ELP Development

"Language Passport" - "Learner Passport" - "Language Portfolio":
the story of an idea

About 10 years passed between the birth of an idea for a "Language Passport", "Learning Passport" or later "Language Portfolio" and the publication of the first Swiss printed version of a Language Portfolio.

1989/90: Working groups of Eurocentres and CILA
In the years 1989/1990 a group from the language course provider Eurocentres (Zurich) and a working group of the Swiss association CILA (Commission interuniversitaire de linguistique appliquée) worked together to find solutions to the following well-known problem: how can we communicate and how can we understand what kind and what degree of language knowledge is certified through a particular examination result, diploma or certificate? On the one hand they were looking for an answer in a common reference system, on the other hand for ways that examinations, diplomas etc. could be described transparently.
In autumn 1990 Eurocentres organised a meeting in London, at which the idea of a Language Portfolio took concrete form.

1991: Council of Europe Symposium in Rüschlikon
In the year 1991 a Council of Europe symposium under the heading "Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe: objectives, evaluation, certification" took place in Rüschlikon. It was organised by several Swiss institutions: the Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education (EDK/CDIP), the Federal Office for IndustryTand Labour (BIGA/OFIAMT), the Federal Office for Education and Science (BBW/OFES), Eurocentres, the Coordination Office of the Migros Club Schools (KOST).
The most important Results of the Symposium were:

  • An extensive, coherent and transparent reference grid to describe communicative language competences (language proficiency) was to be developed.
  • A working group should be set up, to check possible forms and functions of a European Language Portfolio, in which each individual could enter all her/his experiences and qualifications in the area of modern foreign languages. The first Portfolio prototypes should also be developed.

Lit.: COUNCIL OF EUROPE (1992): Transparency and Coherence in Language Learning in Europe: Objectives, Assessment and Certification. Symposium held in Rüschlikon, 10 - 16 November 1991. (Edited by North, Brian). Strasbourg: Council for Cultural Co-operation.

During the Rüschlikon Symposium the Swiss delegation came up with the idea of a research project, in which a system of language proficiency descriptions should be developed; on this base first Language Portfolio prototypes should then be created.

1993-1998: Development of language proficiency descriptions
Research project
"Evaluation and self-evaluation of foreign-language competences at interfaces of the Swiss education system" by G. Schneider (University of Freiburg), Brian North (Eurocentres, Zurich) and René Richterich (University of Lausanne) within the scope of the National Research Programme 33 ("Effectiveness of our education systems").

Goal of this project: development of descriptors that describe language proficiency for a broad range of levels from an action-oriented communicative perspective. Possibly also strategic and (inter-)cultural competences should be described.

The most important development steps:
1) Collecting and sorting existing proficiency descriptions (in total about 2000, for example from exam level specifications).
2) Workshops with 290 English, French and German teachers: qualitative check and adaptation of the collected descriptions.
3) Data collection: teachers assess learners with the aid of the proficiency descriptions that came out of the workshops (altogether about 2700 learners are involved).
4) Statistic analysis: difficulty values are assigned to the proficiency descriptions (using the Rasch model of statistical probability).
5) Formation of a database of descriptors: the language proficiency descriptors are sorted by categories and degrees of difficulty.
6) Formation of instruments for assessment and self-assessment:
    - Global Scale
    - Self-assessment Grid
    - Oral Assessment Criteria Grid
    - Checklists for self-assessment

The descriptors resulting from this project were included in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages of the Council of Europe in order to describe the Common European Reference Levels.

Literature for the research project: see Documentation

End of 1995/beginning of 1996: first Portfolio draft

The teachers who take part in the research project receive a first photocopied version of the European Language Portfolio. In it, most of the instruments are available in draft form, which later on will be part of the printed version. At this point the ELP is already available in German, French, English and Italian.
Different teachers test elements from the Language Portfolio and give written feedback.

September 1996: Portfoliotagung in Fribourg

Before the conference in September, a slightly changed draft version (yellow version) of the Language Portfolio has been sent to teachers and then discussed at the conference. The results are generally positive.

April 1997: Council of Europe agrees to the development of the Language Portfolio

On the occasion of the closing conference of the Council of Europe on the project "Language Learning for European Citizenship", with delegates from 40 member countries, it is decided to develop the European Language Portfolio alongside the development of the Framework of Reference. At that point, drafts from France, Germany, Great Britain and Switzerland are submitted to the delegates.

Autumn 1998 to summer 2000: pilot project

Between autumn 1998 and summer 2000 language portfolios are trialled in 15 European countries and by trans-national organisations(Schlussbericht des Europarats).

In Switzerland a first printed version is set up for the pilot project phase (in four languages). It is tested in about 450 classes between April 1999 and June 2000

Schneider, Günther / North, Brian / Flügel, Christoph & Koch, Leo (1999). Europäisches Sprachenportfolio - Portfolio européen des langues - Portfolio europeo delle lingue - European Language Portfolio, Schweizer Version/Swiss version. Ed. EDK - Schweizerische Konferenz der kantonalen Erziehungsdirektoren, Bern: EDK/Swiss Conference of Cantonal Ministers of Education.
(Download the pilot project version of the ELP)

The Pilot project in Switzerland is evaluated by Peter Lenz of the Centre of Foreign Language Teaching and Research of the University of Fribourg (Bericht).
The results are encouraging. On the basis of the detailed feedback from teachers and learners, substantial improvements to the Language Portfolio can be made.

Herbst 2000: Einsetzung des European Validation Committee durch den Europarat

The Council of Europe sets up a committee to accredit new versions of the Language Portfolio. The committee consists of national delegates and invited experts. The Swiss ELP for young people and adults receives the accreditation number 1.2000
(Overview of the accredited Language Portfolios)

2001 - European Year of Languages
Launch of the European Language Portfolio


On the occasion of the Conference of the Council of Europe, European Union and UNESCO, for the European Year of Languages in Lund/S, the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages and the European Language Portfolio are officially launched.

Already in October 2000 the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education of the Council of Europe passed a Resolution, which recommended to the member countries the introduction of the Language Portfolio.

On March 1, 2001 in Switzerland the Swiss cantonal ministers of education and other partners from the public and private sectors sign a Declaration, in which they give their support to the launch of the "European Language Portfolio for young people and adults".
At a press conference the revised version of the European Language Portfolio for young people and adults is presented. It is distributed by the Berner Lehrmittel- und Meidenverlag (BLMV).

At the same time the development of a Language Portfolio for younger learners is decided on.

After the launch, the cantons and regions start developpingschemes for practical implementation, and training of disseminators begins.

Language Portfolios for younger learners

On January 16, 2002 a conference to launch work on the Swiss Language Portfolios for younger learners takes place in Bern. Portfolios for two different age groups are to be developed. Together with documentation for learners, also class files and teacher handbooks are to be created.

Great importance is to be given to the awareness and development of multilingualism.


In May 2002 the Berner Lehrmittel- und Medienverlag commissions a teacher handbook for the European Language Portfolio for young people and adults.

logo-cerle.gif (1185 Byte) In charge of the Background pages:
Centre of Language Teaching and Research (CERLE/LeFoZeF)
University of Fribourg, Criblet 13, CH-1700 Freiburg
Webmaster: Peter Lenz
Last update: 20.12.2002