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

Takala, Sauli, Tella, Seppo, Yli-Renko, Kaarina & Mononen-Aaltonen, Marja 1996. Two Cultures Coming Together. Part 2. Developing National Foreign Language Policy and Teacher Education in Bulgaria. (64 pages)


This publication is the second 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 national language policy, language teaching policy, and teacher education.

"Foreign language (FL) teaching policy" is used to refer to the plans and practical measures undertaken to fulfil a country's needs for people with knowledge of foreign languages. Teaching foreign languages has become more organised and systematic, being no longer an activity of individual teachers only. It is a system of activities at several levels. Language planning is defined e.g. by Weinstein (1980, 56) as "a government authorized, longterm, sustained, and conscious effort to alter a language's function in society for the purpose of solving communication problems". In understanding foreign language teaching policy and language education in their complexity we need systems thinking and models to guide our activity.

An overall requirement for a national language policy might be that language teaching must satisfy the needs in modern languages in a certain country, for instance Bulgaria. In Bulgaria, there is strong evidence that there is a widespread wish among the population to learn foreign languages, especially English.

In Bulgaria, there is a need for a wide consensus for a national policy that sets the goals for a national strategy for achieving the national priorities in the medium and long term perspective. Such a coherent policy is urgently needed is education and science. Teaching and learning foreign languages has been defined as a clear priority both in general education and in vocational education.

The Bulgarian educational school system has several characteristics deserving public acknowledgement. The primary and secondary level educational services are available free of charge and much of higher education carries no tuition fees. External evaluation and participation in international projects indicate that major parts of vocational education compare favourably with similar education in some other countries.

The new system of language-intensive technical schools is a promising new development in Bulgaria. Likewise, special language schools produce an increasing number of competent language specialists. Experiments with early FL introduction is positive development, as well as increased attention given to teachers' in-service education. New and modern textbooks are being introduced in increasing numbers. Curricula are being designed in a functional-pragmatic direction enhancing international communication. There is also increased international co-operation to develop language teaching.

Among the problematic areas, the Finnish team listed i.a. the following. The language teaching system has a variety of components with quite different orientations and time allocations with no solid research-based information about achievement levels attained. No solid information base indicates how well the Bulgarian language teaching system compares e.g. with the European Union Member countries. This lack of solid research-based information makes it difficult to estimate how effective the teaching system actually is. Obtaining such comparative data should be a priority in planning and implementing the national language teaching policy.

The second foreign language should deserve careful attention. Two foreign languages should normally be studied by all pupils, and the number of lessons should be adequate. Including a FL test as an obligatory part of school-leaving examinations would also deserve careful consideration.

The following recommendations were underlined, for instance. A coherent national policy for FL teaching should be defined at a high policy-making level and the policy should be reviewed periodically. The implementation of national policy for FL teaching should be comprehensive and coherent so that all components/parties that play an important role in the implementation of the policy participate actively and synergistically in the requisite activities and projects. The implementation priorities should be defined for the next 10-20 years and an action programme should be set up with clearly defined, timed and adequately resourced subprojects, for achieving the most urgent policy goals.

Keywords: National Language Policy; Foreign Language Teaching Policy; Foreign Language Teaching and Learning; Language Education; Continuity in Language Teaching and Learning; Teacher Education; Curriculum; Syllabus; School Systems.

Part 1: Research Report 155