“Savoir-vivre” plurilingual intercultural learning portfolios








“Savoir-vivre,” and especially its carnet de bord / journal—worth 10% of this course’s final grade (6% carnet, 4% approfondissement)—is a fun new thing we’re doing in a beginners’ French class I designed, co-ordinate, and teach. Part of my job is co-ordinating our FREN 101 and 102; this academic year (not counting summer session, as we only started with the new version in September), that’s been 16 sections of 101 this term and so far we’ll have 4 next term; and 10 sections of 102 next term (plus wait-lists, so there may be more). Each section having around 30-35 students, that’s somewhere in the area of 900 students. I don’t teach them all, of course; here in Canada we have unions and labour law and workers’ rights, and UBC has overall decent terms of employment, though practices vary across faculties and departments (I’m happy with my own department, but I acknowledge that I am lucky).

As part of the teaching part of my work, I teach one section of 101 this term and two of 102 next term. While this whole course is a new version and everything in it has been rethought and redesigned, savoirvivre is experimental (for this course; as you’ll see below, this sort of idea isn’t “new-new” and anyone claiming it as a new “invention” would either be lying or ignorant of that word’s meaning; mind you, there’s a lot of that sort of thing about, as we see all the time with “innovation.” But I digress.) So it’s not compulsory for all of this course’s instructors in all sections. Some instructors are doing their own experimenting too. Later on, towards the end of the academic year, it would be good to do some sort of round-table about the paths we’ve taken, the adventures we’ve all had, the marvels our students have conjured up, and the magics we’ve woven. (But I digress again; this time, not synchronically but diachronically.)

Our whole sequence from FREN 101 to 225 is aligned with the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) (see this earlier post thereon). The journal-cum-portfolio as continuing work through a course and from one course to the next conjoins with both the new UBC Faculty of Arts ePortfolios and the older Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) idea of a European Language Portfolio. While accredited e-ELPs go back to 2000, between 2000 and 2014 there was only one accredited registered model specifically at a university level, at the Université Montesquieu-Bordeau IV (here is some information about it from 2006); due to their number and range, the EU stopped registering models at the end of 2014.


The kind of portfolios that our students are writing are a simpler and more flexible version, and by default private. They can be viewed by a student’s instructor too, but are usually not public. They should be set up so that an instructor cannot do any more than read the portfolio: no commenting, editing, monitoring activity, admin access, or other interference. (If a student wishes to do so, they may of course make their ePortfolio public, be that as a whole or a part of it. It’s their portfolio and their choice. And instructors’ comments and remarks belong elsewhere.) I’ve also opted for greater simplicity (by my standards, bearing in mind my talent for over-complicating everything) as this is the first year that we’re doing this, and in such experiments it is usually sensible to keep things simple at the beginning and ensure that these new things can adapt to and accommodate themselves around the actual real live people using them, as well as the context: university, higher education, a more abstract and theoretical level of intellectual work, a diverse student population, with a wide range of scholarly and other interests.

The formal European Language Portfolio has three parts:

  • a Language Passport
  • a Language Biography
  • and a Dossier

The three parts map approximately onto what a UBC student (for example) would be able to add or link to their ePortfolio, for a language course or any other course in any other academic area. Many of us have been using portfolios in one shape or form for some time; including the apprentice-piece and the master-work in my medieval studies courses; not my idea at all but a medieval and medievalist one, which you’ll also find in cultures and histories all around the world, including many teaching traditions that are much older than those of medieval let alone post-medieval Europe. Add in the ideas of the project—from primary school onwards—and any other longer slower deeper kind of research up to dissertations, doctorates, and massive international long-term long-distance major research projects. The form of such a work can be anything that is online (or associated with an online area), and should be designed and built so that it remains accessible and usable at any time—a question of sustainability and long-term vision for any institution—for which our ePortfolios are a useful medium as they’re set up on a version of WordPress from which it’s very easy to export and import to and from WordPress proper. Or any other online platform, be it something more overtly bloggy or something more webby or somewhere between the two, like Github or Prezi.

More about the CEFR ELPs: D97E8FA8-A2D6-4053-9299-5E4B52616260B3F24D26-AF3F-4CE3-89EE-2CB1544750390E053E21-9966-4694-BB05-2BFD4AEBEBDC3BA2D55E-0B9B-4706-B64B-FB85195BE8D7AD1E084D-F5A2-450E-A500-FF19128EE86C7482FDB2-BEA4-4B14-BB15-7E3B1AD0B20D6E9EE798-DF1A-4698-BF76-9ABD4531ECAC

For more on formal European Language Portfolio design, see ELP > Developing an ELP Model > Templates


There have been important changes between the 21st century versions and the earlier incarnations of the Language Passport idea—going back to Council of Europe precursors to the CEFR from the 1980s-90s, and European free movement (people, ideas, goods, services), and the Maastricht Treaty—in attitudes towards individuals’ existing linguistic background, and in openness, inclusiveness, and an emphasis on plurilingualism and lifelong learning.

This is not tabula rasa pedagogy and andragogy. This is not about turning a monolingual into a different monolingual, or into a bilingual. And this is not a language-learning that’s about conversion or conquest and colonisation, with all the historical and political baggage that is attached, consciously or otherwise, to many philosophies behind the teaching and learning of languages; approaches that have been all too easily hijacked—the abuse of medieval studies and medievalism being one of the most obvious recent examples—by the 21st-century right-wing, in its whole rainbow spectrum from fragile conservatives and insecure nationalists to neo-Nazis. This is not about erasing a person’s previous language(s), culture(s), and identity to reshape them into something else.

This is, rather, about core European ideas and values: multi- and pluri- and inter- and trans-lingualism; and there’s no good reason why these should be restricted to Europe or to European languages. The attitudes to language and to languages as part of identity and of a living mutable identity translate to other situations elsewhere; including this country and this university, in a period of truth and reconciliation and of decolonising education.

I’m not the first person to try to translate (sensu stricto et lato) the CEFR and its ELP to a Canadian context; I’m ending this present post with some extracts from a 2010 Canadian government document on the adopting of the CEFR here, Council of Ministers of Education of Canada: “Working with the Common European Framework for Languages (CEFR) in the Canadian Context: Guide for Policy-Makers and Curriculum Designers” (January 2010): https://www.cmec.ca/docs/assessment/CEFR-canadian-context.pdf.

I grew up multilingual in a bilingual place, which became more plurilingual after I had left; I only properly learned about and fully understood the distinction between multilingualism and plurilingualism when I moved to UBC and Vancouver and met the latter in active practice. There are some important differences between the CMEC 2010 document—generalised to apply to a whole country, and too soon to take truth and reconciliation fully into account—within a national policy of official bilingualism, and the lived reality here in BC, and Vancouver and UBC, of a plurilingualism that also includes incomer migrant languages—from descendants of settlers to recent refugees—and First Nations languages; and “languages” in the full complicated complicating sense, complete with their whole cultures.

Plurilingual intercultural learning portfolios are perfect for where we are here, and UBC is perfect for them.

In adapting the CEFR ELP to UBC, a favourite highlight is how the FREN 101 idea of “savoir-vivre” translates (with local adaptations for our local context) the Language Portfolio’s “learner’s knowledge (savoirs), skills and know-how (savoir-faire), and existential competence (savoir-être) in relation to the learning process.” This complements the competencies acquired and adapted by a learner: in addition to savoirs, savoir-faire, and savoir-être, this includes “the ability to learn (savoir-apprendre): the ability to integrate new knowledge and develop language awareness.”



Here is some more information about the UBC Faculty of Arts ePortfolios (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site. … for this course, for other courses, and for life …

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