at the Language Centre.

The Portfolio consists of compulsory tasks, suggested (optional) tasks and a free choice of task (e.g. devised by the student). It must contain evidence of development in all areas e.g. speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar and vocabulary. Support and guidance is provided by Language Centre Learning Advisers, tutors (who provide feedback on the portfolios) and an online Learning Guide. Assessment of the portfolios is largely process-driven, taking in elements such as balance, depth and range of activities as well as time management, action planning and self-evaluation.

For Honours students the portfolio is not assessed but it is regularly submitted to tutors who do not mark the work (impossible as the source texts may not always be included and the quantity of work potentially too great) but provide feedback such as an overview of general errors, guidance on the choice and difficulty of learning activity or advice on skill areas that need further development.

For more information see Jocelyn's powerpoint slides or visit the University of Manchester Language Centre web pages

Language Portfolio Event: Links Directory

LNTO (John Thorogood)

London School of Economics Language Centre (Nick Byrne)

LSE Comunitec Project: technical training for language teachers

University of Manchester Language Centre (Jocelyn Wyburd)

European Language Portfolio

Validated Portfolios - then select Portfolios from the menu

European Language Portfolio at Trinity College, Dublin

Nacell - primary version of European Language Portfolio

Dialang - diagnostic tests for 14 European Languages