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April 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 2

ISSN 1755-9715

Foreign Language Teachers’ Competences – Between the Mission and Professionalism

Polish eminent pedagogue Czesław Banach stated that, “the 20th century not only was the time of the discovery of the child but also of the teacher”. It was particularly the second half of the previous century that saw a dynamic advancement of research on the teaching profession, which, like no other profession, must respond quickly to changes taking place in all areas of life, from the information revolution, to the changes related to civilisation and technology, which drive the birth of new areas of study and new occupations with their ever-changing sets of competence required, to constant geopolitical, social and economic transformations, which result in a gradual increase in globalisation and the unprecedented mobility of employees and their families, which in turn makes classes more multicultural, multilingual and heterogenous in social terms. All these aspects have influence on the work of foreign language teachers today, as they face more and more challenges and must act according to new rules.

One of the things a person has to learn when

he or she becomes a language teacher is what

it means to be a language teacher.

(J. C. Richards, 2011)


The concept of competence from general and professional perspectives

The end of the 20th century and the beginning of the present century is also the period of intensive deliberation about professional competence and qualifications a contemporary person needs to function in the increasingly complex world. In the literature on the subject, this concept has many definitions which highlight its different facets, from the potential and abilities of a person, to licences to practise a profession. Researchers point to the dichotomy of the concept: on one hand, they refer to practical competences, related to the ability to employ the knowledge of a field; on the other hand, they describe interpretational competences, stressing the creative character of people’s actions. Competence is one of the major pedagogical concepts. Philippe Perrenoud (1997:7) defines competence as “the ability to act effectively in many specified situations, the ability based on, but not limited by, knowledge”. In France, the notion of compétence was used originally in reference to vocational education and it was not until the end of the 1990s that it was introduced to the general teaching practice, where its meaning has since been broadened and now it refers to individual’s “potential”, rather than his/her knowledge solely. Experts of the most significant international organisations like OECD, UNESCO or CoE, also made attempts at defining the concept of competence. It was their experience that the European Commission drew upon to establish in  2006, and then in 2018, a set of key competences. An essential component of the perception of competences today is the ability to subject one's performance to criticism and one's own interpretation (Zawadzka 2004:110); and the fact that competences can be transmitted to other areas of life, and form a basis for creating new competences (Kacprzak 2006:46).


Teachers’ professional competences

Which competences are therefore characteristic of the teaching profession? A large number of concepts is a result of the increasingly varied specialisation of the teaching profession. Depending on whether they work with young learners or adults, in vocational or general schools, teachers’ required competences differ, let alone the differences in competences related to a subject taught.

Polish distinguished pedeutologist Henryka Kwiatkowska (2008:16) claims that the teaching profession is public in nature, and points out that the teacher's professionalism does not merely come down to performing repetitive, routine actions, which may prove inadequate in new circumstances. In the teaching profession, “examining one’s own practice is necessary […] to build on this fundament one's personal knowledge, which complements the scholarly knowledge”. The researchers who look into teachers’ competences focus their studies around such themes as correlations of knowledge, skills and attitudes, which allow teachers to manage the teaching process depending on the level and field of education. The English terms competence and competency differ in the international literature on teacher's professional standards. OECD (2017:77) defines competence, “as the on-going and progressive ability to meet complex demands in a defined context by mobilising holistic psychosocial resources (cognitive, functional, personal and ethical)[...]” Competency (ibid) refers to “knowledge, understanding, skills, abilities and attitudes” necessary for effective performance of roles and tasks assigned. Guy Le Boterf (2000:151) extends this list of individual resources by adding the external dimension, e.g. a workplace etc. Martineau and Gauthier (2000; as cited in Presseau and Frenay 2004:136) present a similar standpoint as they point to the most vital conditions for building one's own competences: knowledge, willingness and ability to be competent (Fr. pouvoir être compétent), required level of substantial and methodological skills; necessity to display proper attitudes towards students, as well as performing school tasks and collaboration.

The concept of professional competences is strictly connected with the concept of professionalism, or the skilful execution of professional activities in compliance with highest ethical, expert and cognitive standards. Professionalism is a distinctive feature of a person performing his/her profession, compared to other people who do not have any competences or qualifications to perform it. Penny Ur (2002) provides a straightforward definition:

A professional is broadly speaking someone whose work involves performing certain functions with some degree of expertise. (…) Members of the professional group possess certain skills, knowledge and conventions, that the lay population do not have.

J.C. Richards (2011:6) claims teachers are required to be equipped with both academic knowledge and hands-on experience in order to be professional, the first being regulated by the teacher education standards and the latter being obtained during teacher's vocational trainee placement in a school. Constant Leung (2009) highlights two dimensions of teachers’ professionalism:

  1. institutionally prescribed professionalism, a framework for the level of knowledge and quality of teaching practice, imposed by national educational authorities;
  2. independent professionalism, which concerns a teacher's own theories on teaching, and refers to his/her reflecting on his/her own values, beliefs and practices.

In 1974, E. Hoyle introduced two models of teacher professionality: restricted and extended. Teachers who represent the restricted professionality, rely only on their experience. Teachers who represent the extended professionality, try to understand their practices. Krystyna Szymankiewicz (2017:47-48) presents a similar view when she links the category of responsibility with an ethical nature of competence and an ability to reflect on one’s own actions and draw conclusions from one's experiences. Szymankiewicz (2017:49) juxtaposed “competent teaching” with “competences in teaching”.

The teacher's professional competences do not involve his/her duties and actions only, but include his/her personality and psychological features, and pedagogical talent. Such an approach lays the foundation for the classification of teacher's professional competences proposed by Banach (2004:550), Kwaśnica (2004:291–319) and Strykowski (2005:18–27), who categorise competences into praxeological, communicative, co-operational, creative, informational, moral, educational, psychological and pedagogical, diagnostic, competence for assessment, planning and design, didactic and methodological, communicative, media-, research-, control- and evaluation-related, and autoeducational competences. The above-mentioned examples of professional competences are interlinked within their subjective and holistic nature, and the assumption that their final and restricted form cannot be defined. Teachers’ ongoing development and knowledge acquisition are immanent attributes of their profession, “which is characterised by unspecificity, non-standardness, dynamic changeability of events” (Kwiatkowska 2005:149).

Teachers’ professional competences have been put on the agenda of the educational debate in the EU as well. In 2005, the EC prepared Common European Principles for Teacher Competences and Qualifications. The key principles set out therein included the following assumptions in relation to the teaching profession:

  1. A profession requiring that teachers are HEI graduates.
  2. The teaching profession should be placed within the context of lifelong learning.
  3. Mobility should be a central component of initial and continuing teacher education programmes.
  4. The teaching profession should be based on partnership and collaboration. It should also be subject of research.

In the following years (2007, 2008, 2009), the Council of the EU paid a special attention to the requirement for teachers to further develop such competences as the knowledge of the field, pedagogical skills, including teaching in heterogenic classes, using ICT, developing transversal competences, creating safe and attractive school environment and promoting the attitude of a reflective practitioner, explorer, innovator and the propagator of autonomous style of learning.

In 2003, a group of international experts led by Frank Heyworth was commissioned by ECML to draw up a document Facing the future. Language educators across Europe. It lists the following competences a modern foreign language teacher should have: subject-connected knowledge and skills; general and specialistic world knowledge and skills; policy-connected knowledge and skills: including knowledge about European and home educational policies, knowledge about international standards and language certificates and international tools for language fluency assessment, including e.g.: about CEFR or European Language Portfolio; teaching-connected knowledge and skills); mission-connected knowledge and skills, tool-connected knowledge and skills; workplace- and society-connected knowledge and skills, flexibility and inclination to life-long learning) (Leban 2003).

In 2011, Literature review. Teachers’ core competences: requirements and development was drawn up as part of the EC Education and Training 2020 programme to set out main European initiatives and projects within that scope. Author Francesca Caena (2011) draws the attention to a differentiation, introduced by the TALIS (2009) study, between two concepts: teaching competences and teacher competences. The expert stresses that although the first of the terms is fully connected with the teaching profession, the teacher competences have much broader meaning on the other hand, and refer to the concept of teacher's professionalism and his/her multifaceted roles, which s/he has to perform at the following levels: personal, school life, local community and within professional networks (Caena 2011:8). By analysing the data regarding developing teachers’ competences in European countries the author points out that during their education stage future teachers do not receive relevant support in developing the so-called, proposed at the European level, new competences, namely, teaching heterogenous classes, using ICT or transversal competences (digital competences, learning to learn, civil and interpersonal competences) (Caena 2011; Eurydice 2002:49).

The EC highlights, in two documents: Supporting the Teaching Professions (2012) and the report Supporting teacher competence development for better learning outcomes (2013), that a lack of consensus on a set of teachers’ professional competences and general standards for their education in the EU member countries may affect teachers’ recruitment and in-service development, and consequently the standard of educational systems in Europe.

Published in 2017 by TEPE, Overcoming Fragmentation in Teacher Education Policy and Practice is also an important comment in the European debate on the modern teachers’ competences. The main stipulations in the document pertain to creating stronger correlations between teacher education and in-service training, and relating teacher education to European and global educational policy (Hudson 2017). The competences of a contemporary teacher are also a vital item of the long-term OECD project The Future of Education and Skills. Education 2030, which was launched in 2018 with the main objective of setting out a package of necessary knowledge, skills, attitudes and values which would open possibilities for students to function in the globalised world. The teacher education curricula will be also reviewed and their standards verified.Foreign language teacher competences in the light of a general profile of teaching competences

In accordance with the concepts of teachers’ professional competences described above, the foreign language teacher competences include – apart from the part which is common for the whole teaching profession – specific elements evolving with language education methods, teaching methodology and curricula of this subject. The CEFR authors claim the “skill of learning” (Fr. savoir apprendre) to be a particularly important component of the competence concept. The concept of learning competence is strictly connected with the autoeducational competence category, which acquires special significance in the time of constant change and can require that the teacher retrains or restructures his/her technique, broadly understood, s/he used previously.


Typologies of the foreign language teacher competences

The literature on the subject provides a number of typologies of the foreign language teacher competences. In the Polish literature, Anna Jaroszewska (2009:85–92), Joanna Targońska (2009:19–23) and Elżbieta Zawadzka (2004:110–146) present an exhaustive set of foreign language teacher competences, distinguishing the following attributes: linguistic (specialist), psychological and pedagogical, methodological, educational and moral, country’s heritage and cultural, organisational, innovative and creative.


Linguistic competence

The linguistic competence is essential in the case of a foreign language teacher, as a foreign language is not only „a subject of teaching and a means of communication, but has the function of a subject of learning and a means of communication for the student” (Zawadzka 2004:113). It encompasses teacher's knowledge of a foreign language and linguistic skills, including such sub-competences as grammatical, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competences (ibid: 110–112). Several authors also draw attention to the necessity to develop phonetic competence, which in the case of foreign language non-native teachers is especially important. Jeremy Harmer (2007:110-117) claims that not only does the foreign language teacher act as a source of a foreign language, but s/he should be a guide for his/her students in their language explorations. Teachers teaching in bilingual classes and those teaching vocational languages should have particularly high linguistic competences.  Penny Ur (1991:56) remarks that, since a teacher is de facto a language model for his/her students, s/he should train his/her pronunciation on a regular basis.


Psychological and pedagogical competences

In the scope of the psychological and pedagogical competences, Elżbieta Zawadzka (2004:117–118) incorporates knowledge on educational and developmental psychology, differential psychology and the psychology of learning and teaching. Waldemar Pfeiffer (2001:197) adds that the pedagogical competences also include an ability to co-operate with other teachers and to work in a team with students based on interpersonal communication and shaping their attitudes and personalities. The author points out that, in the case of the foreign language teacher, educating students also means building the attitude of intercultural openness in them.


Methodological competences

The methodological competences cover knowledge on foreign language learning methods and skills such as planning, organising, goal operationalisation, choice of both content and techniques and methods of activity (teaching), motivating, overseeing, assessing, advising (Zawadzka 2004:124). Krystyna Szymankiewicz (2017:84) lists the skills below:

  • Critical analysis, practical verification and processing of methodological knowledge;
  • Teaching in a suitable way for students’ age;
  • Integrated and integrating teaching;
  • Teaching another foreign language;
  • Teaching a foreign language for vocational purposes;
  • Error correction;
  • Assessing achievements;
  • Teaching the skill of self-assessment to students;
  • Media and ICT competences.

The media competences are of especially great importance in the contemporary methods of foreign language teaching. Not only do they make learning a language more attractive and easier, enhance access to cultural science and authentic resources, but also help shape cultural, historical and tradition-related interests in students. The media competences are a basis for foreign language teacher’s image as “an expert in the methodology of language teaching in the information society”. This has acquired a special significance in the time of the epidemiological crisis, which forced teachers in numerous countries to start teaching online.


Educational and moral competences

The educational and moral competences help the teacher adapt a classroom for the successful development and education of students. They manifest themselves in preparing students to life in the society, passing universal values over to them, and equipping them with such features and skills as problem solving, team work, sensitivity, responsibility, tolerant attitude, critical thinking and interpretation of reality (Zawadzka: 2004). The well-developed educational and moral competences are a basis of an especially vital function of a teacher as an intercultural intermediary.


Country’s heritage and cultural competences

The country’s heritage and cultural competences are also associated with the function of the foreign language teacher as an intercultural intermediary. With reference to the foreign language teacher, Elżbieta Zawadzka (2004:213–214) places the components of the intercultural competence on three tiers:

  1. Attitudes, which include the following features of a teacher: empathy, tolerance, intercultural openness, ability to act in a suitable way in unusual situations and to reflect on cultural conflicts and misunderstandings.
  2. Knowledge: knowledge about culture, values, traditions and life conditions in both one’s own and foreign countries, and how others perceive them; also, knowing how to avoid and solve potential misunderstandings.
  3. Actions arising from the ability to use intercultural teaching resources and to apply language skills which enable the interpretation and negotiation of meanings in specific situations.

Anna Jaroszewska (2009:90) stresses that “having the intercultural competence is needed particularly when a teacher teaches to a group of varied nationalities, mother tongues, cultures, faiths, beliefs, financial standings, and even age”. Jaroszewska points out that it is in such environments that misunderstandings occur more frequently due to ignorance about other cultures and their rules, traditions and conventions. The well-developed intercultural competences of foreign language teachers help form in students abilities to find and interpret similarities in and differences between cultures, and apply these competences outside of school.


Organisational competences

The organisational competences involve the ability to prepare lessons and set the organisational structure of the teaching process. The organisational competences also regard the ability to plan one’s own professional development.


Innovative and creative competences

These competences involve both the ability of critical and creative thinking, and reflecting on the efficacy of one’s own actions. These competences allow the teacher to introduce changes aiming at improving teaching results. Krystyna Szymankiewicz (2017:85) mentions the following components of this competence: readiness to implement changes, creative behaviour, accommodating new solutions and introducing them into school’s practice, critical analysis of one's work and reflective practice, which means creating new knowledge and new cognitive values in the cases of pedagogical activity.


Good and effective foreign language teacher

The competences set out in this article, both general and specialised, should enable the teacher to succeed in teaching foreign languages. Therefore, what are the typical features of an effective foreign language teacher, and does ‘effective’ means as much as ‘good’? The research carried out in 2001-2002 by the ECML experts: Facing the future. Language educators across Europe, showed that foreigners are believed to be the best foreign language teachers in several countries (Leban 2003:69). Jack C. Richards (2011), in his attempts to answer the question of how well a non-native teacher should know a foreign language and to what extent fluency in a language should correspond with knowledge on other aspects of teaching, points to the following competences: the skill to be a good language model for students, the ability to use a foreign language during classes; the skill to adjust his/her students’ language correctly; the ability to deliver the content of teaching at the adequate level of difficulty. Mastering these capabilities is, according to Richards (2011), a threshold level of language command for teaching a foreign language in a successful and comfortable manner. As Hanna Komorowska (1999:116) puts it, “people with poor language and cultural competences are not to be found amongst good teachers in any country”. Moreover, Komorowska (2005:112) emphasises that “the phrase »to be a good teacher« is highly ambiguous, as it fails to specify according to whose standards a teacher’s work and behaviour in class and outside are assessed”. Komorowska (ibid) counts interactive, pedagogical, language and didactic skills among the features and ways of behaving of a good foreign language teacher.


Foreign language teacher's roles and functions with regard to the evolution of language teaching methods

It must also be stressed that our inability to indicate a universal model of an effective language teacher results from the fact that both the expectations and the definitions relating to the roles and functions to be performed by the teacher have been undergoing changes together with the changing world, driving the evolution of language teaching methods. In accordance with the grammar-translation method, popular at the end of the 19th century, the role of the teacher involved explaining grammar rules, followed by verifying students’ knowledge through their doing grammar exercises and translating texts in a foreign language. Conversely in the direct method, the teacher was assigned a role of a language model who communicated with the students only in the target language. Next changes came with the audio-lingual method implemented in the 1950s. According to that new trend, a good foreign language teacher had a task to “teach the elements – vocabulary and grammar structures – of a language efficiently” (Komorowska 2002b:12). The teacher was still a pronunciation model, while s/he was expected to have knowledge on the language itself and its structures. His/her role also involved making the learners repeat dialogues and perform oral drills with confidence. The 1960s and 1970s are the era of audio-visual teaching and a surge in the popularity of methodological guides, which would both establish individual lesson stages and set lists of activities for the teacher to perform. The breakthrough in perceiving the foreign language teachers’ role came in the late 1970s, when, in line with the emergent communicative approach, teaching language skills for communication and interpersonal skills was added to the teacher’s requirements. The communicative approach stressed the importance of the pragmatic language teaching. Four components of the communicative competence were defined: language, sociolinguistic, discourse and strategic competences. The teacher became a guide who supported the learners in their linguistic explorations, showed consideration for the mistakes they made, and encouraged them to discover meanings outside of the dictionary context. It should be mentioned that the communicative approach is also a process of learning a foreign language combined with learning its culture. The foreign language teacher was therefore to show his/her culture science knowledge, which facilitated communication with the native speakers of the target language. The 1980s saw growing popularity of Donald Schön's reflective practice concept, which was adapted in foreign language teaching from theories on professional work. The list of an effective foreign language teacher was complemented with the ability to be engaged in auto-reflection and giving a decision to make a deep thought. The last decade of the 20th century in language education saw the rise of the intercultural approach, where the participants of communication assumed roles of mediators between their and their interlocutors’ cultures. Popularised by, among others, Michael Byram, the notion of intercultural communicative competence emphasises that the resulting communicative competence is influenced not only by knowledge and skills, but also by the attitudes of the learners, such as openness to different cultures and the ability to relativize one's system of beliefs (Siek-Piskozub 2013:16). Said approach questioned the teachers’ previous profile of a native speaker. The foreign language teacher became an intermediary whose objective was to shape an intercultural speaker or intercultural mediator, who apart from the linguistic competence displays the intercultural competence, independent of a language (Bandura 2007, Zarate 1997, Byram 1997). According to this interpretation, the teacher's tasks included: “to make the learners aware that our perception of other people has an effect on communication success, as well as to point to what and how we can find out about ourselves and our interlocutors from intercultural contacts” (Bandura 2007:65). The 1990s in the foreign language teaching is the period of giving special focus on the learners, their needs, aptitudes, and learning styles and strategies (Komorowska 2002b). Hence, the foreign language teacher became a driving force of teaching and learning processes while s/he is focused on learners’ needs[3]. Jeremy Harmer (2007:110-111) also draws the attention to the relation existing between the roles the teacher performs and the requirements and expectations of a group of students. Being able to adjust teaching effectively to various teaching circumstances requires that the teacher uses his/her experience and reflects on his/her practice and theoretical knowledge.

The roles and functions of foreign language teachers discussed above have been the outcome of the changes within the concept and methods of language teaching. The activities language teachers undertake in schools often go beyond foreign language teaching. In 2002, ECML carried out a survey among teachers, academics, school principals and specialists in the field of language education. Their responses indicated the additional professional functions of foreign language teachers: initiator of new ideas; collaborator helping ensure cohesion of team work; mentor supporting less experienced colleagues or graduate trainees; good organiser of work; consultant of curricula; co-ordinator and facilitator (Leban 2003:73).

Action-oriented approach and new roles of the foreign language teacher

Another breakthrough came when in 2001 the Council of Europe published CEFR, which is believed to be the origin of the action-oriented approach, and according to which speaking a foreign language is to facilitate mutual action, as teaching aims at preparing the learners for collaboration. What are the implications of this change in the foreign language teacher's role? The action aspect of the teacher's role to coordinate communicative circumstances may involve, among other things, suggesting that the students perform the tasks which develop both their general and language competences. As an example of such actions, they may work on educational projects, which require that the learners engage themselves and contribute fully. Jolanta Sujecka-Zając (2016:120 et al.) calls this role of the foreign language teacher the role of a “sensitive cognitive mediator”, who, by taking intermediary actions and being involved in a teaching dialogue with the students, assists them in developing their own learning competences.

Introducing the action-oriented approach into language teaching – based on the concept of learning through social involvement – CEFR changed the perception of an effective foreign language teacher, who on one hand has gained more autonomy, and on the other hand has to meet higher requirements resulting from, assigned to him/her time and time again, new roles proposed by the contemporary foreign language teaching, which to an increasingly greater extent departs from being focused on shaping the communicative language competence and supplying knowledge directly, focusing rather on developing students’ independent thinking, responsibility, and stimulating their creative attitudes to problem solving.


Pluralistic approach and a role of the foreign language teacher

CEFR confronted the foreign language teachers with yet one more essential task, namely, developing students’ communicative plurilingual and pluricultural competences. By introducing the concept of plurilingualism, the CEFR authors highlight the significance of learners’ all language experiences and assumes that the languages a learner knows or have encountered are in some way interrelated. This definition implies that the traditionally perceived command of a foreign language as an opposition to one's native language competence is being replaced by a single common communicative competence for all known languages or their varieties. Said approach forces the foreign language teacher to accept a new function of motivating students to learn foreign languages making use of the ones they already know (including their native), and making them realise what benefits it gives them.

The development of students’ communicative plurilingual and pluricultural competences is particularly evident in teaching foreign languages to multilingual and multicultural classes. With regard, however, to a growing cultural and linguistic diversity of societies in Europe, the ability to use the pluralistic approach will continue to gain greater significance. This situation will also give rise to the foreign language teachers having to obtain new teaching skills in more and more heterogenous schools and face the challenge of teaching learners who speak different languages (often not knowing the language of instruction used in the school) and hailing from various education systems.

These concepts have been reflected in the Council Recommendation on a comprehensive approach to the teaching and learning of languages of May 2018, which indicates that the multicultural and multilingual class teaching competences must be introduced into the curricula of foreign language teacher education.

Foreign language teacher as a cognitive intermediary

In 2018, the CoE experts published CEFR Companion Volume with New Descriptors. In addition to a considerable widening of the language fluency scales, the researchers proposed a new approach to mediation, with its linguistic, cultural, social and pedagogical dimensions stressed (North i Piccardo 2016:8-11). A particular attention should be drawn to the fact that the importance of pedagogical mediation as a form of effective teaching has been highlighted. Within such approach, the foreign language teacher becomes a mediator “between the students’ knowledge, experiences and skill of critical thinking” (Janowska 2017:84). Jolanta Sujecka-Zając (2017:120 et al.) points out the role of the teacher as a “sensitive cognitive mediator”, who, by taking intermediary actions and being involved in a teaching dialogue with the students, assists them in developing their own learning competences.

It is worth noting that North and Piccardo (2016:8-11) distinguish two types of mediation: relational mediation and cognitive mediation.According to the researchers, the relational mediation refers mainly to oral communication and is aimed at providing friendly contacts and collaboration between the communicative process participants. It also facilitates the cognitive mediation, which is focused on using one’s knowledge and pluri- and multilingual competences to form and transmit meanings.



Teaching the so-called 21st-century competences by foreign language teachers has been touched upon during the last two decades in a series of documents, reports and publications of the international institutions, e.g. OECD, European Commission, Council of Europe, as well as in the papers of Polish and foreign specialists in foreign language teaching. The need to redefine the sets of competences existing so far in teaching results from more and more complex requirements of the modern, globalised, multicultural and multilingual job market, which is based on knowledge and digital interrelations. Employers are now demanding their employees to have competences which not so long ago were not prioritised in recruitment procedures.

The term “21st century competences”, or “21st century skills”, was defined for the first time in 2002 in the USA, when the National Education Association U.S. Department of Education and other leading business and educational organisations in the USA set up the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. The establishment of P21 was aimed at introducing competences needed to function in the modern world to schools’ curricula. The list of the 21st century competences was set out by the consortium in three categories: learning and innovation skills, digital skills and the skills needed in life and career. Each of these categories contain further skill sets, such as: creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem solving, communication, intercultural interactions, collaboration in a group, information search and management, media literacy, ICT use, lifelong learning and adapting to changing circumstances, social, intercultural and leadership skills etc. In 2008, the U.S. National Council of Teachers of English prepared a system of competences combining the development of linguistic and social competences. In Europe, the European Commission published in 2018 an updated set of key competences, which in the context of promoting the idea of multilingualism considerably broadens the understanding of language teaching and learning. Considering the above, defining the foreign language teachers’ competences should be based on three principles:

  • Each teacher is a foreign language teacher;
  • The foreign language teacher should support, develop and use the learners’ own background language assets;
  • The teacher should be able to mediate between languages which belong to learners’ plurilingual repertoire, read their language codes and apply integrated teaching approaches, which would assist the learner of a foreign language in finding links between the languages taught at school and those they encountered in other contexts (Council of Europe 2010).

The above-discussed competences form a foundation for the extraordinarily important role the foreign language teacher should play in the 21st century, namely, an intercultural, cognitive and relational mediator. Facilitating the intercultural dialogue, creating friendly learning conditions and collaboration, as well as transferring and explaining meanings, these three types of mediation constitute the objectives of a contemporary foreign language teacher, which go far beyond the foreign language teaching oriented at preparing the students for external exams. The international research (OECD 2017) proves that thorough pedagogical knowledge, which not only helps accomplish the above-mentioned mediation objectives, but teach to the varied educational needs students efficiently, is also one of the elements which ensure competent foreign language teaching in the modern world.

The standards for foreign language teachers’ knowledge and professional competences change together with the changing methods of foreign language teaching. They respond, as it was repeatedly highlighted, to the changes in society, politics, economy and technology. However, never before has the foreign language teacher had to face such a variety of challenges and expectations emerging out of so many sources, from the students and parents, to international organisations which seek to standardise the teaching profession, to national and regional education bodies and researchers. It is not the diversity of requirements that is at stake, though, but the fact that they often contradict one another. Education authorities’ expectations for high results in foreign language external exams run counter to time assigned for learning those languages and parents, who instead of testing grammar skill, would rather see their children making progress in achieving communicative goals and succeeding in intercultural dialogue when meeting foreigners (Komorowska 2015b:18). Learners’ expectations for the foreign language classes to be engrossing and based mainly on the cutting-edge ICT are at odds with the aim of language learning which is the verbal communication as part of working together in a diversified group. The expectations towards foreign language teaching in schools and colleges are more and more frequently put forward by employers themselves, who require that their prospective staff have high, both verbal and written, linguistic competences, intercultural skills needed for working in international environments, and acquire advanced technology literacy for devices which usually must be operated with the use of a specific jargon within a foreign language.

Preparing the learners for living up to the expectations which rise in the modern world and equipping them with “the 21st century competences” requires that the foreign language teachers supplement their conventional teaching methods with innovative, and supported with the latest test results, techniques and approaches. Being familiar with, and having skills to employ them is only possible by constant and autonomous professional training, as well as through collaboration with other teachers who come from varied cultural and language backgrounds, adapting well to new circumstances, and reflection on one's own practice and demand for acquiring new competences. One should remember, however, that becoming a foreign language teacher does not merely involve continuous exploration of the language teaching skills and knowledge, but it principally entails understanding the intrinsic nature, based both on subjectivity and individuality, of being a foreign language teacher, which goes far beyond teaching the subject – a foreign language.



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Teacher Education Policy in Europe is an international network of institutions engaged in teacher education; see:

For the full text of the OECD document: The Future of Education and Skills. Education 2030 go to:


The organisation is now called the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and is run in dozen or more U.S. states For more information on P21 go to:

Because the document is written for the American teachers, English is interpreted as the learners’ native language.

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