Exorcising the ghost of monolingualism: an evening with Dr. Piccardo

Dr. Piccardo standing in front of white board making gesturesThe recently released Companion Volume to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, Teaching, Assessment (CEFR) was the focus of a fascinating presentation by Dr. Enrica Piccardo on March 15, 2018. Dr. Piccardo, University of Toronto and Université Grenoble-Alpes, was a guest speaker at Professor Barbara Schmenk’s English/French/German cross-listed graduate course, “The Native Speaker in Language Education.”  Her lecture “Overcoming the myth of the native speaker: Challenges and successes” was open to everyone at UWaterloo, and a group of about 45 students and faculty were in attendance.

Originally released in 2001, the CEFR is a 250+ page document crafted to provide a common basis for the development of language teaching across Europe. For many, the CEFR is synonymous with its scaled “can do” descriptor charts (from A1 - Breakthrough to C2 - Mastery) which detail a language learner’s communicative competencies in their target language in different categories, such as Listening, Reading, Spoken Interaction, etc.

The 2001 CEFR attempted to shift language acquisition away from a linear conception of language education and into a model which facilitates a dynamic and flexible understanding of language learning within multilingual classes and among plurilingual individuals. However, as Dr. Piccardo put it, the ghost of monolingualism was also found to haunt the CEFR. Some users of the Framework would equate the C2 level with an “educated native speaker” proficiency, falling into the trap of trying to reach or teach to a constantly shifting, undefinable and ultimately unattainable goal.

Updates to the CEFR Companion Volume (CEFR/CV) 2017 include the removal of all references to “native speaker” and provides descriptor scales for categories not developed in the initial version. It refines its pedagogical vision and develops constructs such as phonology and pluri. Further, and the most instrumental to shifting the conception of language to a socially interactive activity, it broadens the concept of language mediation and adds this meaning-making skill to three of the four modes of communication.

Enrica Piccardo is one of three co-authors of the CEFR/CV, and the audience was able to benefit from her extensive knowledge of the document specifics, the methodology of its construction and its theoretical underpinnings. She is an engaging, warm and witty speaker, and in what could have been a recitation of dry facts for a speaker of lesser caliber, was an informative and entertaining evening for those in attendance.

Dr. Piccardo is an Associate Professor with the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, and head of the Centre for Educational Research in Languages and Literacies at the University of Toronto, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. She is a speaker of multiple languages (English, Italian, French and German) and a plurilingualist.

Barbara Schmenk standing in front of white board Enrica Piccardo standing in front of white boardStudents sitting at desks and laughingStudents sitting on chairs against wallDr. Schmenk standing and Dr. Piccardo sitting in front of white boardStudents sitting at desksDr. Piccardo standing in front of white board