Challenges in foreign language teaching, from partial communicative

competence to MOOCs through interculturality: Trailing Vez Jeremías into the future
by Fernando Trujillo Sáez
Language and Literature Teaching Department
University of Granada
(Published in Guillén Marcos, E., López Valero, A., Madrid Fernández, D. 2014. Estudios en
Didáctica de la Lengua y la Literatura en homenaje al profesor José Manuel Vez Jeremías.
Granada: Editorial de la Universidad de Granada)
There are scholars who have the ability to analyze the Past with clarifying sagacity, explaining how
each speck of the Past arises to become a brick in the building of the Present. There are scholars,
too, who can understand the affairs of the Present they are living and act in consequence. Finally,
there are scholars who can remain aware of the legacy of the Past and the concerns of the Present
but who can cast a fresh look to the Future, where nobody can, apparently, see. José Manuel Vez
Jeremías belongs to this group of scholars who can see into the Future.
And this task of moving us from the Past into the Future is performed thanks to a clear vision of the
complexity of that area of knowledge where his task is accomplished. Thus, in the case of Professor
Vez Jeremías, it is in the field of (Foreign) Language Learning and Teaching where his mission has
taken place and complexity is in the basis of his theory. In that sense, he wrote (2000: 14):
No me parece que resulte posible clarificar cuestiones relativas a la naturaleza de los
conocimientos en la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras sin invocar aspectos de mayor
trascendencia acerca de la propia naturaleza del comportamiento humano en general. El
lenguaje está tan íntimamente relacionado con cualquier cosa que hacemos (contar, medir,
pensar…), y con lo que somos, que cualquier intento de vincularlo en exclusiva a los simples propósitos utilitaristas (propósitos que, a menudo, han sido los únicos tenidos en cuenta en el ámbito de la enseñanza de lenguas extranjeras) debe ser analizado con las máximas
cautelas.
So, (Foreign) Language Teaching is just one of the manifestations of human behaviour (related not
only to Education but to Politics or Economics, which also are of interest to Vez Jeremías) and it is
from this more general, higher perspective that Vez Jeremías has always contemplated the field of
Language Teaching, and here lies his capacity to see into the Future.
In a sense, Vez Jeremías has shown to us the signs that we may have entered a new era in (Foreign)
Language Teaching, even though we may not be aware of the changes (and their deep meanings)
yet. This new era is led by two different but complementary forces: first, a utopian pulsion to move
from monolingualism to plurilingualism; second, a more complex approach to literacy related to
computers and digital environments. These two forces affect Language Teaching in general, but radically so to Foreign Language Teaching due to its idiosyncrasy within the field of Language Teaching.

The first driving force is related to the desire of stakeholders in Europe and (at least part of) the European society of transforming the sociolinguistic landscape from monolingualism to plurilingualism. In this desire many forces are converging: business, of course, but also a humanistic sense of
possible mutual comprehension and global understanding sustained by a more complex plurilingual
competence. The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages explains this new
“approach” to language learning (CoE, 2001: 4):
The plurilingual approach emphasises the fact that as an individual person’s experience of
language in its cultural contexts expands, from the language of the home to that of society
at large and then to the languages of other peoples (whether learnt at school or college, or
by direct experience), he os she does not keep these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all
knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and
interact. In different situations, a person can call flexibly upon different parts of this competence to achieve effective communication with a particular interlocutor.
Then, conveniently, the CEFRL analyses the implications of such a change:
From this perspective, the aim of language education is profoundly modified. It is no longer
seen as simply to achieve ‘mastery’ of one or two, or even three languages, each taken in
isolation, with the ‘ideal native speaker’ as the ultimate model. Instead, the aim is to develop a linguistic repertory, in which all linguistic abilities have a place. This implies, of
course, that the languages offered in educational institutions should be diversified and students given the opportunity to develop a plurilingual competence. Furthermore, once it is
recognised that language learning is a lifelong task, the development of a young person’s
motivation, skill and confidence in facing new language experience out of school comes to
be of central importance.
So, the desired horizon is that of a society in which citizens may develop a plurilingual competence
through the use, contact and study of several languages.
However, even if this original desire, as stated in the Common European Framework of Reference
for Languages, is a global long-term objective, evidence has recently proved that the languagecompetence actual reality does not go beyond English-only additive bilingualism and a timid approach to some other "major" languages with wide variations among and within countries. To prove
that, SurveyLang1 has collected information about the foreign language proficiency of European
pupils in the last year of lower secondary education or the second year of upper secondary education, considering the two most widely taught languages in each country under analysis2 and the results, as stated at the Executive Summary of the First European Survey on Language Competences,

1
2

Information available at http://www.surveylang.org

Fourteen European countries took part in the survey: Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, France,
Greece, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and UK-England. Belgium’s three linguistic communities participated separately to give a total of 16 educational systems. The test was administered to a sample of 54,000 pupils.

cannot be more conclusive3: “The ESLC results show an overall low level of competences in both
first and second foreign languages tested.”
Obviously, this description of a poor language competence of pupils in Europe does not run against
the European aspiration of a plurilingual citizenry but rather should confirm the need of implementing changes in (foreign) language teaching and reinforcing policies concerning Education and Language Teaching. The evidence provided by international assessment projects (PISA and SurveyLang
among others) should convince stakeholders, teachers and families that language learning must necessarily become a priority for both society and individuals (Vez Jeremías, 2009), and this priority
requires powerful reconsiderations in Language Education, as Vez Jeremías wrote in one of his latest books (Lorenzo, Trujillo and Vez, 2011: 38):
En una sociedad multilingüe e intercultural se demanda un nuevo reto en las tareas docentes
del profesorado de idiomas: superar los límites de la lengua en la que se consideran especialistas. Se espera del profesorado de lenguas de la sociedad del siglo XXI que trabajen
con su alumnado para que, a lo largo del tiempo, vayan alcanzando cotas más cualificadas
de desarrollo de una personalidad plurilingüe. El reto aquí se centra en que el profesorado
de idiomas no se mueva exclusivamente dentro de los estrechos límites de “enseñar” inglés,
francés, alemán, etc., sion que amplíe sus competencias docentes e incluya entre ellas la
capacidad de contribuir al desarrollo de una competencia plurilingüe e intercultural en su
alumnado. Una capacidad que, sin duda, contribuirá también a una política social de mayor
cooperación y de cohesión social.
A second radical change in education, and particularly in language learning, is provoked by the vertiginous settlement of electronic communication as the basic medium for mediated interaction. The
impact of electronic communication has enhanced the traditional, printed literacies and the more
recent mass media literacies towards a more complex concept of new, multiple literacies (Lankshear
and Knobel, 2011; Gee and Hayes, 2011), the main feature of which is its inclusive power: sounds,
(still and moving) images, (written and oral) words are all interconnected in a matrix of hyperlinked
discourses in which "reading" has turned from a sequential verb into an action which requires cognitive leaps and personal reconstruction of meaning across texts. To express the change with two
images, reception and production in the new literacies context may be more similar to collage making or DJ remixing than to the linear craftsmanship of story-telling.
In this context, foreign language teaching is still, in many cases, concerned with a limited version of
its own task. An important part of FLT literature in many languages is concerned with the object of
study, language, as if a deeper, more comprehensive description of the language could help the the
main problems in language learning without any further, “exterior” reference to the learner, the
learning process and the society where this process takes place. But that is not the case.
The main challenge in this new era for Foreign Language Teaching is the role (and management) of
(personal and social) identity in relation to language learning. On the one hand, it is identity, or the
creation of a new identity, the main question in play concerning the move from monolingualism to
plurilingualism; on the other hand, it is also identity the key to manage new literacies and be able to
make sense in a hyperlinked world.
3

More information available at http://www.surveylang.org/media/ExecutivesummaryoftheESLC_210612_001.pdf

In that sense, Foreign Language Learning in the 21st century depends on the development of three
distinct competences, intimately related to identity, and widely and deeply analyzed in Vez Jeremías’s works: partial communicative competence, intercultural competence and digital competence.
These three competences, as developed by students and recognized and promoted by teachers, will
define the advancement of Foreign Language Learning and Teaching in the close future (if not
nowadays!).
To begin with, plurilingualism is deeply related to partial communicative competence. If the first
concept refers to the dominion by the learner of several languages at different competence levels,
the partial communicative competence refers to a permanent in-progress state of language learning
as the learner defines, reaches and re-defines language learning objectives.
Furthermore, that in-progress state is a normal element of a sequential activity, that of language
learning, which only as a result of a conventional agreement can be graded from null to complete
competence; in fact, the partial competence could and should also be described, in positive terms, as
the recognition of the individual needs and interests of the learner, which not only states their willingness to learn but also their decision not to learn certain linguistic "bits" if they are not related to
those interests and needs. That is, putting the learner at the centre of the learning process means giving them the capacity to determine the types of objectives, tasks, domains and linguistic items they
want to learn, the teacher being a privileged companion - or a relevant item in the scaffolding system the learner may need - to guarantee efficacy and efficiency in the learning process.
This decision is an absolute must if our perspective of Foreign Language Teaching wants to go beyond the field of goods-and-services provision and into the domain of experience creation - following one of the main conclusions of the European Survey on Language Competences and the suggestions of Pine and Gillmore (2011) in The Experience Economy. The role of the foreign language
teacher cannot be that of the doctor who prescribes, in advance, a certain pill (being the pill a
"grammar lesson" or a "reading comprehension activity") depending on objectives related to an external, predetermined language level out of the learner's control. The role of teachers in the 21st
century is creating a learning situation, “language-friendly living and learning environments” in the
words of the First European Survey on Language Competences, in which the language learner must
interact with people and texts, being the learner who determines where the focus of interest lies.
In that sense, paying attention to the learner's self in a genuine way (not as a forced simulation or
with fake interest) is the mark of 21st century foreign language teaching. It is so because, first, we
can manage to do so using strategies such as cooperative learning (in the face-to-face situation) or
computer-mediated strategies; and, second, in a stimuli-rich world, a learning situation distant from
the learner’s real interests and needs is bound to failure in the short or the long run.
In that sense, approaches such as project-based learning (and others related to active methodologies) can provide language teaching with a framework in which teachers may cater for the learner’s
genuine interests and needs. Project- and task-based learning can “open” the curriculum to the
learners' interests and needs, not necessarily defining a priori curricular contents.
Obviously, the challenge posed here to teachers implies assuming the role of the "ignorant
teacher” (Rancière, 1987), which learns together with their students, providing them with support
but not with any "superior" (in fact, previous) knowledge: sense-making, filtering information, con-

tent curation or networking are, therefore, new verbs for the foreign language teacher and the
teacher trainer (and learner).
At the same time, the plurilingual objective also has a cultural dimension. First, plurilingualism implies - not logically, but naturally -pluriculturalism, being the first the multiple linguistic repertoire
an individual may know and use and the second the multiple identities (or should we say "identifications"?) any individual may enact depending on the communicative situation which may be taking place at a given moment (Trujillo Sáez, 2012a).
Furthermore, pluricultural and intercultural are just two faces of the cultural dimension of the
plurilingual objective. Pluricultural belongs to individual self-perception as intercultural refers to
situational awareness. The first one defines the identity in use from an internal, personal perspective; the second one defines the roles and (understanding of) the relationships between the interlocutors (and their relative contexts) in a given communicative situation. The pluricultural competence focuses awareness on the self; the intercultural competence points to the co-creation of cultural meanings during the communicative situation.
Considering the pluricultural and the intercultural competences as reachable goals at the foreign
language classroom implies redesigning the dynamics of foreign language teaching. The conventional and informal process of language learning/socialization through co-existence in the classroom
space is not enough; active ways of promoting an enriched socialization must be operated to reach
more complex levels of cultural competence.
Three "moves" are suggested to promote that enriched socialization which leads to pluricultural and
intercultural competence (Trujillo Sáez, 2012b: 70-75). These moves put the language learner in
direct, deep contact with diversity and it is this deep contact with the Others which takes socialization to a higher level.
The first move is performed within the limits of the language classroom and it is designed to make
the learner aware of the powerful learning potential of the immediate Other, their very same group
of co-learners. Interaction and interdependence, as exemplified in cooperative learning, are the key
forces to enrich socialization and promote the pluricultural/intercultural competence at this level.
Therefore, cooperative learning is no longer an option in a language learning situation but a prerequisite derived of language learning objectives and the nature of the plurilingual/pluricultural/intercultural competence.
The second move is a move outwards the language classroom to get to know the Other in their own
settings. In this case, the values of naturalistic research and service-learning are the keys for enriched socialization and the pluricultural/intercultural competence. The first one, naturalistic, ethnographic research, attempts to get data from real contexts to be analyzed and interpreted in the language classroom, turning this space into a sense-making space where culture and society are contemplated and understood; the second one, service learning, consists of designing projects in which
whatever is learnt in a formal setting is offered as a "service" to the "external" community, turning
in that way curriculum from a set of enclosed contents into a living entity. In both cases, the learner
genuinely approaches the Other and is invited to reconsider their previous knowledge (or prejudices) as data and information are gathered for analysis and put into service for real people with real
needs.

Finally, the third move is a move inwards the language classroom to incorporate voices different to
the learners' and the teacher's voices. This implies re-defining the role of the teacher as a knoweverything expert and democratically accepting knowledge is distributed in society, being the
teacher (and the textbook!) practical synthesizers but not the only legitimate voices in the classroom. Families, volunteers, experts in different fields may enrich the experience of socialization
coming into the classroom, which grows from being a “closed community of learners” to an “open
community of learners”.
So, these three moves (cooperative learning, the move outwards to practise ethnographic research
and service learning and the move inwards to constitute an open community of learners) are the
foundations for a real pluricultural/intercultural competence in (foreign) language learning. The
process of enriched socialization which these three moves create in the classroom provides the
learner with experiences from which that complex pluricultural/intercultural competence is derived.
And, finally, we come to the third competence under discussion: the digital competence. Several
frameworks are being developed to describe the digital competence in terms similar to those of the
communicative competence as described in the Common European Framework of Reference for
Languages, and in coming years we may see well-grounded attempts to reconsider the digital competence not as an instrumental skill (related to the use of computers) but as an end in itself related to
a new type of Digital Humanism.
As in the previous cases of partial communicative competence and pluricultural/intercultural competence, the key factor of the digital competence concerning foreign language learning is learner's
identity and autonomy. Through their digital competence, learners have moved beyond the reach
and the control of language teachers: on the one hand, people are learning on their own through
their computers and their access to the Internet and, on the other hand, they are demanding different
teaching processes (Kellner, 2002), as described above in relation to the partial communicative
competence and the pluricultural/intercultural competence.
Two distinct although related phenomena can illustrate this growing tendency: the PLE concept and
the rise of MOOC.
The PLE concept (Castañeda y Adell, 2013) refers to the "personal learning environment" each
learner has and uses to solve their tasks and problems. This "personal learning environment" consists of (a) a personal learning network, that is, people the learner is in contact with and learns from,
(b) devices, services and artifacts, mainly electronic and connected to the Internet - although more
"traditional" devices and services such as books and libraries are definitely still operative and useful
- and (c) activities the learners performs by themselves or together with other people, either face-toface or through the Internet.
Everybody has a PLE; that is, everybody learns through the interaction with other people and the
use of devices, services and artifacts (consider “consulting Wikipedia with your smartphone” from a
learning perspective, or even “participating in a social network conversation”) and, then, applies
that knowledge to the resolution of different tasks and activities, alone or in groups. And the
strength and reach of your PLE predetermines your learning capacity in relation to a given topic,
situation or task.

Furthermore, the PLE of a learner is a meeting point between the learner and the institution, in a
formal learning setting. For the learner, the PLE is an instrument to perform tasks, solve problemas
and approach new learning achievements.
Furthermore, the PLE is a basic concept in informal learning, being connectivist MOOCs the
epythome of this learning modality. A MOOC is a massive, open, on-line course. MOOCs vary
from formal, LMS-based courses to really open, social courses based on loosely-connected web
services such as blogs and social networks, being this latter type of courses what Lisa Lane (2012)
refers to as Network-based or connectivist MOOC. In both cases, the learner's PLE is a paramount
feature to take profit of this cutting-edge learning modality in which the learner's willingness to
learn, sometimes with no further guidance, is linked to a "teacher's" willingness to offer content
freely and openly through the Internet.
Thus, the digital competence is, at the same time, an end in itself - comparable in any sense to literacy in the 20th century and before - as well as a means to an expanded capability to learn autonomously and with others; Vez Jeremías wrote on it in one of his latest research articles (Vez Jeremías, Martínez Piñeiro and Lorenzo Rodríguez, 2013: 13): “the Internet and entertainment programmes can have a positive influence on the improvement of foreign language proficiency of our
students given that not only do they provide exposure to and reinforce the pragmatic dimension of
the context, but also that they allow the use of the language by way of MSN, chats, blogs, video
calls, online games, etc.”. Concepts such as PLE and MOOC, still scarcely present in foreign and
second language literature, threaten to change drastically the roles of teachers and learners along the
21st century.
In particular, teacher initial and in-service training will have to deal with these three scenarios of
change in foreign language teaching: to cope with the partial communicative competence of learners as a valid objective concerning the learners' particular needs and interests, to promote the pluricultural/intercultural competence through the three moves (inside, outwards and inwards) described
here and to empower learners's PLE to manage information and knowledge in analogical and digital
contexts.
These challenges picture a language teaching panorama radically individual but collective, deeply
autonomous but connectively augmented, powerfully involved in social and cultural affairs relevant
to the learner and the community; in sum, these challenges draw a scenario in which learners use
and develop their languages to grow personal and socially because personal, social and digital engagement will be (or perhaps are right now) the driving forces to make language learning a relevant
experience in the 21st century.
In that sense, the works of Vez Jeremías represent a lighthouse in the field of Language Education.
We need scholars who can keep a high level of scientific production together with a wider sense of
the social, political and economical implications of Language Teaching. The World is becoming
more and more complex and Language Teaching cannot seclude itself from change and complexity: in fact, only the acceptance of these two variables, change and complexity, can keep the field
alive and providing society with solutions to the problems and challenges ahead.
References

Council of Europe. 2001. Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: learning,
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Castañeda, L. y Adell, J. (eds.) 2013. Entornos personales de aprendizaje: claves para el ecosistema educativo en red. Alcoy : Marfil.
Gee, J. P., and Hayes, E. R. 2011. Language and Learning in the Digital Age. Oxon: Routledge.
Kellner, D. M. 2002. “Revolución tecnológica, alfabetismos múltiples y la reestructuración de la
educación”, enI. Snyder (ed.) Alfabetismos digitales. Comunicación, Innovación y Educación en la
Era Electrónica. Archidona: Aljibe, pp. 227-250.
Lane, L. 2012. “Three kinds of MOOCs”, at Lisa’s (online) Teaching & History blog, available at
http://lisahistory.net/wordpress/2012/08/three-kinds-of-moocs/.
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para el diseño de una escuela intercultural”, en B. López y M. Tuts (coord.). Orientaciones para la
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Vez Jeremías, J. M., Martínez Piñeiro, E., and Lorenzo Rodríguez, A. 2013. “Determining factors of
the academic performance on “listening” of Spanish students of EFL. Results from the ESLC”, Porta Linguarum, 20, pp. 9-29.

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