Multilingualism and the Common European Framework

What connects the Language Portfolio with the Common European Framework of Reference, and how does it help promote multilingualism?

The Language Portfolio is a means of applying the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR). The CEFR was developed by international experts on behalf of the Council of Europe and is now one of the most influential documents in the field of language teaching in Europe. The CEFR describes what people need to learn in order to be able to communicate in one or several languages within a certain cultural context. By defining levels of competence (A1-C2), it provides an instrument to assess competences and measure learning progress. The CEFR was translated into numerous languages and functions as a basis for the development of curricula, language examinations, textbooks, etc. which is valid throughout Europe. It thus contributes to the Europe-wide coordination of language learning and teaching.

One of the CEFR’s main objectives is to promote the multilingualism and interculturalism of European citizens. This is also a top priority of the European Language Portfolio. The Common European Framework of Reference defines multilingual and multicultural competence as


“the ability to use languages for the purposes of communication and to take part in intercultural interaction, where a person, viewed as a social agent, has proficiency of varying degrees in several languages and experience of several cultures. This is not seen as the superposition or juxtaposition of distinct competences, but rather as the existence of a complex or even composite competence on which the user may draw.” Common European Framework of Reference, chapter 8.1


This characterisation of language proficiency and cultural competence is based on the concept of learners having a cross-language repertoire of resources which build on one another. For example, certain words can be transferred between related languages; nor is there any need to develop reading skills and communication strategies separately in every language. Good language learners focus on familiar, common features and on items that are transferable between all the languages they speak, including their mother tongue. From this point of view, everything they have already learned is seen as a valuable resource.

However, it is just as important to be aware of differences and unfamiliar elements: every language and culture has its own identity. In every encounter with people of other cultures, a conscious approach to cultural differences and divergent value systems is crucial.

The CEFR takes both aspects into account: the ELP was developed in order to promote the plurilingual and pluricultural repertoire of every single learner. It is a pedagogical tool located at the interface between the individual, the classroom and the education system.