By Elin Arfon, Research Student, Cardiff University

01 December 2020 - 15:50

Plant yn ysgrifennu eu henw yn Arabeg

British Council

There is a word in the Curriculum for Wales 2022 that has piqued my curiosity. This word is plurilingualism. But what does it mean to us here in Wales? 

Plurilingualism and multilingualism  

The Curriculum for Wales 2022 is due to be implemented across schools in Wales from 2022. Within the new curriculum, there are six Areas of Learning and Experience. One of these areas is the Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience for the teaching of Welsh, English, and International Languages. Within this area lie two words: plurilingualism and multilingualism. 

Perhaps you have heard of the word multilingualism being used in the context of knowing more than two languages? It is defined in the new curriculum as the ‘knowledge and use of a number of languages or the presence of several languages within a given society’.

If multilingualism refers to more than two languages, how is multi different from pluri ? In the new curriculum, being plurilingual / plurilingualism refers to individuals having varying proficiencies in the languages that they know, and being able to make connections between these languages, appreciate their interrelation and practise using them individually or together . 

Therefore, applying a plurilingual lens to the Curriculum for Wales 2022 asks us to look at Welsh, English, and international languages together as languages, rather than as discrete school subjects that share no resemblance. 

Having briefly defined multilingualism and plurilingualism, I will now turn to consider my doctoral research that looks at the concept of plurilingualism within language education across secondary schools in Wales. In this article, I will focus on my doctoral research’s third research theme: qualifications that could assess plurilingualism. 

What do I mean by qualifications that could assess plurilingualism?

Qualifications are discussed in my research in the context of formal assessment for qualifications for 16-year-olds in Wales. Indeed, qualifications for 16-year-olds in Wales, which are led on by Qualifications Wales, are changing. These new qualifications are due to be first awarded in summer 2027. Therefore, in this article I will discuss the ways in which being plurilingual has the potential to be recognised as a skill within language qualifications for 16-year-olds in Wales. 

Why exactly may we want qualifications to assess plurilingualism?

Reason 1: the new curriculum itself

In the Curriculum for Wales 2022 guidance document, there is reference to ‘plurilingual skills’, ‘multilingual and plurilingual approach’  and ‘plurilingual activities’  in the Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience in terms of learning and teaching. However, there is no explicit reference to how this plurilingual element to learning and teaching may be assessed.  

Perhaps there is no need for such assessment? However, looking at the assessment element of the new curriculum suggests there is a need. Here, it is stated that school assessment is ‘integral to learning and teaching’  and is ‘indistinguishable’  from the learning and teaching.  Although it is noted in the guidance document for the new curriculum, that external qualifications are outside the scope of the document, it is also noted that external qualifications ‘will be developed to reflect Curriculum for Wales and help to realise its ambition’. From the perspective of the new curriculum, it seems that learning, teaching, and (school and national) assessment go hand in hand.

The notion that learning, teaching and (school and national) assessment align is something that I explore conceptually in my doctoral research. In my research, I adopt the ecological perspective  to language learning to view learning, teaching and assessment as belonging to the same ecosystem, as elements that interrelate and impact each other. 

From this standpoint, therefore, one wonders: if learning and teaching are moving towards plurilingualism, shouldn’t assessment in all its forms too?

Why exactly may we want qualifications to assess plurilingualism?

Reason 2: year-on-year decline in International Languages GCSE entries

As seen in Languages Trends Wales 2020, the largest decline in international languages GCSE entries between 2019-2020 is in the category of ‘other languages’ with entries halved since last year at a total of 264 entries in 15 different languages (excluding French, German and Spanish). However, nearly 30,000 learners aged 5 and over in Wales were reported to have a first language other than English and Welsh in 2019/20, with Polish, Arabic and Bengali reported as being the top three of over 150 such languages . Therefore, it seems that many learners are missing qualifications opportunities to recognise their plurilingualism in terms of all the languages that they may know. This is something to further consider because based on my own previous research, home and community language qualifications for 16-year-olds seem to be an important factor in legitimising learners’ claims to be speakers of a particular language.

The decline in ‘other languages’ GCSEs in 2020 forms part of the wider picture whereby, in general, GCSE entries in international language subjects in 2020 decreased by almost 10% from 2019 . With this decrease representing a wider pattern of decline of 64% in GCSE entries in international languages since 2002, it seems that we may need a further discussion regarding how we can reverse the decline in these qualifications.  

As Llompart et al. maintain, there is a large demand for empirical research on the assessment of plurilingual competences, which should consider the ability to use multiple resources rather than just one language. With research and practice pointing towards a need to rethink current assessment procedures, could qualifications that recognise plurilingualism offer a way forward? 

What could qualifications that assess plurilingualism resemble? 

There are numerous potential avenues of qualifications and assessment procedures that assess plurilingualism already in use in other countries. 

One example is the European Language Portfolio by the Council of Europe, which has been widely used across Europe. This student-led portfolio could be offered as an alternative approach to exams. This portfolio, adapted to each context, is a document that allows learners themselves to continuously build a record of their language learning achievements and intercultural experiences of all languages they may know within and outside formal education. This is of particular relevance given the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, the Minister for Education in Wales has announced that there will be no end of year GCSE, AS level and A level exams in Wales in 2021 . End of year exams will be replaced by ‘teacher-managed assessments’. Therefore, it may be the time to further explore avenues of student-led assessment and teacher assessment. Perhaps an idea such as the European Language Portfolio offers an opportunity. 

Another example comes from Austria.  Here, a plurilingual oral exam for assessing learners’ second and third language (L2 and L3) was piloted at Austrian Upper Secondary Vocational Colleges. The learners were provided information in German (language of schooling), and they were to relay the information orally in English (L2) and French (L3) to the interlocutors present at the examination. Learners were also asked to act as mediators between the two interlocutors, between English and French. Another similar example is the KPG exams in Greece whereby candidates are to mediate between Greek and other languages, for example by writing an e-mail in English after having read the text in Greek. Could something similar work here in Wales, between English, Welsh, and another language, or between numerous international languages?

Or another idea: modular qualifications. For example, Asset Languages  assessments were developed by OCR and Cambridge ESOL in England in the 2000s and were available at one time in at least 26 languages. This assessment system introduced modular assessments whereby reading, listening, writing, and speaking skills could be assessed separately and on different levels. This meant that candidates could build a profile of different skills in different languages. They were available to be externally assessed for formal qualifications or teacher assessed for certification by the teacher. 

A similar concept to Asset Languages is the WJEC  Language Pathways Qualifications here in Wales. Candidates can complete credit-based qualifications in spoken and written skills across French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin, Spanish. These qualifications are internally assessed by centres and externally moderated by the WJEC.

Of course, the above examples are only potential avenues. Such ideas may work in the context of pan-Wales qualifications for 16-year-olds here in Wales, but they may also not be suitable. Indeed, there are numerous examples out there that we may want to further explore. 

Final remarks

Wales’ learners have diverse and rich language skills – they are plurilingual – and the Curriculum for Wales 2022 reflects this. Indeed, the new curriculum seems to apply a plurilingual lens to many aspects of its Languages, Literacy and Communication Area of Learning and Experience. The new curriculum also notes how learning, teaching, and assessment should align.  Therefore, it seems that if we are going towards a plurilingual approach to the learning and teaching of languages in Wales, there is perhaps a need for assessment and qualifications to follow suit.


Elin Arfon

Elin Arfon

Research Student, Cardiff University