University of Helsinki,
Department of Teacher Education
Research Reports 1996/

Tella, Seppo, Yli-Renko, Kaarina & Mononen-Aaltonen, Marja 1996.Two Cultures Coming Together. Part 1. Developing Foreign Language Teaching and Teacher Education in Bulgaria. (123 + 42 pages)


This publication is the first part of a three-volume research report, dealing with the Finnish-Bulgarian educational project (1994--1995), called Consulting Services for Foreign Language Training Upgrading in Bulgarian Schools. The present volume covers the evaluation of the currently used teacher training programmes, teaching methods and actual foreign language teaching practices in Bulgarian schools. It also deals with evaluation of some currently used teaching materials in Bulgaria.

The main evaluation areas covered (i) the concept of knowledge and learning, (ii) curricular design, (iii) FL teacher education, (iv) FL teachers' work as professionalism, (v) methodological approaches, (vi) pupils' FL proficiency, (vii) physical and psychological teaching and learning conditions, (viii) evaluation of FL teaching materials, (ix) equality and (in)equity, and (x) axiological infrastructure, and Bulgarian nationwide FL policy.

The evaluation paradigm was based on an ethnographic approach, complemented with some quantitative data gathering techniques. Besides observation and interviewing, a range of questionnaires and self-assessment tests were administered to Bulgarian teachers (n=100), teacher educators (n=25) and teacher trainees (n=9). Finnish matriculation examination tests representing several languages were also administered to Bulgarian pupils. The data were gathered from 19 Bulgarian schools in March 1995.

Main observations include the following. The new concept of learning (constructivism) proved rather unfamiliar to Bulgarian respondents. New national curricula are being implemented but knowledge of them has not yet reached a wide enough audience. The influence of various philological backgrounds is noticeable in teacher education, while the position of education and didactics is weak, except at the University of Sofia. Lack of pedagogical orientation in teacher education leads to scarce research in FL pedagogy. School authorities and many educationalists are, however, conscious of the problems. Many teachers tend to underline the importance of mere language proficiency, instead of a profound knowledge of subject-specific didactics.

In general, teachers take themselves for transmitters of the subject, not for educators. As for the six FLs taught in Bulgarian schools, English grows in popularity but there is a shortage of competent teachers. The command of English is not yet common among school authorities. Language school teachers often have an admirable FL proficiency, especially in the field of classical literature. The language skills of FL teachers in ordinary schools are rather poor. Teachers did not prove keen on analysing FL teachers' new roles; some were sceptical towards being researchers of their own work.

Bulgarian language schools offer bright pupils a splendid opportunity to get a literature-based language proficiency. Students' language proficiency is admirable in language schools, though it is often limited to literary texts. Also, some ordinary schools have an emphasis on FLs. The high level of FL proficiency in Bulgaria is based on the language schools while an average pupil going to an ordinary school might just study one foreign language only.

Teaching is largely based on ideals of classical humanism. Rote learning and reciting by heart is very common. Many teachers are authoritarian and pay little attention to motivational factors in their teaching after the primary school. The external teaching conditions are sometimes extremely poor. AV aids, such as OH projectors, tape recorders or computers, are rare.

Cross-cultural aspects and culture awareness are appreciated in goal-setting but not always aimed at in actual teaching. A positive self-image and self-confidence are considered important aims.

Teaching materials are improving rapidly, as textbook authors are well aware of latest developments in the domain of FL methodology. Textbooks are erroneously taken for methods and they dominate teachers' teaching habits. Testing plays a very central role at all levels of schooling.

It remains to be seen whether Bulgaria continues to have an elitist class of people mastering one foreign language very well indeed but being ignorant of other foreign languages, or whether the general level of knowledge of the whole age group will be raised.

Keywords: Foreign Language Teaching and Learning; Language Proficiency; Language Policy; Teacher Training; Teacher Education; School System; Concept of Knowledge and Learning; Curricular Design; Textbook Development; Teachers' Roles; Professionalism; Methods; Teaching Practices; International Education; Intercultural Communication.

Part 2: Research Report 156