Professionalisation of vocational education in the framework of the Lisbon Process: multilingualism and practical orientation in vocational colleges

Author(s): Rainer Jahn
Institution/Organisation: Friedrich-List-Schule Berlin, Oberstufenzentrum Wirtschaftssprachen - Kompetenzzentrum Internationale Beziehungen (Senior-Class College for Business Languages - International Relations Competence Centre) (DE)

1 Description of successful project


1. 1 Scope of project

Local, regional and international levels
Target group: Young people in vocational education
MAS 1 [1]: Interdisciplinary (international) projects in four courses of study:

MAS 2: Modularisation of the education programmes and international comparability of the graduation certificates (CEFR, EQF) [2]
MAS 3: International teacher training
MAS 4: Incorporation in international networks (XARXA FP, EUROCITIES)[3]


1.2 Range of languages offered

1.3 Learning outcomes

leads to


1.4 Practical implementation


1.4.1 MAS 1: Interdisciplinary (international) projects in four courses of study

The projects described below, implemented at the Friedrich-List-Schule (FLS) and each aimed at promoting multilingualism in the four courses of study that build on one another, are exemplary for practically-oriented, interdisciplinary work that references the life and working experiences of young people learning at the FLS (foreign languages, business studies, secretarial etc.). The selection of projects made here does not imply that the project mentioned in each course of study is carried out only in this course, nor that it is the only project. Einjährige Kaufmännische Berufsfachschule: Bilingual teaching project (English)

Requirements for this one-year programme (Vocational College/Elementary Level): Students must first attain their Erweiterte Hauptschulabschluss (Advanced Certificate of Secondary Education). General educational subjects such as German, English, Sociology and Mathematics are augmented by vocationally oriented education in Economics, Business Practice, Accounting and Professional Communication.
In recent years the Bilingual Education project, which in the one-year Berufsfachschule involves the creation of a ‘bilingual economics class’ with English, and in the two-year Fachschule ( the testing of bilingual economics modules, has been utilising successful experiences with CLIL[5] , mostly gained in other areas than vocational colleges. The young people in the ‘bilingual classes’ have the opportunity to learn a commercially oriented vocation and at the same time to improve their foreign language skills in a manner tailored to their vocation. This is an option that they would otherwise only have in a work placement abroad (see After one year the students can attain the Mittlerer Schulabschluss (Intermediate School-Leaving Certificate/MSA) and then undertake a course of study at the following Berufsfachschule für kaufmännische Assistenten (L3 French, Spanish). Hence the bilingual education not only promotes bilingualism in German/English but also individual multilingualism in general terms, also among young people who, unlike some of their fellow students[6], have not grown up with two or more languages. The first bilingual classes have now successfully completed the course of study and thus the educational mode will be continued in the new academic year, too. The development and evaluation of appropriate teaching and learning materials remains one of the most pressing tasks for teachers involved in bilingual education, with textbook publishers sometimes still being reluctant to publish textbooks due to low sales volumes. This is particularly true in the case of vocational colleges [7] and of less widely used and taught languages. Berufsfachschule für kaufmännische Assistenten – Fachrichtung Fremdsprachen: Encounter projects (French, Spanish)

Requirements for the two-year vocational training (Accredited Foreign Language Administrative Assistant/P.A.): Usually students must first attain their Mittlerer Schulabschluss/MSA (Intermediate School-Leaving Certificate). In addition to general subjects, there is a business-oriented cluster that contains the subjects Economics, Accountancy, Secretarial Practice, Word Processing and Professional Communication. The instruction in the first foreign language (L2 English) is divided into the subjects Correspondence, Translation, Interpreting and Practical Language Exercises; the second foreign language (L3 French, Spanish) is provided in different learning groups for both beginners and advanced students.
Apart from the vocationally oriented study trips, e.g. to Paris or Barcelona, virtual (see and real encounter projects are regularly conducted with the René Cassin partner vocational college in Strasbourg, while similar activities with the ASET vocational training centre in Barcelona are currently being planned. Small groups (L3 French or Spanish) explore shared aspects and differences in job profiles and fields of work, while intercultural learning, personal responsibility and capacity for teamwork are promoted. At the end of the project a presentation is made of the results (e.g. brochure, exhibition, film, PowerPoint presentation). Staatliche Fachschule für Fremdsprachenkorrespondenz: E-Learning (English, French) and multilingual text projects (Spanish, Catalan, Italian)

Requirements for this two-year programme (Accredited Foreign Language Administrative Professional/Executive P.A.): Students must have qualifications as the accredited foreign language administrative assistant certificate, the higher education entrance certificate or the advanced technical college certificate. The course of study qualifies participants to carry out demanding commercial tasks (in a foreign language) in the business and administrative sectors. The first foreign language for advanced students may be English, French or Spanish, and the subject Conversation and Foreign Cultures is taught in the corresponding language.
In the framework of an E-Twinning[8]  Project (L2 English) with the Levi Institute Lapland/Finland (vocational training: Tourism Manager), international teams were formed consisting of two or three students each from Berlin and Levi. In the period of three months, for instance in a video conference, they examined themes such as education, career opportunities and national minorities (e.g. Sami) and practiced modern working techniques on the PC. The students published the results of their team efforts in the online journal Magazine Factory.
In an E-Learning project with the quoted René Cassin partner college, Berlin students (L3 French) and Strasbourg students (L3 German) held a video conference to discuss such issues as the enlargement of the EU. This discussion also gave specific attention to Turkey’s possible membership to the EU, with both groups containing each young people with and without an immigrant background.
Multilingual text projects are conducted in the subject Spanish; these prepare students for the work placement phase in XARXA partner cities (see such as Barcelona and Rome, and also promote receptive Romance multilingualism (L3 Spanish). The learners experience Spanish as a bridging language for closely related languages such as Catalan or Italian[9] . The education programme questions the insurmountable nature of language barriers and the automatic recourse to English as a lingua franca. Furthermore, interested students have the opportunity to take part in an elective, vocationally oriented, four-semester Italian course that promotes not only receptive but also productive abilities. Staatliche Fachschule für Europakorrespondenz: IT projects (Spanish)

The one-year advanced course (EU Accredited Multilingual Administrative Professional/Executive P.A.) was inaugurated in the same year as the Lisbon Process. Working in smaller groups than in the other FLS courses of study, the students further develop their knowledge and skills – acquired at the FLS or elsewhere – in the L2 and L3 classes and then expand them with selected vocational competence areas in a third foreign language (L4 Spanish, French).
The major value of the two guiding principles – promotion of multilingualism and of practical orientation – is underlined once more by the anchoring of the subject IT Projects (Spanish) in the timetable[10]. For instance, the multilingual Import-Export IT project aims to achieve joint realisation of an import-export process between Berlin (L3 Spanish) and Pamplona/Spain (L1 Spanish/L2 English) as well as researching of the market in each case. Project components include commercial correspondence, Internet research (price comparisons etc.) and consultations with the manufacturer and the chamber of commerce in each city. This project may, but need not, be part of a exchange programme (with reciprocal visits). The work results are documented and presented as a PowerPoint presentation.


1.4.2 MAS 2: Modularisation of the education programmes and international comparability of the graduation certificates (CEFR, EQF)

The FLS strives to promote more (international) transparency in education programmes and graduation certificates. This serves to increase the mobility of its own and other alumni in the EU and further afield, to facilitate the transition from school to higher education and, last but not least, to sustainably promote individual multilingualism.
The teaching of foreign languages at the FLS itself follows the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR). In the future it will also be possible to indicate the CEFR levels in the official certificates of the Berlin college.
Growing numbers of students are successfully preparing, in both obligatory foreign language education and optional courses, for internationally recognised certificate examinations (BEC, DFA, DELE and others)[11] .
Some teachers are assisting in vocationally oriented foreign language examinations issued by the Kultusministerkonferenz (the German Standing Conference of the Education Ministers / KMK) and the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), either devising the examination questions or acting as examiners.
In collaboration with the Berlin Senate Administration for Education, Science and Research (Sen BWF) and the Kultusministerkonferenz, the FLS is playing a leading role in European projects that – against the background of a common European Qualification Framework (EQF) – aim to achieve a modularisation of vocational education and the international comparability of graduation certificates.


1.4.3 MAS 3: International teacher training

In line with the FLS teacher training concept for in-school quality assurance, teachers of foreign languages are organising in-service training measures through Leonardo in the field of business languages in each of the target language countries (2008: London, Paris).


1.4.4 MAS 4: Incorporation in international networks (XARXA FP, EUROCITIES)

Through its collaboration in the XARXA FP and EUROCITIES European city networks on behalf of Sen BWF[12]  the FLS - International Relations Competence Centre is making a significant contribution to the promotion of individual multilingualism both young Berlin citizens in vocational education and students at vocational colleges in other European countries. For both groups the foreign work placements, usually facilitated through XARXA FP are, apart from the teaching projects, (see 1.4.1) often their only opportunity of improving their foreign language skills in the country of the target language.
The “EU-Team”[13] which is recruited from the FLS teaching staff, not only carries out its own European projects but also keeps up with a significant need for advice to persons and institutions in the vocational education sector with regard to European programmes. Thanks in part to these activities, in 2007/2008 it was possible, partly in collaboration with other bodys[14] , to send 545[15] people  on work placements in other European countries and to acquire a total of € 1,160,000 to promote this work. During the same period the FLS attended to the needs of 126 young people from 23 European cities. Work placements in other European countries

The internships in other European countries organised by the FLS, intended for its own students and for those of other Berlin vocational colleges and usually lasting four weeks, offer diverse possibilities for using the target language in vocationally relevant ways. Even when English is the initial lingua franca, for instance because the abilities acquired in the optional Swedish course at the FLS are not yet sufficient for the work placement in Gothenburg businesses, the students’ desire to learn more languages ‘in the field’ is generally strengthened. During work placements in France and Spain, the English skills of FLS students are not the defining element. Work placements in Berlin

During their mostly one to three-month stay in Berlin, young people from European partner cities improve their German skills in a practically oriented German as a Foreign Language (GFL) course (themes: professional experience, field of work, living in a student hall of residence, intercultural similarities and differences etc.). Here, ideally, they build on previous knowledge that they have acquired in German lessons at school in their home town or in language courses for professional purposes – some of them virtual – specially tailored to the needs of European work placement students[16] . Mobility programmes for teachers

The FLS has applied for and now supervises European mobility measures for teachers at other vocational colleges such as Social Inclusion Best Practice for experts who work with disadvantaged young people. These measures indirectly promote the multilingualism of the trainees because partnerships and exchange programmes between the visited schools in various countries are a goal from the outset and are carried out in follow-up projects. Seminars, conferences, congresses

The international activities of the FLS and the accompanying implementation of events [17] consistently give the students the opportunity to improve their foreign language and organisational skills in an interdisciplinary and vocationally oriented manner (comparison of options, reservations, calculation of travel expenses, translation, interpreting etc.).

2 Project background


2.1 Context

The FLS is a state-funded college at which some 60 teachers, with some native speakers in foreign language subjects, teach some 750 pupils and students (aged around 20) who are quite frequently multilingual and from a multicultural background. The college comprises two departments: Department I includes the aforementioned vocational colleges, Department II the two professional colleges. Many more young people apply for the FLS than can be admitted to a course of study.
In recent years, the new college management team and the teaching staff have worked to improve the quality of education, prompted in part by the results of a survey conducted within the school. The multilingualism initiative described here is just one aspect of these improvements.
On 12 June 2003 the FLS became the first competence centre within the Berlin school system. It recently received the “School for Europe 2008” award.
In recent years the teaching load for Berlin teachers has been successively increased to 26 lesson periods (45 minutes) per week. The teachers active in the EU-Team are generally granted a small reduction in the teaching load in return for their work. A part-time worker funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) supports them in some tasks, but there is no permanently employed office or support worker for the growing administrative tasks in the international context.
The FLS has nine dedicated rooms for word processing and secretarial practice, a language laboratory, a recording studio with a control room and two dedicated rooms with multimedia facilities. The cutbacks in public spending have led to reductions in non-teaching staff, with consequences such as the closure of the previously well-visited school library. The reduction in teaching positions may lead to larger learning groups, not only in the course Europakorrespondenz.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

Professionalisation of vocational education through more efficient promotion of individual multilingualism
FOR WHOM? Young people in vocational education (FLS, Berlin, other European countries)
WHAT? Foreign-language teaching that is relevant to the students’ lives and professions
HOW? Learning in high-quality, real/virtual learning environments
WHEN? In the vocational school and elsewhere
WHERE? In Berlin and in other European countries
WHY? Improved quality of life and better chances on the European labour market

3 Success indicators

4 Success factors

The following list cites only some of the many factors that are likely to be responsible for the success of the initiative:

Synergy effects are strongly welcomed by the FLS!

5 Lessons to be learned



5.1 at the institutional level in Berlin

Establishing partnerships and networking at various levels can help to promote individual multilingualism at vocational colleges, too. An interdisciplinary approach, high-quality learning (multimedia) environments, content relevant to daily life and the field of work as well as diplomas and work placements abroad do not automatically guarantee learning success, but they make it more probable. This should also apply to courses of study in which foreign languages do not play such a central role as at the FLS.
Various initiatives might be considered in the future for the consolidation and further development of the present achievements:
Additional learning opportunities could result from stronger involvement of existing multilingualism, either of the FLS students or of the work placement students from other European countries. So far, attempts to promote tandem learning have been the initiative of individual teachers.
The modularisation of the education should help to define the contents and the target competence levels in the foreign-language subjects even more clearly than it is the case to date, also in order to avoid superfluous repetitions or unrealistic learning goals. In order to achieve this, coordination is necessary not only between the foreign-language and commercially related subjects, but also between the various foreign-language subjects. Greater attention than previously should be given to exploring the possibilities of promoting receptive multilingualism. Individual and collective multilingualism itself could more frequently serve as a teaching or project theme.
The FLS should be self-assured about communicating its achieved successes in the promotion of individual multilingualism.
The previously initiated creation of networks with other (vocational) schools, adult education centres (translation/interpreting), institutions such as the Instituto Cervantes and universities should be further intensified.
The announced cutbacks in teaching positions and non-teaching staff at the FLS should be re-examined by the decision makers. Larger learning groups, e.g. in bilateral interpreting for the Europakorrespondenten, and the closure of the library – which should be expanded to a self-study centre – are counterproductive to the promotion of individual multilingualism. The optional language courses should be anchored more firmly in institutional terms so that their funding is not dependent on the FLS support body. Ways should also be sought of helping the EU-Team to deal with the ever-increasing administrative workload.

5.2 at the European level

The teaching and learning of foreign languages in vocational education, especially in the case of less widely used and taught languages, has not yet received sufficient attention in the academic discourse. The content of the first and second phase of teacher training (first in universities and later in schools) is not sufficiently tailored to this issue, and academic support for in-school innovations is rare in this field. This would provide a broad range of work, ranging from studies of the language learning processes of multilingual learners in vocational schools via the situation-specific choice of language during work placements abroad through to analyses of the language needs of former students of the courses.
A partial transfer of the work in international vocational education networks from the administration level to a school has proved its worth. This benefits not only the FLS but also other colleges in Germany and abroad. Personal contacts between teachers and students from various European partner cities are thus ensured and the range of learning experiences goes far beyond the profession-specific aspects of the work placement or the mobility measure. It is more: MAS.