Language teacher education


Language teacher education in this context concerns the education of pre‐school, primary, lower and upper secondary school teachers of languages. Pre‐school and primary school teachers are usually distinguished from lower and upper secondary school teachers in the educational paths they follow and in the language and language education training they receive, with the former following a generalist route and the latter receiving specific language teacher training. The objectives of teacher education programmes are generally defined in terms of competences to be obtained in relation to the level of education for which the student teachers are being prepared, although these are not generally specified in terms of language competences.

Language teacher education in the European Higher Education Area

In some countries, prospective primary language teachers must follow a three or four year Bachelor of Education degree qualifying them as specialists in a foreign language, whereas in other countries all students who have obtained a first degree in education are allowed to teach foreign languages at primary level. Prospective secondary school teachers must either complete a first degree plus a Master / postgraduate qualification in education, or a BA in education with a major in one or two specific foreign languages. Language teacher education curricula place a strong emphasis on the importance of the teaching practice and, therefore, on the need to establish a cooperative relationship and shared approach between higher education institutions and schools. Time allotted to teaching placements and supervision does, however, vary enormously. Some countries have nationally approved standards which all student teachers must meet by the end of their initial teacher education course, while in others university departments establish their own programme following national and regional legislation and the delivery modes depend on the individual trainer. Although a stay in the foreign country is not generally required, student and teaching staff mobility under the Erasmus scheme is becoming increasingly popular.

Knowledge, skills and understanding (competences)

Having completed a higher education programme (first or second cycle) in language teaching, students should have acquired:

  • language proficiency in the language(s) they intend to teach
  • intercultural awareness and ways of developing experiences which involve exchanges and interaction between different cultural perspectives
  • language teaching methodologies, including state-of-the-art classroom techniques and activities
  • knowledge and skills in how to apply various assessment procedures, techniques and ways of recording learners’ progress
  • knowledge of methods of teaching/raising awareness of language learning strategies
  • an understanding of the nature and practice of independent language learning

Students who have acquired such knowledge and understanding will be expected to demonstrate the capacity for:

  • reflective practice and self-evaluation
  • maintaining and enhancing ongoing personal language competence
  • plurilingual awareness and implementing language diversity
  • making links with colleagues teaching different languages

Teaching, learning and assessment

Teacher education curricula contain general educational disciplines and subject specific elements, e.g. second language pedagogy and supervised teaching practice. Concurrent models (e.g. a four-year Bachelor of Education degree) are more usually associated with primary and pre-school levels and may contain no framework for the acquisition of foreign language skills or ability to teach foreign languages. Consecutive models (e.g. a postgraduate educational qualification taken immediately after a BA in the subject area) more often apply to lower and upper secondary school levels, and their curricula include training in language teaching methodologies and may include opportunities for upskilling in the language(s) to be taught. Recently the focus of teaching and learning has changed the direction of teacher education. Today teaching is more concerned with facilitating and managing pupils’ learning than explaining and giving information. Furthermore in learning foreign languages the pupils are the main actors as they develop their linguistic knowledge and skills as a result of their learning experience. In order to make the process productive teachers need to address the diverse needs of pupils creating a learning environment that reflects their individual abilities, skills and interests. Teachers need new competences to meet the new challenges, among which might be the acquisition of reflective and research skills to be able to notice and study pupil needs and develop appropriate teaching and learning strategies. Teachers also need to engage in continuing professional development in order to be an effective and reflective practitioner. These might be articulated in a programme of study as follows:

  • understanding pupils’ learning
  • understanding the role of theory and practice
  • critical thinking
  • understanding of the broader educational and social context
  • understanding causes and consequences
  • teaching through inquiry

Teaching and learning

The language teacher education curriculum contains both theoretical and practical elements which emphasis learner-centredness and task based learning. Much of the learning will be done through practical experience, reflection on practice and relating theory to practice. Students will consider (and experience) the following teaching and learning approaches

  • use of reflective tools such as portfolios. From the start of the teacher education programme, teacher students are taught to engage in reflection in a structured way, using several instruments such as:
  • a practice diary
  • discussion sessions with tutors and peers about significant teaching practices.
  • self-monitoring with the reflection circle
  • 15 supervision meetings in small groups about personal teaching experiences
  • informed reflective practice.
  • constructivist models of learning
  • learner autonomy
  • cognitive models such as language learning strategies
  • content and Language Integrated Learning (see section 6.1.4)
  • task-based learning through group and individual projects, problem-based learning techniques
  • methods for developing language skills (including grammar and vocabulary acquisition)
  • use of new technologies for language learning including computer assisted language learning


Forms of assessment consist of a combination of written assignments, oral examinations, written examinations, portfolios, observed field placement, and informal reports submitted by school mentors. Assessment of student teachers is generally the responsibility of teacher educators and mentors. In countries where teacher education is based in an institution, assessment is carried out exclusively by teacher educators; in countries where teacher education has structured links with schools, mentors carry out informal or formal assessment of the performance of student teachers during their field placement. Student teachers are invited to self-assess through logs or self-assessment forms kept during field placement and as they build up their portfolio. Self-assessment also takes place during feedback sessions in relation to field practice. In some countries this assessment contributes to the students’ grades but in most it does not. The contribution of an external examiner is sometimes sought in connection with dissertations as well as with field placements. The level to which assessment criteria are made public varies from country to country. Statements representing standards or lists of criteria are commonly used for practical aspects of the teacher education course. Level of performance on practical aspects such as field placement is assessed on a two, three, or four-point scale generally using descriptors such as pass / fail / unsatisfactory. Written work is assessed using a combination of grades and marks. Professional competences may be described using ‘can do’ statements on a three or four point scale indicating level of performance (beginning, developing, competent, excellent).