Плужник І.В. Teachers’ foreign language education, Western Europe countries, educational systems diversity

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Плужник Ірина Володимирівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, спеціальність «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

Проаналізовано досвід країн Західної Європи у галузі іншомовної підготовки вчителів. Стаття присвячена різноманітності освітніх систем західноєвропейських країн, виокремленню спільних та відмінних тенденцій. Визначаються ефективні форми іншомовної освіти вчителів у процесі навчання.

Ключові слова: іншомовна підготовка вчителів, крани Західної Європи, різноманіття освітніх систем.

Проанализирован опыт стран Западной Европы в области иноязычной подготовки учителей. Статья посвящена разнообразию образовательных систем в западноевропейских странах, их сходств и различий. Определяются эффективные формы иноязычного образования учителей в процессе обучения.

Ключевые слова: иноязычная подготовка учителей, страны Западной Европы, многообразие образовательных систем.

Teachers` foreign language education experience of Western European countries is analyzed. The article is devoted to the diversity of educational system of the West European countries, their similarities and differences. The effective forms of teachers’ foreign language education during the learning process are defined in the article.

Key words: teachers’ foreign language education, Western Europe countries, educational systems diversity.


Relevance of the topic

The Western Europe region consists of ten member states, so grouped for the purposes of the study. The member states are Austria, Belgium (French- and Flemish-speaking communities), France, Germany (comprising 16 separate states or Länder), Ireland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland (comprising 26 separate cantons) and the United Kingdom (UK – comprising four separate nations in Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) and Northern Ireland).

The systematic preparation of teachers only began in Western Europe with the rise of mass education systems in the 19th century. Broadly speaking, a Western model of teacher preparation spread to the periphery; the United Kingdom’s model of undergraduate (B.Ed.) and postgraduate (PGCE) teacher education is the dominant model in Canada, Australia and Singapore, all former colonies in the British Empire.

At varying levels, Western European countries are intent on giving a European dimension to their education systems, especially foreign language teacher preparation. However, the concept of Western Europe and European identity is constantly changing,that’s why the foreign language teacher training is as common and distinctive features. It seems to us, that it is important to define how the foreign language teacher training is carried out in each country of Western Europe.

The analysis of research

Today there are many articles that reveal problems and different aspects of preparation process of future foreign language teacher in the higher education institutions. Many articles and publications have been devoted to this subject by S. Borg, M. Raya Jiménez, J.C. Richards, L.Schrum J. G. Gebhard, .Dalin, T. Carroll, L. Smith and many other scientists.

L. Smith says that through the educational process future teachers of West Europe should get to know the community in which they will work, look for a clinical experience in the preparation, and develop a sense of personal and professional resiliency in order to direct and support continuous growth in the field and no matter what country will teach them.

S. Borg adds that individuals in any Europe country first of all should think about a career as an educator when they have a variety of opportunities to figure out if this is a good path for them. A challenge for future foreign language teachers is the current abundance of news and political statements critical of education and teachers; it would be important to counter that narrative with authentic information. They should be encouraged to visit schools, informal learning places, and other ways to shadow educators. But they need to choose and understand where they want to teach in future and how this community works.

These scientists and many others are united in the fact that the future foreign language teacher preparing process should be organized on the basis of the country, where students are going to teach in future, they must learn all about educational system and understand its functioning. It is the only way to become the high qualified specialist in educational sphere.

The purpose formulation of research

In foreign language teachers’ training of Western Europe countries, the education programs typically include a knowledge base, drawn from linguistics and language learning theory, and a practical component, based on language leaching methodology and opportunity for practice teaching. A primary goal of graduate teachers’ preparation programs is the preparation of effective language teachers, but the system of preparation is different and original in each of Western Europe countries.

So, given the above, there is a need to look inside of the educational systems of different West European countries, find common and distinctive features of future foreign language teacher educating and investigate their effectiveness.

The aim of our research is to consider and analyze different systems of teachers’ foreign language education that are used in Western Europe countries.

The main material

In 2007, the European Commission published a communication on the quality of future teachers and teachers' education. This document provides common European principles with respect to teacher competences and qualifications. It emphasizes that teachers should be highly qualified: they should be graduates from a higher education institute or equivalent, and teacher education programmes should be delivered in all three cycles (Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate’s level) of higher education in order to ensure their position in the European higher education area and to increase opportunities for advancement and mobility [4, 242].

Teachers’ education process in Western Europe is also interesting because of widespread using of bilingual education in West European primary schools. Most of Western European countries today are multilingual countries. The educational process in West European primary schools includes learning of two or more foreign languages for further socialization of the child in a multilingual environment. Bilingual education as it is practiced in the public schools of Western European countries means teaching pupils to read and write in foreign language, teaching them content in foreign language, and gradually transitioning them to their native language over a period of several years. That's why the preparation of educators to teach in two languages is very developed in Western Europe and is included in universities' curriculum.

Bilingual teacher’s preparation work in addition to the usual academic training in accordance to the Bologna process includes a combination of university-based courses, field-based courses and a teacher-enhancement program designed to prepare participants to address school-specific issues and concerns that impact the quality of education provided to all students in foreign language learning. Field-based courses are those courses in which the primary activity is performance of some professional teacher activities by the university student who is interacting with master teachers, as well as with university faculty members in a school-related setting. These courses include more than observation within a classroom; they include foreign language classroom practice under the direction of a master teacher and team teaching with a master teacher in any country of Western Europe [7, 89-104].

The location of foreign language teacher education within higher education is recognized throughout Europe. However, systems for higher education differ throughout Europe and therefore the position of teacher education varies. In this context, the professional qualifications of foreign language teachers at primary education level in Western Europe may adopt a variety of forms that can be classified according to three main models: • generalist teacher: a teacher qualified to teach all subjects in the curriculum, including foreign language(s); • semi-specialist teacher: a teacher qualified to teach a group of subjects including foreign language(s); s/he may be in charge of foreign language(s) exclusively or several other subjects as well; • specialist subject teacher: a teacher qualified to teach one or several foreign languages.

That’s why it is important to consider the systems of foreign language teacher training and educating, that are functioning in Western Europe.

In Austria foreign language teachers that intend to obtain a teaching certficate for elementary school (grades 1-4), Hauptschule (grades 5-8; lower secondary level), polytechnical courses (grade 9) or special education (grades 1-9) have to attend Colleges of Teacher Education (Pädagogische Hochschule). There are nine State College of Teacher Education, and another five colleges are run by the Roman Catholic Church in Austria. The programs of Colleges of Teacher Education consist of four components: • educational sciences; • academic studies; • subject didactics; • teaching practice.

All four programmes of foreign language teacher preparation have to follow a national syllabus. They last a minimum of three years (six semesters) and consist of 168 weekly units of tuition which equals around 2500 units (45 minutes each) of tuition.

Talking about the right of teaching foreign languages it is important to know, that only specialist teachers trained to teach languages at primary level are considered in these countries. The training of generalist or semi-specialist teachers is not taken into account, because the special certificate, which they must obtain in order to teach foreign languages at primary level, is issued outside the scope of initial teacher training.

Each College of Teacher Education has a training school (Übungsschule) of its own, where students do part of their teaching practice. Teaching practice is organized in small groups, where one supervisor of the college, three co-operating teachers and around eight students form a quality circle Studies at Colleges of Teacher Education are usually completed with a final examination (Lehramtsprüfung). After having passed this exam students are able to apply for a teaching post without being obliged to take part in another training program [6, 61–74].

Belgium’s high-quality education system and its multicultural society means that a large part of the population is fluent in several languages. That’s why the preparation of foreign language teacher takes an important stage in educational development of country and bilingual education in schools is widespread.

In Belgium formal education requirements for foreign language teachers increase according to the level of education in which they are expected to teach. Initial teacher training for the preprimary and primary levels (2-12 years of age) requires three years of concurrent academic/teaching training and teaching observation at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique (French) or the Pedagogische Hogeschool (Flemish).

In Belgium system of primary teachers’ education school practice period is spread over the whole course each year: - 1st year: max. 4 weeks, including model lessons and group practice sessions - 2nd year: max. 8 weeks, including model lessons and group practice sessions - 3rd year: max. 16 weeks or half of the training time.

In the 3rd year of primary teacher-education a sandwich model has been introduced: students have two weeks of classes, followed by two weeks of teaching practice.

All future primary school teachers must command one of the languages of the other communities (i.e. French and Dutch) and be able to teach it. The study of one of the country’s other official languages is therefore compulsory and the model of graduate foreign language teacher is generalist or semi-specialist.

Each year, the students are examined on subject studies and professional studies. There is a continuous evaluation of their teaching practice. Students who have passed the examinations and have received a favourable evaluation for teaching practice obtain the teacher certificate for primary education. They are expected to teach all subjects, including foreign language [1, 189–194].

In Germany foreign language teacher education differs markedly from teacher education in the other West European countries in a variety of important respects. Also, because education policy in Germany is basically the responsibility of the 16 federal states, and because the primary system is highly differentiated, the system also varies. Foreign language teacher training is basically divided into two stages: a course of higher education and practical pedagogic training. Teacher training courses are offered at universities and Pädagogische Hochschulen (colleges of education).

All future teachers begin their preparation in one of the German universities with program-types that emphasize academic, theoretical study during 3- 5 years. This first phase also contains a great deal of required education coursework that is characteristic of concurrent program-types in other systems, albeit with a heavy emphasis on theory. This first university phase typically lasts from 42 months for primary to 54 months for secondary future teachers. These time periods include breaks and vacations. Practical pedagogic training in the form of a preparatory service is provided in a second phase in special, generally small, institutions (Studienseminare) and training schools operated by state governments. The situation is similar in France where, besides general regulations, specific regulations apply to the evaluation of training provided by the university institutes for teacher education (Institut universitaire de formation des maitres, IUFMs). The second phase lasts 18 to 24 months, depending on the state and level of foreign language teacher education. They simultaneously attend courses in general pedagogy (Hauptseminar) and subject-specific pedagogy (Fachseminar) organized by their Studienseminar.

Having a finished their academic studies the future teachers have to accomplish a phase of education called Referendariat, lasting 1,5 or 2 years when they are paid a small salary. Future foreign language teachers in this phase teach part-time in schools, assuming all the responsibilities normally expected of a primary school teacher. The phase is organised by the school administration of Lands. The future teachers have to attend and to give lessons in a school under instruction of a guiding teacher and the leaders of the pedagogic and science education seminars [5, 82–97].

Let us add that the educational process of preparing foreign language teacher in higher educational institutions of Luxembourg covers the same components that we had identified in teacher education system in Germany. In this country, it is essential that primary school teachers know the three official languages, i.e. Letzeburgesch, French and German. Therefore, during their initial teacher training, they further pursue the study of those languages already learnt at bachelor level, with a special focus on teaching methodology.

Analyzing the educational system in Liechtenstein it is important to say that unlike many European countries, Liechtenstein does not have a university or program dedicated to teacher training. It does, however, accept teaching certificates from most nearby countries, including Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Austria [2, 231–239].

The foreign language is not always a compulsory subject in the curriculum of initial teacher training. In France and the United Kingdom a foreign language may be included in the curriculum as an optional subject. The presence of this subject in the training curriculum, albeit optional, is significant when considering future work prospects.

Foreign language teacher education in France includes university institutions, technological and polytechnic colleges, teacher-training institutes and colleges of further education. The minimum qualification for teaching in education institution is an education degree at bachelor level, which lasts three to four years.

The bachelor level is 3 or 4 years long. The first two years lead to the Diploma of General University Studies, generally known by the French abbreviation DEUD (Diplome d'Études Universitaires Genérales). This is followed by another year of study, leading to the Licence, equivalent to the BA.

France implements several recruitment methods: 45% of the teachers responsible for foreign language teaching at primary level come from the secondary level, 45% are primary-level teachers whose capacity to teach the foreign language has been formally validated, and the remaining 10% are accredited external recruits.

Teachers are recruited passing a competitive examination: the examination for school teachers. Those who pass the examination successfully will then enter one year of professional training. Practical pedagogic training in France besides general regulations, specific regulations apply to the evaluation of training is provided by the university institutes for teacher education (Institut universitaire de formation des maitres, IUFMs).

Switzerland’s central position in Western Europe places it at the crossroads of several different cultures. It has no fewer than four official languages: German (spoken by nearly two-thirds of the population), French (one-fifth), Italian (less than 10 %) and Rhaeto-Romansch (less than 1 %). The remaining 10 % speak other languages, a phenomenon explained by the fact that one-fifth of the population consists of foreign residents. Switzerland can be named as the most pedagogical oriented from other countries of Western Europe because today Switzerland has sixteen universities of teacher education [6, 378–391].

Switzerland’s teacher education system has changed in fundamental ways in the last two decades, moving toward integrating teacher education in higher education, a process experienced in other countries long before this. The institutes of higher education in the sphere of foreign language teaching can be separated into two types having the same status but with different educational goals: the traditional universities and the universities of applied sciences (UAS). The main task of the universities is to carry out basic research and teaching while the universities of applied sciences place a greater emphasis on practically oriented studies and on applied research and development.

The Swiss degree structure is in line with the three cycle degree system of the European Higher Education Area (Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctorate’s degree).

The academic year is divided into two semesters: the autumn semester begins in the 38th week and runs until the 51th week; the spring semester begins in the 8th week and runs until the 22th week of the annual calendar year. Most universities of teacher education have a division for the organisation and supervision of teaching practice. The Zurich University of Teacher Education, for example, works together with partner schools. Partner schools are selected to co-operate closely with the university and help to ensure and develop the quality of teaching practice for the students. Practical training is generally included in the form of work experience which, depending on the institution or study programme, may be organised at the beginning, during or at the end of the training.

Future primary level teachers in the United Kingdom have attended teacher training institutes offering foreign languages as part of their curricula, because generalist teacher model is spread there.

The countries of the United Kingdom have two main routes to become a foreign language teacher in the United Kingdom: • the four-year full-time Bachelor of Education degree; • the one-year full time (or two years part-time) Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) for students who already have a Bachelor’s degree.

In the UK, only a limited number of education institutes offer a foreign language specialisation for primary level teachers. Thus, teachers who work at primary level have not necessarily specialised in teaching languages at that level during their initial teacher training. They may have acquired their proficiency in languages through other forms of education, training and experience.

Nowadays foreign language teacher training in the United Kingdom is realized at universities and colleges of higher education.

Students working for their first degree at university are called undergraduates. When they take their degree we say that they graduate and then they are called graduates. If they continue studying at university doing research work after they have graduated, they are called post-graduates.

In general, the first degree of Bachelor is given to students who pass examinations at the end of three or four years of study. Greduates of the three universities are considered more prestigious and beneficial. They have better chances of getting a job. Polytechnics are usually formed on the basis of art colleges and colleges of technology. University teaching combines lectures given by professors, readers or lecturers, 4 practical classes (hi scientific subjects) and small group teaching in seminars or tutorials. The course of study for intending teachers is based upon compulsory and optional subjects.

In the United Kingdom, teaching practice is organised centrally at a national level using a programme called ‘Practicum’. All schools are considered to be potential placements for student teachers. University foreign language teacher education programme staff work closely with students and their allocated schools to ensure that the student experience enables them to teach a range of learners. Through their placements students gain experience in a variety of school environments and have opportunities to work with learners from diverse backgrounds and with diverse needs and abilities. School experience placements are assessed jointly by school based and university based staff [3, 341–386].

The processes of foreign language teacher education in Western European countries are different, but they all are subordinated to a same forms of the learning process, that are focused on a single goal - the preparation of effective foreign language teachers. These forms are: - Practice teaching - participating in a variety of practice teaching experiences that are closely supervised by a skilled teacher - Observation - observing experienced teachers in a focused way and then exploring with the teacher, in a follow up session, why things happened as they did and attempting to determine the kinds of con¬scious or unconscious decision making that guided the teacher - Self- and peer observation - reflecting on self- and peer performance in actual teaching situations, through audio or video recordings, in order to gain a deeper awareness of the processes and principles being employed - Seminars and discussion activities - reflecting on the degree to which one's own experience as a student teacher relates to theory and to the findings of relevant research [7, 119–213].


A high quality teacher education is essential for the quality and relevance of education at all levels, and to the high status of the teaching profession itself. For these reasons, all of Western Europe countries have a strong continuing interest in teacher education. Foreign teacher education institutions and programmes are key tools for the recruitment of teachers – in effect, the shop window of the profession for many considering entry to teaching. Their programmes of study must look relevant, exciting and attractive. They must find a balanced way of combining theory, knowledge and skills, and supervised practice to ensure that entrants to the profession are able to combine the key elements of their education effectively in the classroom.

The last few years have seen a number of teachers' manuals for preparing teachers of English as a second or foreign language

These manuals vary in their intended audiences, in their approaches ad also in different countries, but in their different ways they all provide information about both the theory and practice of second language teaching. This information is presented in a variety of ways: - there are expositions of theoretical principles and procedures for carrying out different kinds of lessons. - there are examples of lesson plans and of teaching materials. - there are activities for teachers-in-preparation to carry out in order to explore and evaluate different aspects of second language teaching.

These manuals, then, not only inform students about the practice of second language teaching but also try to involve student teachers actively in the process of making decisions about what to teach and how to teach it.

Thus, a key concept in foreign language teacher education is developing student to a high professional status: qualified to higher education level, with a recognized range of professional competences, able to exercise a significant degree of professional autonomy and judgment, and expected both to take responsibility for their own continuous professional development and to contribute to the profession as a whole and the development of educational policy and practice no matter in what country.


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  2. Beemaert, Y., van Dijck, H. & Sander, Th. (eds.), 'The European Dimension in Teacher•Education', R1F,ATEE, Nys-Herent, 1993.
  3. Borg S. (2006) Teacher cognition and language education: research and practice. London: Continuum.
  4. Commission of the European Communities (2007). Communication from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament. Improving the Quality of Teacher Education. COM(2007) 392 final. Brussels, 3.8.2007.
  5. Gebhard, J. G. (2006) Teaching English as a foreign or second language: A selfdevelopment and methodology guide, (2nd edition). Ann Arber, MI: The University of Michigan Press.
  6. Hudson, B. and Zgaga, P. (eds.) (2008). Teacher education policy in Europe. A voice of higher education institutions. (Monographs on Journal of research in teacher education). Umeå: University of Umeå, Faculty of Teacher Education; Ljubljana: University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Education, Centre for Educational Policy Studies.
  7. Smith, L. (2005). The impact of action research on teacher collaboration and professional growth. In D. J. Tedick (Ed.), Second language teacher education: International perspectives (pp. 199-213). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  8. Swain, M. (1996). Discovering successful second language teaching strategies and practices: From program evaluation to classroom experimentation." Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 17," 89-104.

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