13.12.2012

The project in detail

1 BACKGROUND

1.1 Significance of the research

This project addresses the fundamental question how foreign or second language proficiency develops and how that development could be described as stages of achievement. A widely spread implementation of the view of language proficiency as successive stages is offered in numerous rating scales used in language tests. More general descriptive scales are common in language assessment for reporting the results of tests and examinations to the test takers and other interested parties. Such scales divide the continuum of language proficiency into distinct levels.

Recently, the use of such scales has entered language education in Europe with the introduction of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching and Assessment (CEFR). The CEFR as a whole and especially its six-point scale that describes language abilities from beginners to very advanced learners is being adopted in much of Europe as the international yardstick to which language curricula, examinations, materials and courses are related. Finland has been one of the pioneers in making use of the CEFR: it has been adapted, e.g., for the new National Core Curricula (NCC) for schools and, even earlier, for the National Certificates (NC) language examination.

Proficiency level descriptions are an important and well-researched part of the assessment of language skills. There is also an extensive body of theoretical and practical knowledge on second language acquisition (SLA), particularly on English but also increasingly on Finnish as a second language. These two fields of study, however, rarely communicate, and thus, it is uncertain to what extent the CEFR, or any other scale, reflects actual language learning. In this project, second/foreign language and language testing experts join forces to address questions of both theoretical and practical importance that relate to this particularly influential proficiency scale. The project seeks to examine these issues by investigating the linguistic and communicative performance of learners of two languages, English and Finnish.

The first goal is to relate the 'can do' statements used in the CEFR and National Curricula, for example, "can describe familiar things in some detail" (NBE 2004: 286) to learners' actual linguistic performance by analysing the combinations of linguistic features associated with the communicative tasks assigned in the 'can do' statements to each level.

Of particular importance in the Finnish context is the fact that the CEFR describes adult learners' language proficiency, not that of children. This 'gap' is intentional: the current CEFR was never meant to define children's foreign language learning. Anyone applying the Framework for young learners must make major adaptations to the scales. Our second goal is to examine to what extent the scales for adult learners are also suitable for young learners.

Although the CEFR defines the proficiency levels, it leaves open the question of how language skills are actually acquired. In this respect, the CEFR is purposefully atheoretical. However, it implicitly takes a stand on this issue by describing the goals of language education (ie., language proficiency scales) which learners are supposed to reach. If the goal of language education is, for example, to make learners 'able to' understand live or recorded, clearly structured standard dialect in all situations in social, academic and vocational life (including formal discussions and animated conversations between native speakers)" (level B2.2., NBE 2004: 292), it has clear implications on how language is learned and taught in the classroom or elsewhere. To achieve the example goal, to use language in vocational life, learners must have been exposed to and engaged with (eg. through materials and tasks) standard dialect in situations belonging to the sphere of vocational life. Our third goal is to look at the types of tasks used in language teaching and analyse their relationship to the tasks defined in the scales.

Despite the long and partly empirically based development process of the Common Framework (North 1996), it is widely accepted that it has significant limitations, even gaps, and that some parts of it are not informed enough by research and theory into language use and acquisition, given the importance of the document. In particular, we are interested in how these scales are applied in practice by the people who are most likely to use them, i.e. language teachers and trained raters. Our fourth goal is to find out how they relate the linguistic and communicative features of students' or test takers' performance to the scales.

The theoretical significance thus lies in the combining of theories of SLA and assessement research. The practical significance consists of the implications of the results for language education and testing.

1.2 Previous research pertaining to the topic of the project

The University of Jyväskylä is well placed to carry out the research successfully. An external research evaluation of the University by international teams of experts in 2005 concluded that the research into language acquisition, language assessment and Finnish as a second language are internationally renowned http://www.jyu.fi/hallinto/tutkimuspalvelut/kokonaisarviointi. Also the University's own Priority Areas of Research document places the study of language learning and use among the Internationally significant areas. The Centre for Applied Language Studies (CALS) and the Department of Languages (DL)

specialise in research into language learning; the CALS also has expertise in language assessment. Importantly, the CALS has carried out research into the application of the Common Framework to language assessment more than any other institution in Europe: the DIALANG project coordinated by the centre was the first major international application of the CEFR to assessment (Huhta et al. 2002; Kaftandjieva & Takala 2002a). The project also tackled the thorny issue of how to diagnose language proficiency, which is a little researched area on the borderline between assessment and language learning (Alderson 2005; Alderson & Huhta 2005). CALS has also studied the linking of several national tests to the CEFR: the National Certificates, the Matriculation examination, the Civil servants language examination, and the Polytechnic language tests (Juurakko 2001; Kaftandjieva & Takala 2002a, 2002b, 2003). The centre contributed to the work on adapting the CEFR levels for the new national language curricula (Hilden & Takala 2002). The team's CEFR-related research also includes a study combining language learning and assessment via a computerized self-assessment tool (Luoma & Tarnanen 2003). These previous studies will help the project to investigate learners' linguistic and communicative features related to the Framework and curriculum scales; they will also help the project to investigate the teachers' and raters' assessment behaviour.

The Department of Languages lists 21 research projects in the area of language learning and teaching http://www.jyu.fi/hum/laitokset/kielet/en/research/learnteach

Of these the following pertain most to this project:

  • Experiential views on language learning and teaching (Dufva, Kalaja, Martin)
  • Discursive construction of second language learning (Kalaja, Leppänen)
  • From novice to expert (Kalaja, Dufva, Alanen)
  • Validation of the English test of the matriculation examination (Kalaja, Pitkänen-Huhta, Huhta)

Two projects on Finnish as a second langauge (F2) have direct connections to the structural analysis intended in this project:

  • The emergence of structural skills in the acquisition of Finnish as a second language (Martin 2002, 2003, 2004, Mustonen 2005)
  • Encounters of Finnish and other languages (Martin (forthcoming), Kaivapalu 2005)

Earlier, there has been research into the morphological acquisition of Finnish (Martin 1995, Hammarberg et al. 1999). Several pro gradu theses supervised by Prof. Martin also shed light and provide data about various aspects of the sequence of acquiring Finnish as a second language.

Also the Centre for Applied Language Studies has accumulated a great amount of information on how languages are learned over the years. The findings from the project Situated metalinguistic awareness and foreign language learning (1998-) have given the research team a good view of how young language learners go about learning a foreign language (see Alanen & Dufva 2001, Alanen 2003, Dufva 2003, Dufva & Alanen 2005, Alanen, Dufva & Mäntylä (eds.) (in press). The results have been particularly illuminating as to the influence of interactional and contextual factors on task performance, which will useful for examining how scales developed for adults are applied to the assesment of children.

The five most relevant publications of the research team are:

  • Alanen, R., Dufva, H. & Mäntylä, K. (eds.). 2006. Kielen päällä. Näkokulmia kieleen ja kielenkäyttoon. Jyväskylä: Soveltavan kielentutkimuksen keskus.
  • Alderson, C. & Huhta, A. 2005. The development of a suite of computer-based diagnostic tests based on the Common European Framework. Language Testing, 22, 301-320.
  • Dufva, H. & Alanen, R. 2005. Metalinguistic awareness in dialogue: Bakhtinian considerations. In J. Kelly Hall, G. Vitanova & L. Marchenkova (Eds.) Dialogue with Bakhtin on second and foreign language learning. New perspectives. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 99-118.
  • Huhta, A., Kalaja, P. and Pitkänen-Huhta, A. 2006. Discursive construction of a high-stakes test: The many faces of a test-taker. Language Testing, 23.
  • Martin, Maisa 2004: Three structures of Finnish and the Processability Theory. Teoksessa Ekberg, Lena & Hakansson Gisela (toim.) NORDAND 6. Sjätte konferensen om Nordens sprak som andrasprak, 201-212. Lund: Lunds universitet, Institutionen for nordiska sprak.

1.3. Researcher training undertaken in the research team

Three doctoral students are already recruited. Miettinen will finish her doctoral dissertation in 2007 and then continue as a post-doc, Mustonen and Reiman will write their doctoral dissertations within this project. In addition, we continue to search for promising doctoral students. For Huhta (to defend his PhD thesis in 2006), Mäntylä and Tarnanen the project serves as a part of their post-doctoral research experience.

 

2 OBJECTIVES AND METHODS

2.1 Research questions

1. What combinations of linguistic features characterise learners' performance in written tasks at the proficiency levels defined in the Common European Framework, the Finnish National Core Curriculum and the National Certificates examination system?

2. To what extent do adult and young learners who engage in the same communicative writing tasks, at a given level, perform in the same way linguistically? Based on this information, to what extent are the levels of proficiency in the Common European Framework, intended for adult learners, and the scales in the new Finnish curriculum for comprehensive school, intended for young learners, equivalent?

3. What are the pedagogical writing tasks in the teaching materials through grades 3-9 in the Finnish comprehensive school? To what extent are they comparable with the tasks / characteristics of tasks defined in the CEFR and the new curriculum?

4.a) What are the linguistic and communicative features that teachers pay attention to when assessing the written performances of their students, at different levels, with the help of the new Finnish curriculum scales? How do these features relate to the linguistic and communicative analysis of the same performances?

4. b) What are the linguistic and communicative features that trained raters in the National Certificates system pay attention to when assessing the written performances of the test takers, at different levels, with the help of rating scales that are linked with the Common Framework levels? How do these features relate to the linguistic and communicative analysis of the same performances?

2.2. Theoretical and conceptual points of departure

Recent reviews of research on language learning and language assessment reveal lack of co-operation between the two fields. Combining their strengths, however, could help to address problems which are difficult to tackle from one point of view only (Bachman & Cohen 1998). The current project is an example of such cross-disciplinary research: the relationship between language learning and the CEFR scales can only be studied by combining expertise in both fields. This is even more important in that the CEFR, by describing language proficiency as successive levels of achievement, also implicitly sets out to define the growth of language proficiency.

The view of language learning presented in the CEFR is rather vague. However, by regarding learning a language as a part of using a language in various social activities and tasks, and by relatively consistently using the term language user/learner instead of language learner, it makes clear that language learning is a socio-cognitive activity. This view has a number of consequences for empirical research carried out within and about the framework. Above all, it is necessary to account for both linguistic, cognitive and social aspects of language use, learning and assessment.

First, the linguistic and cognitive aspects of language use involve the processing of linguistic input, the material side of language which forms the basis of language acquisition. To use a language, at least some proficiency in the use of the appropriate structures and vocabulary is necessary for communication to succeed. The project endeavours to shed light on the acquisition of these grammatical structures in relation to the communicatively based CEFR levels. The formal entrance into research question 1 is provided by the Processability Theory (PT), developed by Pienemann (1998), which claims to be able to predict a cognitively and linguistically based acquisition order in any language. The universal nature of PT makes it possible to study any language but the Finnish data are of special interest due to the typological difference of the Finnish language when compared with the Germanic languages on which the PT was developed.

Particularly the morphological richness of Finnish, however, seems to challenge PT in tentative studies (Martin 2002, 2003, 2004). PT is not sufficiently fine-grained to explain the morpho(phono)logical development of the learners of Finnish as a second language. Other approaches will have to be used to illuminate and explain the sequence of acquisition in more detail. Conceptual Semantics has been shown to be useful (Lauranto 1997, Mustonen 2005) in the analysis of the acquisition of the local case system, and this approach will be widened and deepened in this project. Construction Grammar (see e.g. Construction Grammars: Cognitive grounding and theoretical extensions 2005, Construction Grammar in a Cross-Language Perspective 2004) may also offer useful insights into the syntactic development by providing a different and potentially more psychologically real (and thus more learner-friendly) way of breaking down the area to be learned (as compared to the Lexical-Functional Grammar, on which PT is based), but this assumption is as of yet totally untested empirically. Could not the gradual loosening of processing constraints assumed by PT be connected to another grammatical description but LFG? Both Conceptual Semantics and Construction Grammar are language-independent theories and are thus suitable for the analysis of acquisitional sequences of both Finnish and English.

Secondly, it is also necessary to situate the linguistic and cognitive processes in social context, within the activities they occur and within which they are gradually acquired. In recent years, a number of sociocognitive and sociocultural approaches to second language learning (Lantolf 2000, Schieffelin & Ochs 1986, Watson-Gegeo & Nielsen 2003, van Lier 1996, 2000, 2002) have made an attempt to account for social, cultural and interactional issues involved in second language learning. Alanen and Dufva have applied a combination of the sociocultural and dialogical approaches to the study of foreign language learning and metalinguistic awareness (Alanen 2003, Dufva 2003, Dufva & Alanen 2005, Alanen, Dufva & Mäntylä (eds.) (in press). Traditionally, such approaches have focused on analysing language use. That languages are learned by using them is a fundamental insight shared by a number of different approaches usually called usage-based models of language acquisition. Even if formal linguistic theories (see above) are used to provide tools for structural analysis, language in this study is not seen as a rule-based abstraction, neither are competence and performance seen as separate phenomena. The overall aim of usage-based approaches is to clarify how language use leads to language development, i.e., the growth of proficiency. Language use in the tasks of social situations is seen to lead into the development of linguistic constructions in service of semantic and communicative needs.

Although 'task' is a somewhat controversial issue in sociocultural theory, it is proposed here that test takers and language learners are to a high degree socialized into various types of activities and tasks, and the processes they use to complete such tasks are to a great extent stable and even automatized (cf. Ellis 2003: 201). By analysing learning tasks the project hopes to define the linguistic features of language use and relate them to the tasks defined in the scales. The project also aims to investigate the interactional and contextual features of such tasks and examine the implications of the findings to the linguistic and communicative features of the same tasks and ultimately relate such issues to the acquisition sequences of language use.

To overcome the lack of generally accepted SLA model that would account for both cognitive and social aspects of language use and learning, the approach adopted here builds on the concept of task as the factor that is relatively commonly accepted by a great number of approaches to second language learning, teaching and assessment. Languages are learned by using them in various tasks. Language task is defined here as "an activity which requires learners to use language, with emphasis on meaning, to attain an objective" (Bygate, Skehan & Swain 2001). This definition itself is open to interpretation and needs to be refined according to the purpose of research (Ellis 2003). Yet it gives us an overall unit of analysis whereby we can analyze and compare data on a number of social and cognitive aspects involved in language learning.

From a theoretical point of view, one of the overall aims of the whole research team is to form a coherent view of the various linguistic, cognitive and social processes involved in task-related action-oriented activity that drives the growth of language proficiency in language learners. Secondly, the team also hopes to be able to link together the various aspects of language learning, teaching and assessment.

2.3 Data, subjects, and schedule

The project focuses on the written performances on tasks derived from the Common European Framework and its Finnish applications. The adults' performances will come from the recently created test performance corpus based on the National Certificates tests that are related to the CEFR levels (Kaftandjieva & Takala 2003). The test takers are adults who need a certificate mainly for work or for obtaining Finnish citizenship. The NC corpus currently contains performances from about 3000 test takers. The young learners' performances will be gathered specifically for this study using taks similar to those in the NC corpus. The second type of empirical data will be gathered from language teachers and National Certificate raters; these data will mainly be interview and think-aloud data.

The project will be conducted in four stages.

In Stage 1, characteristics of tasks described in the scales involved in this study will be identified and the linguistic features and categories to be analysed defined, all in co-operation with a European network to ensure the validity and comparability of the findings.

In Stage 2, a sample of English and Finnish writing tasks (performances) will be sampled from the NC corpus, according to a specific plan. Some of these tasks are used to collect data from young learners. The linguistic features in both adults' and children's writing performances will be coded and categorised, according to the specifications from Stage 1. In addition, children's data will be rated against the CEFR levels by independent raters to make them comparable to NC data. Teachers of Finnish and English and raters operating in the NC examination system will be interviewed on what they pay attention to in written performances. They will also participate in a 'think aloud' session while rating the performances. All coding work and teachers / raters' perceptions of learners will be completed 'blindly', i.e. without reference to any existing ratings onto the CEFR levels of the coded / rated performances.

In Stage 3, both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the learner performances will be carried out, partly in international co-operation. Each research question will be addressed at this stage.

In Stage 4, the results of the project will be disseminated in conferences and scientific journals. In the case of English, this involves comparison of findings by the other members in the international research network. Planning of further research relating to language skills other than writing will begin.

2.4 Objectives in researcher training and ethical issues

At the moment there are three doctoral students involved in the project. The aim of researcher training within the project is to provide a project environment conducive to learning while doing, with sufficient support from more experienced project members, resulting in high quality Ph.D. theses. At the post-doctoral level, project administration skills will be emphasised.

The project will follow the ethical instructions issued by academic authorities. The subjects of the study will receive all the relevant information about the objectives of the research. The NC test corpus consists only of performances of those testees who have consented to the anonymous use of their responses for research purposes. Participation of the comprehensive school teachers and students is voluntary. The consent of parents of minor pupils and of educational institutions will be obtained. All data will be handled and analysed anonymously and all personal information will be destroyed after the data collection stages.

 

3 RESOURCES

3.1 Composition of the research team and division of labour

The research group consists of four senior researchers, three post-doctoral researchers and three doctoral students:

Docent Riikka Alanen is currently a Research Fellow at the Academy of Finland, in charge of the Academy-funded project 'Situated metalinguistic awareness and foreign language learning' (2001-04) at the Centre for Applied Language Studies. She will, with Prof. Martin, be in charge of the present project, and she will focus on analysing the growth of EFL proficiency as reflected in the CEFR-based NCC scales within the sociocultural interactional context of the tasks used to both teach and measure that proficiency. More specifically, with Huhta and Dufva, she will focus on how to apply scales developed for adults / young adults to the assessment of children's language proficiency. Secondly, she will explicate the relationship between language assessment and language learning, again focusing on pedagogical and assessment tasks used in the existing CEFR-based language assessment and teaching systems.

Professor Maisa Martin, Department of Languages, has previously been involved in three projects financed by the Finnish Academy, The Emergence of Structural Skills in the Acquisition of Finnish as a Second Language (2002-03) being the one most closely related to the current application. Her research interests include the sequence of structural acquisition in Finnish, particularly in the lower levels of language skills. She initiated the developing of the first national tests for Finnish as a second language and has participated in the development of language skill evaluation in many ways. She will be the co-chair of this project with Docent Alanen and responsible for the structural analysis of the Finnish written data. She will be the principal supervisor of Nina Reiman and Sanna Mustonen.

Professor Hannele Dufva, CALS / Department of Languages, has, together with Docent Alanen, been involved in a longitudinal project (funded by the Academy of Finland) in which Finnish children's metalinguistic awareness has been studied (grades 1-6, six years) and a sociocultural and dialogical view of language awareness has been developed. Based on the results of this study on the influence of children's language awareness on their foreign language learning, she will focus in the current project on analysing how the linguistic features that seem to be relevant for the assessment of language skills may be related to a network of individual, social and task-related factors.

Professor Paula Kalaja is professor of English at the Department of Languages. She specialises in issues related to second or foreign language learning and teaching. In addition, she has been involved in an interdepartmental project on the validation of the English test of the Matriculation examination, a high-stake test in the country. Now, within this new project, she can complement the overall starting points or theoretical frameworks as outlined above by drawing on a discursive approach and at the same time sharing interests of a few others involved in the project (e.g. Alanen and Mäntylä). More specifically, her focus will be on performances in writing English and their comparison as marked by raters across rating scales and within single ability levels of each scale, looked at from the perspective of learning goals and learning processes and outcomes.

Ph.D Mirja Tarnanen, CALS, has expertise in assessment, especially language testing and feedback practices, as well as learning Finnish as a second language. Her dissertation (2002) dealt with rating behaviour of Finnish as a second language teachers (ie., the nature of intra- and inter-rater consistency). Here, she will study assessment and feedback practices of writing: what linguistic and communicative features teachers pay attention and to what extent the features are consistent with the Finnish adaptations of CEFR scales. She will also examine to what extent the writing tasks enable teachers to assess communicative and textual features described in the Finnish adaptations of CEFR scales.

Ph.D Katja Mäntylä is specialised in foreign language learning and teaching. She is currently a lecturer of English at the Department of Languages and has previously worked as a researcher responsible for English in the NC project in CALS. She has experience in assessment and also in training assessors. In this project, Mäntylä will concentrate on how written language performances are assessed. She will look at the relationship between ratings given by NC assessors and the linguistic and communicative features in texts written by English language learners.

Phil.Lic Ari Huhta, CALS, is an internationally well-known specialist in the assessment of language proficiency. He has participated in several national and international research and development projects in language assessment and language education, most recently in the DIALANG project / system, in which the CEFR was applied to large-scale assessment and approaches to diagnosing language proficiency were explored. In this project, he will study the application of CEFR scales for young learners (with Alanen and Dufva), language teachers' use of the scales (with Tarnanen), and the ways in which the findings of the whole project might contribute to diagnosing language proficiency.

M.A. Helena Miettinen is a doctoral student and works as an assistant of English in the Department on Languages. Miettinen's research is a continuation of her 2003 pro gradu thesis (grade excellent) and focuses on children's phonological working memory in relation to their knowledge of English as a second language. The study will be completed in 2007/2008. In the present project, Miettinen will be involved in comparing and analysing the data from the English pedagogical writing tasks in teaching materials and the National Curricula. She will also be engaged in studying the teachers' views on their students' performances and comparing that with the findings of the analyses of the same performances.

M.A. Sanna Mustonen teaches Finnish as a second and first language at Jyväskylä University. Her M.A. thesis (2005, grade excellent) approaches the acquisition of Finnish local cases by a Thai learner from the viewpoint of conceptual semantics. In her work she was able to define the sequence of acquisition in several semantic fields. Mustonen will be involved in the Finnish as a second language data collection and the semantic-structural analysis of the material.

M.A. Nina Reiman is currently a university teacher of Finnish language at the Open University. Her M.A. thesis (2004, grade excellent), written together with Heli Heikkil, analyses the concepts of communicativeness, authenticity and interactiveness in evaluation, with a series of speech comprehension tasks developed for national use by a group of teachers as an example (Kike project by the Finnish National Department of Education). Reiman will be involved in the Finnish as a second language data collection and the communicative and structural analysis of the material.

3.2 International cooperation

The growing influence of the CEFR on language education in Europe has raised concern about its validity. Recently, a prominent group of SLA researchers directed by Prof. Jan Hulstijn (U. of Amsterdam) formed a European research network (SLATE, Second Language Acquisition and Testing in Europe) that combines expertise in language acquisition and assessment to study the CEFR. This project is linked with the network and shares its aims. The network has expertise in SLA (U. of Amsterdam, U. of Paris III, U. of Dortmund, Stockholm University, U. of Modena e Reggio Emilia, and U. of Verona) or both in SLA and language assessment (Lancaster University and U. of Jyväskylä which already co-operated in a large-scale project covering both areas; see e.g. Alderson & Huhta 2005). The network has organised two international workshops to present CEFR-related research and to plan further cooperation; members of the Jyväskylä team had presentations on both occasions (Huhta 2004; Martin 2006).

The University of Amsterdam is one of the leading European institutions in research on language acquisition. Under Prof. Hulstijn they have conducted psycholinguistic research into e.g. linguistic knowledge in writing (Schoonen et al. 2003) and have developed theories of language proficiency in terms of linguistic, psycholinguistic and psychometric parameters (Hulstijn 2005). Lancaster University is known worldwide for its research in language assessment and in applied linguistics in general. Prof. Charles Alderson, a member of this network, is a leading expert on language assessment; his recent research on diagnosing proficiency integrates language testing and learning (Alderson 2005). Other members are Dr. Banerjee and Dr. Franceschina whose research also combines language testing and acquisition. Another member of the network, The Centre for Research in Bilingualism, Stockholm University also has a long history of cooperation with the University of Jyväskylä. Its director, Prof. Kenneth Hyltenstam will be available as a consultant for planning and implementing the proposed research.

The research described here has particularly close links with the work at Lancaster. Both groups will study the linguistic features in the written performances of learners of English at different levels of proficiency, from different mother tongue perspectives. Overall, the study requires common definitions for tasks and linguistic features that are to be investigated to ensure comparability of the results; thus, close cooperation at Stage 1 in particular will be necessary not only between the two institutions but also within the whole network.

 

4 OUTCOMES AND IMPLICATIONS

The following points summarise the main strengths and characteristics of this study:

  • language acquisition and language testing expertise are combined in the same study
  • structural, cognitive and social views of language are present as a continuum
  • focus is on a theoretically important issue: relationship between linguistic and communicative features and the role of core language features in communication
  • the performances of both adult and young learners are analysed
  • learners of two radically different languages (English & Finnish) in two somewhat different sociolinguistic contexts are studied
  • language teachers' and examination raters' views of the learners' performances are compared with the actual learner performances
  • the study has important practical implications: improving CEFR definitions, improving national language curricula; a better basis for materials design, assessment, and teacher training; possibility to develop better approaches to diagnosing language proficiency

The results of the study will provide a new theoretical model for connecting the 'can do' type proficiency level descriptions with linguistic characteristics of actual language data. Each level of proficiency can be described in more detail than has been possible so far. A more comprehensive picture of the linguistic basis of the 'can do' descriptors for adults' and children's performances will be obtained. Although specific to English and Finnish the results can easily be compared and contrasted with the results of similar studies carried out by other members of the European network. The study will also lead into a better understanding of what language teachers and raters pay attention to in assessing learners' performances through CEFR-related scales. In this study only the writing skills will be studied but the process of research developed in this project can be modified for the study of other skills (speaking, listening, reading).

The fact that the CEFR has become the most influential foreign language policy guideline in Europe means that such fundamentally new knowledge about the nature of the CEFR levels is bound to have several practical, and important, consequences: The application of the CEFR to language education will become easier and, importantly, more valid and better applicable to teacher training and to young learners' curricula, textbooks and assessments will improve.

Dissemination of the results will be through national and international seminars and conferences partly organised by the SLATE Network, academic papers and articles. The project will inform also national authorities responsible for curricula, teacher education and textbook design. Obviously, the National Certificates examination system will be one of the beneficiaries of the project thanks to its close involvement in it.

 

References

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