TESOL Globe
October 2014
TESOL Globe
Free TESOL Quarterly Article:
"Towards a Plurilingual Approach in English Language Teaching: Softening the Boundaries Between Languages"
September 2013: Volume 47, Issue 3

This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, Volume 47, Number 3, pgs. 591–599. Subscribers can access issues here. Only TESOL members may subscribe. To become a member of TESOL, please click here, and to purchase articles, please visit Wiley-Blackwell. © TESOL International Association.


This forum article presents a critique of the policy of language isolation in TESOL and proposes an innovative plurilingual approach to the teaching of English that softens the boundaries between languages. First, the article looks at how teaching English as a second or foreign language has traditionally been associated with teaching practices that encourage the isolation of English from the other languages in the student’s repertoire and in the school curriculum. Then, some proposals that consider the need to make the boundaries between languages softer are considered, including the concept of plurilingualism of the Council of Europe. The article ends by providing some teaching implications for TESOL professionals.

English is the dominant language of international communication, and as such it is intensively used and taught in the European Union (EU) as well as elsewhere in the world. The results of the European Survey on Language Competences (ESLC) indicate that, outside the United Kingdom, English is the most widely taught foreign language in the EU with the exception of the Flemish and German communities of Belgium (European Commission, 2012). This survey reports on language skills, including reading, writing, and listening in foreign languages. The survey focused on 53,000 secondary students from 14 European countries who completed tests of second language proficiency. The countries with the highest percentages of students who reach the upper-intermediate level, that is, the B2 level of the Common European Framework of Reference for languages (CEFR), in secondary school were Malta (60%), Sweden (57%), and Estonia (41%). The countries with the lowest scores were France (5%), Poland (10%), and the French community in Belgium (10%). The CEFR will be discussed in more detail below.

Learning English in Europe cannot be separated from the use of other languages in education. English is most often a language directly addressed in the curriculum and accompanies other state languages or minority languages that are also given priority within the curriculum (De Houwer & Wilton, 2011; Gorter, 2013). This article discusses hard and soft boundaries between the teaching of English and other languages in the European context. In the next section, we look at how teaching English as a second or foreign language has traditionally been associated with teaching practices that encourage the isolation of English from other languages in the student’s repertoire and in the school curriculum. Then, we look at how this policy has been questioned and how the boundaries between languages need to be made softer and more fluid.

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This article first appeared in TESOL Quarterly, 47, 591–599. For permission to use text from this article, please go to Wiley-Blackwell and click on "Request Permissions" under "Article Tools."
doi: 10.1002/tesq.121