Supporting English Language Learners and Preparing for PISA 2025
In 2025 PISA is offering an optional foreign language assessment for the first time. Geared to provide educators and policymakers students’ foreign language competence and insights into best practices for teaching and learning a foreign language, the first cycle of the assessment will focus on reading, speaking and listening as they relate to English. The PISA Foreign Language Assessment developed a cognitive framework aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages Companion volume (CEFR, 2020). Countries around the world employ the language proficiency levels in the CEFR, which will make it easy to interpret the results of the 2025 PISA. This document also contains guidelines for curriculum, instruction and assessment, and includes sign language competencies.
Between globalization, technology innovation and human migration, interactions among people from different countries and cultures are common and increasing. That means people need some level of proficiency in more than one language to better communicate and interact. In many countries, English has become the main language being taught. It is the primary language on the Internet. The OECD has identified three categories of benefits for learning a foreign language:
- Intercultural understanding – Whether your first, second or fifth language, learning a language improves your ability to communicate and understand. It’s through language we learn about other cultures, values and perceptions. This language learning allows us to participate more fully as global citizens.
- Economic benefits – Since 2015 different research studies have shown people who know more than one language are more likely to be employed, have better career opportunities and earn higher salaries.
- Cognitive benefits – Consider the skills necessary to translate another language, to move fluidly between two languages whether reading, writing or speaking. The attention, alertness and problem-solving skills necessary may be better than the average monolingual person.
There is a difference, however, between teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) and English as a Second Language (ESL). EFL is studying English in a country where it isn’t the dominant language. ESL is learning English in a country where it is widely spoken. This means that different strategies (and assessments may be employed in the teaching of English. However, in either setting, it remains a foreign language. Around the world, countries have similar and differing reasons for foreign language learning. As you think about why your school or government supports foreign language learning, does it appear on this list? What would you add?
- The need to integrate into a globalized world
- To meet the foreign language skills of Industries and occupations
- To learn to interact appropriately with people from other countries
- Equipping students to live in a world of diverse people, languages and cultures
- Fostering curiosity
- Learning new ways of thinking
Considerations for ESL and EFL
As we work with English Language Learners, we need to acknowledge that they bring significant assets, both language and culture, to the classroom. These culturally and linguistically diverse learners come with four types of assets:
- Linguistic – knowledge of multiple languages, varying representation of ideas and metacognitive awareness, diverse language learning strategies
- Cultural/Cognitive – Different perspectives, practices, beliefs, social norms, ways of thinking
- Experiential/Academic – Varied life and educational experiences, diverse approaches to learning and expressing knowledge
- Social and Emotional – Personal interests and needs, awareness of/empathy for diverse experiences
We also need to acknowledge they may:
- Have grade-level skills and knowledge based on high-quality education in their country of origin and be new to English
- Differ in their level of acquisition and use of their home language, and some may not be literate in that language
- Appear proficient in English based on their conversational fluency yet not have the level of academic proficiency needed to succeed
- Have had little or no formal education, or some years of interrupted education
The use of diagnostic and pre-assessments are useful to help surface some of this information, along with surveys, observations, and conversations.
EdTech is a Resource for Learning English
English Learner specialists may wonder about strategies, resources and technology that is useful in supporting English as a foreign language. We know that motivation is a key factor in learning a foreign language. In a 2019 EFL study in Ecuador, findings showed that learners wanted teachers to “promote learner autonomy, encourage positive self-evaluation and make learning stimulating and attractive,” all three things that EdTech options can do.
As you consider using EdTech to support either ESL or EFL learners, here are some questions to ask.
- Can EdTech engage and support English learners in learning grade-level academic content and academic language skills?
- Can it scaffold language learning?
- Can it personalize learning to help address gaps?
- How does it reach auditory and visual learners?
- Are there text translation tools embedded in the product?
Many EdTech products allow students and teachers to create personalized plans and track progress. Using EdTech gives ESL and EFL students a shared language with other peers and teachers. It also provides instant feedback and illustrates their progress. It can “promote learner autonomy, encourage positive self-evaluation and make learning stimulating and attractive.”
With the guidelines and questions from the CEFR and the use of EdTech, we can support EFLs and ESLs students in different ways. As more countries do what UAE has done and “pushed English to the forefront of education as the language that can help achieve the country’s vision for its economic development and competitiveness.”, and the 2025 PISA optional foreign language assessment arrives, educators and policymakers need to clarify the whys behind foreign language learning and what learners and educators need to be successful.
Expand your language in the ELL arena
Translanguaging – Language is seen as an ongoing ‘process’ rather than a ‘thing’, a ‘verb’ rather than a ‘noun’ Becker, 1988: 25), as in the notion of ‘languaging’. The focus moves from how many languages an individual may have at their disposal to how they use all their language resources to achieve their purposes. Translanguaging | ELT Journal | Oxford Academic (oup.com)
Plurilingualism is the ability of a person who has competence in more than one language to switch between multiple languages depending on the situation for ease of communication. Plurilingualism – Wikipedia
Bi-/Multilingualism is the use of more than one language, either by an individual speaker or by a group of speakers. Multilingualism – Wikipedia
Monolingual – speaking only one language – Oxford Languages
The Best Resources, Articles & Blog Posts For Teachers Of ELLs In 2021 | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… (edublogs.org)
ESL Web | Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day… (edublogs.org)
EdTech apps we recommend to language learners | ICLS | International Center for Language Studies | Washington D.C.
Technology & English Language Learners | Colorín Colorado (colorincolorado.org)