Yes, but is PEL the same as ELP?

Authors: Marie-Odile Leconte and Patricia Monjo


In September 2003, Leeds Metropolitan University started delivering a new French specialist route on its BA(Hons) Primary Education and was paired with the IUFM of Montpellier in France. As lecturers from both institutions started collaborating together, we decided to look into the use of the Common European Framework and in particular the European Language Portfolio (ELP) as tools offering an element of commonality between France and the UK. How is the use of these interpreted differently in both countries? How much do these interpretations reflect a different approach to language learning and the means to achieve that learning?

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Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (, 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. General introduction to the presentation

Our aim in starting a study in the use of the European Language Portfolio in France and the UK was to tease out how the Other does it differently, and the subsequent implications for our practice, ultimately bringing a more successful partnership between institutions, leading to a positive experience for students from both countries. It would also give us the opportunity to reflect on one of the key challenges for the future of the portfolio or indeed any educational pan-European initiative: that of national contextualisation and visibility. This presentation offers preliminary findings and may well lead to more questions than it answers. It offers a mere musing, a reflective pause in our collaborative approach.

2. Methodology and Key questions

We set about researching separately, due to geographical distance, but with a single tool, the Portfolio, focusing on the Junior version, an identical starting point, the accreditation criteria laid out in the Principles and Guidelines set by the Council of Europe (section 3.2) and a common set of questions:

1. How similar/different is the interpretation of the criteria?

2. How much do these differences reflect a different approach to language learning, different expectations regarding the profiles of the learner and the teacher?

3. Can the portfolio retain a European identity? Does it matter?

In France, The PEL is promoted via CIEP (Centre International d'Etudes Pedagogiques), in Sevres. The French context is closely linked with the publication of a new curriculum in February 2002, concerning Primary Education. Indeed two years ago under the leadership of Jack Lang, the French Ministry of Education took the institutional momentous decision to introduce MFL as a compulsory subject in the curriculum for children aged 6 to 10.

In the UK, portfolios are developed and promoted by CILT, the National Centre for Languages. The promotion, evaluation and development of the ELP in the UK need to be set within the context of the National Languages Strategy, published also in 2002, and the emerging language ladder. 'Delivering an entitlement to language learning to every pupil at Key Stage2 by the end of the decade' is described as 'the centrepiece of our strategy'. There are now three models of PEL in France and a portfolio for HE is in preparation. There are two models of ELP in the UK, EAQUALTS/ALTE have developed a model for adult learners, CERCLES has developed a model for learners in Higher Education, and so has the European Language Council. There are now 48 portfolios accredited by the Council of Europe, 11 of which are for Primary Education.

3. A detailed look at the two versions of the Junior portfolio and preliminary findings

As mentioned above, we focused our presentation on the versions used in Primary Education in France and the UK. A quick look at the 2 versions illustrates initial differences in presentation:

The Junior ELP Portfolio has normal academic size, it is very linear (from page 1 to page 23) and easy for young learners to make their way through it. "Mon 1er portfolio" is dramatically different in terms of shape, size and colours: it is a colourful square piece of light cardboard divided into 8 equal parts with no mention of pages. The French team favoured a play presentation. Both accredited models adhere to the Principles and Guidelines of the Council of Europe and we have focused on point 3.2 which establishes the three core elements of all portfolios. These are: the passport, the language biography and the dossier.

The language passport

The principles & guidelines clearly state the obligatory reference to the CEF. The first difficulty is that there is no mention of the CEF in either versions : it is not accessible to young children but the lack of mention of the CEF is problematic. Is there a need to adapt grids and descriptors for young learners?

Language biography

This section is central and has the greatest number of pages both for the French & English versions. It has in common a reflection upon learning process and progress, and the development of capacity for self-assessment. It also addresses the promotion of plurilingualism .


In the English ELP 'my dossier' is the most sober part for the British model: "this is a record of some of my work in languages". In the French version called "My contacts with other languages and other cultures", the learner is meant to display his/her linguistic and intercultural experiences and competences and is divided in 5 sections .

4. Challenges for the ELP/PEL

The first challenge for the Portfolio is that of a wider dissemination and use. Our evidence here is anecdotal only. The English version of the Junior ELP and the accompanying Teacher's Guide can be downloaded from the CILT (Nacell) site of the internet and are thus widely accessible. However, most people I spoke to had not heard of it. The purchasing of portfolios is down to schools, in both countries, and more importantly, there is a general assumption that portfolio building, self assessment and autonomous learning are 'simple tasks' when in fact an effective use of the ELP/PEL requires some training for teachers in order to maximize the use of the portfolio for learners.

In France, the PEL is not spreading as fast as it should, given the amount of creative energy and expertise its conception has been given. The main impediment to its wide spread dissemination seems to be the lack of support for its implementation in schools.

Another important challenge for the Portfolio is that of retaining a European identity when, as we have seen, the end products are different. This matters to make a difference and develop a European identity. On the other end a standardized version of the ELP would erase diversity and national richness. As mentioned in the introduction, this presentation represents preliminary findings of a joint collaboration between two practitioners 'at the chalk face', and raises interesting questions and challenges between theory/conceptual stage and practice/implementation stage.

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