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Language Learning in Higher Education

Journal of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education (CercleS)

Editor-in-Chief: Szczuka-Dorna, Liliana / O’Rourke, Breffni

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The CEFR and the dynamics of second language learning: trends and challenges

Wander Lowie
Published Online: 2013-02-01 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cercles-2012-0002


This paper discusses the pedagogical implications of Dynamic Systems Theory approaches to second language development. The main question addressed is whether it is possible to describe a learner's level of proficiency with a simple and unambiguous label, and if so, whether the CEFR can provide such a label. It is argued that considering the dynamic and multidimensional nature of second language development, only an approach that values the relevance of variability will be able to capture the crucial time dimension of development. When learning is defined as self-organization that follows the perturbation of a system, language learning cannot be seen as development that follows a predetermined sequence, but must ultimately be regarded as a contextualized individual trajectory. When this observation is applied to language teaching and language testing, it must be concluded that a longitudinal approach using a language portfolio that captures a range of language skills as proposed by the CEFR is of considerably greater value for the learner than a rigid assessment of some aspects of language proficiency at one moment in time.

Keywords: CEFR; DST (Dynamic Systems Theory); language testing; timescales; learning theory; development

About the article

Wander Lowie

Wander Lowie is senior lecturer in English and Applied Linguistics at the University of Groningen and a research associate of the University of the Free State, South Africa

Department of English/Department of Applied Linguistics, University of Groningen, The Netherlands and Department of Linguistics and Language Practice, University of the Free State, South Africa

Published Online: 2013-02-01

Published in Print: 2013-02-22

Citation Information: Language Learning in Higher Education, Volume 2, Issue 1, Pages 17–34, ISSN (Online) 2191-6128, ISSN (Print) 2191-611X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cercles-2012-0002.

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