One common framework to rule them all – On linguistic status of select descriptors of the CEFR companion volume


UChicago – Sep 15, 2022

Language Assessment Research Conference 2022, joint with East Coast Organization of Language Testers and Midwest Association of Language Testers

Keywords: initial state, initial stages, second language acquisition, third language acquisition, falsifiability

Council of Europe (2020) is an addition to perhaps best-known across the world of language assessment and language teaching framework (CEFR). Notably, there were many problems with CEFR in its old rendition: both in terms of policy-making (Alderson 2014) and in terms of content/lack of empirical basis (Alderson 2007). CEFR has been vocally criticized by Deygers et al. (2017), and Deygers (2021) came after the Companion Volume (CV) pointing out old and new issues with the CV.

However, a number of very problematic descriptors remain outside of attention, whereas CV is being widely adopted as an extension, an update to the old version of the CEFR. We aim to focus on select descriptors which we argue are incompatible with insights from the field of second language acquisition. We hope that this paper will warrant caution while adopting the descriptors we scrutinize. (1) Plurilingual competence: B1: “Can use their knowledge of contrasting grammatical structures and functional expressions of languages in their plurilingual repertoire in order to support comprehension.” It is incredibly surprising that the notion of “contrasting grammatical structures” – which is a direct reference to a long-since-discarded Contrastive Analysis framework (Lado 1957) – would find its way into an “update” to CEFR. There are reasons CA was discarded, and this was because it proved empirically inadequate to account for the complex nature of SLA (Flynn 1987).

Another issue is with the concept plurilingual competence gets at here, and it is metalinguistic competence, viz. conscious insight about language (sensu Bardel and Sanchez 2017). Yet, it’s a highly divisive notion and most researchers argue against its role or even presence in Ln acquisition (cf. Westergaard 2021 and commentaries). There appears to be no empirical ground for this presence in CV. (2) Mediating a text: Relaying specific information in speech or sign (from language A to language B) Mediating a text takes up 162 descriptors in CV. While indeed, it seems that (very loosely defined) “mediation” is utile in evaluating language proficiency, it is highly questionable whether meditation from Language A to Language B (viz. translation) has to be present in the CEFR/CV. Translating is surely a useful skill – but it does not have a direct correlation or relation to first or second language proficiency. In fact, code-switching is a better reflection of students’ proficiency (Khaan and Khered 2021). Further, CV does not take into account translation asymmetry attested widely for L2/bilinguals (Hanulova et al. 2010). In terms of translation per se, however, it appears that measuring such skill requires something entirely independent of language proficiency measurements: clarifying the notion of “good” or “successful” translation, etc. (Stansfield et al. 1992 et seq.).

We thus call for revision and critical re-assessment of these and adjacent descriptors before putting them to use in language testing.