A Common Framework for Chinese

Authors: Linda M Li and George X Zhang


The authors look at the Council of Europe's Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) and posit that a complementary Europe-wide framework for Chinese is much needed. They claim that this is necessary as the CEF is politically, linguistically, socio-culturally inadequate for the issues facing the teaching and learning of Chinese. A number of ways of taking this idea forward are introduced.

This article was added to our website on 18/01/05 at which time all links were checked. However, we cannot guarantee that the links are still valid.

Table of contents

This paper was originally presented at the Navigating the new landscape for languages conference (www.llas.ac.uk/navlang), 30 June - 1 July 2004.

1. Introduction

Over ten years ago Council of Europe published The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (hereafter as CEF). CEF intends "to overcome the barriers to communication among professionals working in the field of modern languages arising from the different educational systems in Europe." (CEF:1) In the recent years, CEF seems to be gathering momentum in the UK. However, it is important to note that the CEF was not conceived with much regard to Non European languages. As a result, the principles that underline CEF are not entirely appropriate for the Chinese language learning and teaching in Europe, nor are all the linguistic guidelines of CEF applicable. This paper argues that with Chinese language learning and teaching becoming increasingly popular in Europe, it is high time that an adequate common framework for Chinese (hereafter CFFC) across Europe be contemplated. First of all let us look at some of the characteristics of CEF.

2. Characteristics of CEF

CEF has a clear political agenda that doesn't really fit Chinese . The aims and objectives of Council of Europe's language policy state clearly that the overall aim of the Council of Europe is "to achieve greater unity among its members'. For this the Council of Europe would encourage all member states to provide for all citizens access to effective learning of the "languages of other member states (or of other communities within their own country" (CEF:3). The belief is that better communication leads to freer mobility and more direct contact, which in turn leads to better understanding and closer co-operation amongst the member state and will promote democratic citizenship. (CEF: xi-xii). It is obvious that though community languages are mentioned, the focus of CEF is for European languages in Europe. Chinese, a community language in Europe as it is, obviously falls outside the family of the European languages entrusted with the grand task to promote unity among the member states.

Linguistically CEF is primarily for European languages, of which Chinese is not a member . CEF describes in generic terms the levels of linguistic competences across the skills areas of language learning and teaching. It also defines levels of proficiency, which would allow learners' progress to be measured at each stage of learning and on a life-long basis. However, it is quite obvious that the considerations at the linguistic level are primarily based upon the alphabetic European languages. For example, much of the linguistic discussion is hardly applicable to Chinese, as Chinese writing (especially characters) and grammar would pose many major differences as compared to the languages discussed in CEF. In addition, some of the functional descriptors clearly demonstrate the Europe-centred approach of CEF.

CEF is concerned with the European socio-cultural contexts, in which Chinese has a very limited role to play. CEF discusses the cultural differences between the languages and the cultural context in which a language is expected to operate. While it is true that languages learned would function in personal, public, professional and education domains, the use of Chinese will not be the same as other European languages in the European contexts. It is a fundamental methodological principle of the Council of Europe that the methods to be employed in language learning, teaching and research are those considered to be most effective in reaching the objectives agreed in the light of the needs of the individual learners in their social context (CEF: 2003: 142; CEF:xii). But clearly the needs and motivation of those who learn Chinese in Europe will not the same as those studying European languages in Europe, and the use of Chinese can hardly be confined within Europe.

3. A Common Framework for Chinese

It is apparent from the above analysis that CEF is not really entirely adequate for Chinese language learning and teaching in Europe. As the interest in learning Chinese has been on a rapid increase in the recent years, it is necessary to develop a CFFC which will fulfil the intention of the CEF, and support the professionals working in the field of Chinese language learning and teaching across Europe. A CFFC will help the profession to better meet the increasing demand for Chinese learning and teaching in Europe.

CFFC will recognise that Chinese is not an alphabetic language, and the aims and objectives of learning and teaching Chinese also differ. Therefore, CFFC needs to come up with modified descriptors for levels of proficiency for both European and non European contexts. Chinese is perceived to be a difficult language to learn. But much of the difficulty lies in its being very different from European languages, Hence, CFFC should set out guideline for level descriptors, learning and teaching approaches, testing and assessment based on the CEF. However, such CFFC cannot be possible without the co-operation of the Chinese language teaching professionals in Europe.

4. Way forward

A Europe-wide cooperation in the field of Chinese language teaching is urgently needed, especially among countries and institutions where Chinese language learning and teaching are widely spread. A mechanism needs to be set up immediately to facilitate such cooperation, for instance:

a) a European network or a forum to discuss issues and problems on Chinese language learning and teaching in Europe;

b) a working group to work on details of CFFC;

c) discussion on what practically achievable levels are linguistically and in a context;

d) co-ordinated research into Chinese language learning and teaching.

5. Summary

There is an urgent need for a CFFC, when Chinese learning and teaching is developing rapidly in Europe. CFFC will provide a Europe-wide focus for Chinese language learning and teaching. This can start with a European network of the Chinese language teaching professionals with working groups to look at some key issues and to improve the awareness of the relevant institutions and authorities. A CFFC will undoubtedly help further the Chinese language learning and teaching in Europe.


Council of Europe. (2003). Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEF) . Cambridge: Cambridge University Press