February 13, 2014, by michaelgroves

CEFR on Malaysian shores

The Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) is widely used in Europe to describe language proficiency. CELE tutor, Salomy Krishna, recently attended a symposium to discuss whether it should be implemented in Malaysia. Below are her thoughts.

In its ongoing efforts to transform language education in Malaysia, the Ministry of Education has over the years implemented many changes, some controversial to say the least. One such attempt was the topic of discussion at the recent CEFR Symposium, jointly organised by the Ministry of Education, the English Language Standards and Quality Council, and the English Language Teaching Centre.

CEFR is short for the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages. Its designers hoped that the framework would provide a transparent, coherent and comprehensive basis for discussing language syllabuses and curriculum guidelines, the design of teaching and learning materials, and the assessment of foreign language proficiency. At present, it is mainly used in Europe and is available in 39 languages. The framework describes foreign language proficiency at six levels: A1 and A2, B1 and B2, C1 and C2. To illustrate, a language learner who is able to interact in the target language in a simple way, rather than relying on just words and phrases, would be placed at A1 level; whereas, one who can communicate in the language with a high degree of accuracy, appropriateness and ease, would be placed at C2.  The emphasis is clearly on achieving communicative competence, with CEFR’s self assessment grids ranging from ‘I can use simple phrases and sentences’ (A1) to ‘I have no difficulty in understanding any kind of spoken language’ (C2).

CEFR promoters believe that the framework makes it possible to compare tests and examinations across languages and national boundaries and that it provides a basis for recognising language qualifications, thereby allowing students and employees to move easily from one country to another. It is undeniable that a valuable characteristic of the framework is the possibility it offers to communicate more easily about language competences and proficiencies. Another advantage of the CEFR is that it might help to assess the language proficiencies of students in an internationally comparable manner.

Yet, it was impossible to not pick up the obvious hesitation in the comments and responses that came from the participants of the symposium held just about a month ago. The keynote speaker’s frequent emphasis on the fact that the CEFR was meant only as a tool of reference was repeatedly missed as policy makers and academicians from various educational institutions struggled to grasp the whole of the framework and decide on its feasibility.

On a personal note, the symposium only managed to address the ‘tippest of the iceberg’, leaving the writer and many others, with more questions than answers. However, as pointed out by the keynote speaker, “the CEFR is here to stay” (in Malaysia – see second link below) and so, perhaps putting away our apprehension may help us approach it with a more open mind.

Posted in AssessmentCEFRCELECommunicationEnglish