La Rivista per l'insegnamento e l'apprendimento delle lingue

The CEFR: Development, Theoretical and Practical issues

Brian North

L’histoire du Cadre Européen de Référence débute en 1991 à Rüschlikon à une époque où les diplômes et les examens de langues ne proposaient pas d’équivalences. En retraçant les moments-clés d’un long processus qui nous mène à une standardisation des systèmes d’évaluation, Brian North aborde les questions suivantes: quels sont les objectifs du CER? Comment les différents niveaux ont été définis? Quelles compétences les descripteurs doivent-ils permettre d’évaluer?
Bien que la dimension communicative du CER soit au premier plan de cette vaste entreprise, les auteurs du CER se refusent à promouvoir un modèle théorique ou une méthodologie. Le portfolio qui est un des jalons les plus importants sur le chemin de la standardisation des niveaux de compétences langagières est un outil exclusivement descriptif.
Cette tâche soulève pourtant quelques problématiques: décrire à un moment précis de l’apprentissage un processus d’une grande complexité implique dans une certaine mesure une simplification et la formulation des descripteurs reste parfois sujette à l’interprétation. (red.)

Origin and Purpose of the CEFR

The "Common European Framework of Reference for languages: learning, teaching, assessment" (CEFR) was developed between 1993 and 1996 by a Council of Europe international working party2 following the recommendation of an intergovernmental Symposium “Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe” hosted by Switzerland and coordinated by Eurocentres at Rüschlikon, near Zurich in November 1991. The main aim of the Symposium had been to investigate the feasibility of relating languages courses and assessments in Europe to each other through some kind of common framework. Many school certificates awarded for language learning contained statements like “followed a course of English at intermediate level” or “successfully completed a course in Foundation French,” whilst others reported “Grade C” or “4.5” or “sehr gut.” Examination certificates tended to follow a similar pattern. It was very difficult to relate such results to each other because what they said was not very transparent: you have to be familiar with the particular course or exam to make sense of the result. Since no person or institution can be familiar with more than a few of the courses and exams around, this caused a lack of coherence in the organisation of language learning and in the reporting of results achieved at it. After piloting with two internal editions, the CEFR was published with Cambridge University Press for English and with Didier for French (Council of Europe 2001) and is currently available in over 20 languages.

The CEFR was written with three main aims.

  • To establish a metalanguage common across educational sectors, national and linguistic boundaries that could be used to talk about objectives and language levels. It was hoped that this would make it easier for practitioners to tell each other and their clientele, what they wish to help learners to achieve and how they attempt to do so.
  • To encourage practitioners in the language field to reflect on their current practice, particularly in relation to learners’ practical language learning needs, the setting of suitable objectives and the tracking of learner progress.
  • To agree common reference points based on the work on objectives that had taken place in the Council of Europe’s Modern Languages projects since the 1970s.

In time, the existence of such a common reference framework would, it was hoped, help to relate courses and examinations to each other and thus achieve the “transparency and coherence” that had been the subject of the Rüschlikon Symposium. This was not seen as a harmonisation project. The aim of the CEFR was to provide a mental framework that can value and encourage diversity. It was intended to provide a tool that would enable people to say where they were, not a specification telling them where they ought to be. Right at the very beginning, the authors emphasise:
"We have NOT set out to tell practitioners what to do or how to do it. We are raising questions not answering them. It is not the function of the CEF to lay down the objectives that users should pursue or the methods they should employ." (Council of Europe 2001: xi Note to the User). Council of Europe 2001: 2. [...]

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