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The English Profile Programme (1): Delivering descriptions of reference levels for English as a second language

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Ewa Illakowicz.

This talk provides an introduction to the English Profile Programme, including an overview of the innovative work being carried out in Cambridge by researchers working with learner data. This team is interdisciplinary and includes experts from the University’s Research Centre for English and Applied Linguistics (RCEAL), the Computer Laboratories, Cambridge ESOL and Cambridge University Press.

The English Profile (EP) is a long-term endeavour to develop and refine Reference Level Descriptions (RLDs) for English covering all six levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning, teaching and assessment (CEFR) from A1 to C2, in line with the Council of Europe’s recommendations. The outcomes will be a wide range of research and reference documents which will be released online and in print starting in 2010.

The talk will provide an historical perspective, including the work of Dr John Trim and Prof Jan Van Ek who produced the Threshold series of specifications between the mid 1970s and the late 1990s, recent developments which have occurred since the CEFR was launched in 2001. The speaker will then highlight some of the innovative features of the EP research programme which distinguish it from previous work including its empirical dimension using learner data, psycholinguistic considerations and a focus on the impact of different first languages and learning contexts on the development of English proficiency.

A key tool being used in the research is the Cambridge Learner Corpus (CLC) which is jointly owned and managed by Cambridge ESOL and Cambridge University Press. This corpus currently contains 35 million words of learner writing produced by candidates taking the Cambridge ESOL examinations which is stored according to proficiency level with relevant information about the writers age, nationality, gender, first language, etc., as well as features of the writing tasks themselves. The design and development of the corpus will be outlined and ways in which it facilitates the research programme will be discussed.

The empirical approach has already allowed the researchers to identify important criterial differences and developmental sequences which cannot be predicted by acquisition theories alone. In addition, the typological dimension allows for a detailed analysis of transfer effects in patterns of use of different learners of English from different L1 backgrounds and different learning contexts. At a later stage, these criterial features and transfer effects will be incorporated into reference documents with practical benefits for users.

(The criterial features are one the aspect of the programme which Henriette will cover in more detail in her talk)

This talk is part of the Second Language Education Group series.

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