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The European Indicator of Language Competence

This summary has been archived and will not be updated, because the summarised document is no longer in force or does not reflect the current situation.

The European Indicator of Language Competence

This Communication follows on from the Barcelona European Council of March 2002, which had called for the establishment of a linguistic competence indicator. The ultimate aim is to provide Member States with hard data and comparisons on which any necessary adjustments in their approach to foreign language teaching and learning can be based. This Communication sets out parameters and management arrangements for implementing the Indicator.


Commission Communication of 1 August 2005 - The European Indicator of Language Competence [COM(2005) 356 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


Progress towards the objective of ensuring that all pupils learn at least two foreign languages from an early age can only be measured using reliable data on the results of foreign language teaching and learning.

At the meeting of the European Council in Barcelona in March 2002, the Heads of State or Government called for the establishment of a linguistic competence indicator. The Commission undertook this task on a consensual basis with Member States' representatives, involving the Expert Working Groups on Languages and on Indicators and Benchmarks.



The purpose of the indicator is to measure foreign language skills in each Member State.


The Commission proposes to give specially developed tests of competence to a sample of pupils in education and training establishments in all the Member States. The tests will be devised in the light of the results of previous projects in this field.

Target group

The data for the indicator should be gathered from pupils at the end of compulsory education or training, and it is therefore proposed to target 15-year-olds.


The indicator ought to record the proficiency of the sample at the six levels of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages.


The Commission proposes that in the first instance, and for practical reasons, foreign language competence should be tested in the five languages most frequently taught in the Union as a whole (English, French, German, Spanish and Italian). Experience gained during the first cycle of tests should permit a wider range of languages to be tested in subsequent cycles.


The indicator should measure four linguistic skills:

  • reading;
  • listening;
  • speaking;
  • writing.

It may be (again for practical reasons) that oral skills would not be tested during the first cycle.

Other data

Often, linguistic competence is affected by factors outside the education system (languages on TV, the home environment) as well as factors within the system (experience of the teacher, total number of hours of language classes). Tests should therefore be supplemented by questionnaires aimed at teachers and pupils with a view to gathering contextual information.



The Commission will attend to the central coordination of the process and analysis of the data collected, with external support provided through a contract awarded under normal tendering procedures.

Advisory Board

It will be necessary to create a body whose members will be instructed by the Member States to advise the Commission on political and technical aspects, and to report on the progress made in implementing the indicator in their country. Current groups of experts do not have a sufficient mandate or the necessary technical expertise in language testing or the development of indicators to do this.

Consequently, the Commission proposes to establish an Advisory Board consisting of representatives of the Member States (the "EILC Advisory Board") with the following role:

  • advising the Commission on the specification of the tender for creation of the testing instruments and on the criteria for selection of the tenderer;
  • advising the Commission on the assessment of the contractor's work;
  • advising on the collection of data in the Member States;
  • securing good progress on implementation in the Member States;
  • evaluating the results.

The specific activities necessary for gathering data will be carried out by the Member States, with due regard to the procedures and standards laid down by the Commission on the advice of the Advisory Board. These activities will entail:

  • organising the participation of a sample of institutions;
  • distributing the testing material to invigilators and making practical arrangements for the tests to take place;
  • collecting the responses and arranging for them to be marked according to the central standards;
  • passing the resultant data to the central coordinator.

Resources needed

The appropriate resources have been approved within the budgets of the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci programmes for 2005.


The Commission hopes to convene the first meeting of the EILC Advisory Board before the end of 2005, to publish the invitation to tender for central coordination of the indicator in spring 2006, and to organise a first pilot exercise to try out the proposed testing instruments in 2007.

The Commission invites the Council to express its agreement with the approach outlined in this Communication.


The Heads of State and Government, at their meeting in Barcelona in March 2002, set the objective of making the European Union's education and training systems a world quality reference by 2010. They called for "action to improve the mastery of basic skills, in particular by teaching at least two foreign languages from a very early age", and also for "the establishment of a linguistic competence indicator in 2003". This decision arose from the current lack of data on the actual language skills of people in the European Union and the need for a reliable system to measure the progress achieved.

The action plan " Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity " commits the Commission to introducing such an indicator.

This indicator ties in with a number of other indicators that the Member States have decided to develop through the " Education and Training 2010 " process.


Commission Communication of 22 November 2005 - A New Framework Strategy for Multilingualism [COM (2005) 596 final - Not published in the Official Journal]

Commission Communication of 24 July 2003 - Promoting Language Learning and Linguistic Diversity : an Action Plan 2004-2006 [COM (2003) 449 final - Not published in the Official Journal].

Decision No 1934/2000/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 July 2000 on the European Year of Languages 2001 [Official Journal L 232 and 14.09.2000].

Council Resolution of 16 December 1997 on the early teaching of European Union languages [Official Journal C 1 of 03.01.1998].

Last updated: 18.01.2006