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Towards a European Citizenship: Content-based Learning Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo El concepto de ciudadanía europea conlleva dos implicaciones fundamentales para el aula de L2: la puesta en marcha de una educación plurilingüe / pluricultural y el desarrollo de una identidad social europea. Teniendo en cuenta la dificultad práctica de estos dos objetivos propuestos, el capítulo apoya la concepción del proceso de enseñanza / aprendizaje de una L2 desde una perspectiva holística, es decir, un punto de vista en el que el éxito en el aprendizaje esté basado no sólo en cuestiones cognitivas sino también afectivas. En este sentido, la enseñanza basada en contenidos constituye un enfoque útil en el que desarrollar este planteamiento. Combinada con el aprendizaje cooperativo, donde los alumnos trabajan en pequeños grupos estructurados, la enseñanza basada en contenidos permite no sólo el desarrollo cognitivo y lingüístico de los alumnos sino también el desarrollo de una identidad común. En definitiva, el artículo pretende transmitir que si se pretende desarrollar una ciudadanía europea en el aula de L2, es preciso tener en cuenta no sólo las habilidades cognitivas y lingüísticas sino también las sociales.



In the last few years of the ongoing European unification process, the Council of Europe has responded to the complex diversity of our continent through a series of guidelines, policies and documents devoted to creating a European citizenship. Such a citizenship is guaranteed by the European Constitution, where it is stated that “Every national of a Member State shall be a citizen of the Union.Citizenship of the Union shall be additional to national citizenship and shall not replace it.” (European Parliament 2004: article I-10). The equivalence of terms (‘nationality’ of a member state = ‘citizen’ of the Union) in the article I-10 inevitably leads to the link binding language and nationality, which is not a recent issue. History has repeatedly shown that a common nationality may push governments towards monolingualism. Examples of attempts towards monolingualism abound. Most were promoted through the discouragement of one language or another in different parts of the world as a way of bringing about national cohesion (Wringe 1996: 71). Compared to this view, monolingualism can also be thought of as a ‘curable disease’ – in Edward Said’s fortunate expression. If such were the case, Europe would fulfil the requirements, then, of a perfectly-healthy language speaking community. Taking its own linguistic diversity as its point of departure – which could be observed as a drawback for some – Europe has turned this diversity into one of its linguistic keystones: plurilingualism. Documents such as The


Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo

Common European Framework (Council of Europe 2001) or The European Portfolio (Council of Europe 2001) show an unavoidable link between European citizenship and plurilingualism. In effect, historical linguists place the intellectual birth of Europe in the existence of different groups on the Continent sharing the same geographical and cultural past but speaking different tongues (Eco 1998). The respect for plurilingualism present on many occasions in European history is unparalleled in other civilizations. This is represented, for instance, in the maxim that presided over the trading activity in the Bruges stockmarket in the XVIth c. in usum negotiatiorum cuiuscumque nationis ac linguae. What the goal of this linguistic, social, political and global movement seems to be is nothing short of the individual acceptance and approval of the overall socio-political project of uniting under a common citizenship. This fact has important consequences for education in general and L2 education in particular. Teaching and learning other continental languages will achieve the goals of 1) mobility, 2) preservation of labour rights and 3) interaction among natives from various countries. This will make European plurilingual speakers more tolerant, with a more open-minded attitude towards others, more maturity and more independence of thought. Being plurilingual is not only society or career oriented. It also has also positive aspects for the individual’s cognitive skills and overall development as a human being: Being able to think about something in different languages can enrich our understanding of concepts, and help broaden our conceptual mapping resources. This allows better association of different concepts and helps the learner go towards a more sophisticated level of learning in general. (Marsh 2003: 8)

As the Common European Framework stresses, plurilingualism is not to be mistaken with multilingualism. In contrast with a person who can speak several languages – a multilingual speaker, a plurilingual individual […] does not keep these languages and cultures in strictly separated mental compartments, but rather builds up a communicative competence to which all knowledge and experience of language contributes and in which languages interrelate and interact. (Common European Framework: 4)

A tacit agreement has been reached that instead of language knowledge, all that can be required from EU citizens is a ‘communicative competence’. This point is clearly illustrated in the Common European Framework, where a new competence is laid out: ‘existential competence’. Shifting the focus from the computational components of the language to the attitudinal realm, the Common European Framework ascertains that after all the knowledge of a language is a very affective matter after all, depending ultimately on one’s willingness and desire to communicate. In short, what can be required of Europeansis tolerance towards the so called confusio linguarum.

Towards a European citizenship: Content-based learning


Emphasis is also given to the fact that individuals learn a language based cultural patterns. This interrelation between culture and language brings us to Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory (Vygotsky 1978, 1992, 1996). Speakers build up their own knowledge within a given social and cultural framework, which goes beyond the boundaries of the individual. This cultural and social framework the individual is embedded in makes them participants in a language and a nationality. Language is learnt in society, which is understood as the small groups that (culturally) make it up: family, school, groups of friends, colleagues, etc. Research has proven that the perception of groups arises very early in childhood. Children (as young as six years old) are already conscious of the existence of different groups and they even hold opinions towards national groups (Zlobina 2003: 788). In its 17th article, the European Constitution goes on to state: “Citizenship of the Union shall complement and not replace national citizenship.” As with plurilingualism, where the individual compares and contrasts different languages, European citizenship should not replace national citizenship. But is it actually possible to create a transnational social identity through L2 teaching and learning, which at the same time respects individual nationalities? This new mindset of plurilingualism, pluriculturalism and a common social identity leading to a European citizenship needs to be materialised in a new conception – if not a philosophy – of language learning and further in a new educational wrapping. The advantages are many, but some difficulties may also be encountered.


European citizenship: ideal assets and real difficulties

European citizenship, a condition to be granted to those who inhabit the countries of the old continent, is a rather ambitious goal. This is so because such citizenship attempts to bring unity among nationals stemming from very different societal conditions and background. The only common ground for these people is the very intangible condition of being Europeans. Social Identity Theory is the result of Henri Tajfel and John Turner’s experiments (Tajfel/Turner 1979) devoted to explaining relationships between large groups such as social classes, categories or nationalities. In this research, minimal groups (groups created according to a number of minimal conditions) were formed: 1) group members had no face-to-face interaction and their personal identity was not known; 2) there was no particular advantage in belonging to a particular group, nor a logical reason for holding a negative attitude against the group, and 3) there was no advantage or gain for the individual as a result of their making a particular response (Shiffman/Wicklund 1992). Minimal groups tried to eliminate all the possible variables that are


Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo

usually linked with favouritism among members of a same group (in-group favouritism) and discrimination against those who do not belong to their group (out-group discrimination). Tajfel and Turner’s experiments showed that, despite the minimal group conditions, individuals appeared to automatically think of their group (to which they had been randomly assigned) as better for them than any alternative outgroup. They also perceived themselves as similar to the members of their groups and different from the other out-groups. The conclusion drawn from their studies proved that individuals have a tendency to sort people into social categories or groups. Once their social world is divided, individuals tend to enhance intergroup boundaries by accentuating similarities within groups and differences between these same categories (Aron/McLaughlin-Volpe 2001: 95). According to this finding, individuals would be generally predisposed to cooperate with those they perceive as similar to themselves (in terms of citizenship, in this case) and would be likely to reject those who they regard as different. The classroom, a world microcosm, reflects this same pattern (Levy et al. 2004: 130). Another thread of social identity research, which is interesting for our purposes, centres on the components of social identity as a concept. There are three distinctive components involved in social identity: 1) a cognitive component, that is, the awareness that you belong to a group from which you can recognize your role in society; 2) an evaluative component: comparing your own group to other groups usually makes you portray your own group in a positive light; 3) an emotional component: those within the same group are viewed as similar to yourself (in-group) while those in other groups are looked upon as different (out-group) (Bergami/Bagozzi 2000: 556). Having these three components in mind, the difficulty of fostering a European citizenship arises when individuals/students identify strongly with a nationality and observe others as members of a particular citizenry, depersonalising them. They are considered as people who react as group members and not as individuals with personal traits or differences with their national group. In other words, following social identity theory, stereotypes and prejudices tend to arise among national groups due to the division drawn between in-groups and outgroups (Zlobina 2003: 783). The questions posed at this point are ‘whether and how’ plurilingualism fits into Social Identity Theory. Language and language variation have usually been thought of as a determining factor not only for categories such as socioeconomic status but also for the social construction of one’s identity. Moreover, knowledge of the national language has been the single most important factor for the acceptance of an outsider as an equal citizen. This is the case in Spain, among many other nations, where knowledge of Spanish ranks first for acceptance as a national, even before religious creed, ethnic origin or race (Díez

Towards a European citizenship: Content-based learning


Medrano 2005). It is also the case in Britain, where more often than not, language tests must be passed as a citizenship requirement (Blackledge 2006). It does not come as a surprise, then, that European policies have developed an ideology that considers identity under a new light. This mindset is based on an idealistic socialization construct, less deterministic and less bound to immanent features like birth place or mother tongue and geared towards plurilingualism/ pluriculturalism. While language knowledge draws the line between the dominant and the dominated, the legal and the illegal, the fellow citizen and the alien, European language policies attempt to construct a society where language variation – as marked by nativeness, accent, code switching among other features – is non-judgementally observed. In tune with new social theories ascertaining that individuals are dynamic selves imbued with a process of continuous growth, European language policies have established the concept of ‘multiple identities’ as a cultural aspiration linked to plurilingualism. By this it is meant that one may add new layers of being to oneself without necessarily eroding one’s first identity – shaped around one’s mother tongue (see Coulmas 1991, Lorenzo 2005, Van Els 2001 for a review). Second and even third language learning are sites for identity construction; taking place in actual scenarios such sites can be negotiated, added to, modified or neglected through one’s own will (Pavlenko/Blackledge 2003, Ushioda 2006). The crux of the argument is that if one becomes a social as well as a linguistic being in infancy, one develops a (more) moral being during adulthood as new languages are incorporated, that is, as plurilingualism comes into scene. It is in this sense that identity theoreticians have attempted to relate the concept of European identity to plurilingualism over the years. They argue that L2 learning is part of secondary and tertiary socialization processes, which help to enlarge one’s ego boundaries primarily tied to the small world of one’s mother tongue. What this process causes is not only cognitive growth but also a richer and wider understanding of the world and that being the case, a moral socialization (Byram/Tost 1999).


Implications of the creation of a European citizenship for L2 teaching and learning

Unarguably, the project of a common European citizenship is an ambitious one in political, linguistic and social terms. Moreover, it should be remembered here that the European Union as it is understood is arising from a contradiction in terms: the fact that ‘union’ may arise from ‘diversity’. European citizenship stands, therefore, at a far too theoretical level. Its actual implementation would


Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo

not be tangible if it did not take shape in an educational embodiment consistent with the theoretical corpus. In this sense, content-based instruction is the ultimate evidence in the educational realm. It puts an end to the atavistic bond between language and national loyalty, shifting from monolingualism to plurilingualism. It is for this reason that, as mentioned above, content-based instruction is considered to be a European solution to a European need (see Marsh 2002 for a review). It should be added, perhaps, that it is not the solution to an instrumental need – the most common orientation in language learning – but to an essential integrative need of the Continent. Cooperative learning, on the other hand, leads effectively to different forms of interactive and communicative talk, fostering collaboration and promotion of social skills. First implemented in the USA as part of the endeavours to fight against racial and social segregation, cooperative learning techniques have been equally successful in European contexts (see Casal 2005 for a review). Both being umbrella terms (content-based learning falling under the wider umbrella term of bilingual teaching and cooperative learning covering different team-based approaches), both concepts have been created to work out solutions to political and social problems: content-based instruction as a means of coping with linguistic diversity and cooperative learning as a way of dealing with discrimination and social and racial segregation. Both approaches taken together are geared towards the development of a European identity in a pluralist democratic society.


Building up European citizenship in the classroom: plurilingualism and content-based language learning

One of the basic assumptions of European language policies is that ‘languages are for all’. Furthermore this assumption is a crucial element for democratic citizenship. The equation of language and democracy reaches the extent of total identification, with mottos like ‘more languages, more democracy’ being often brandished in European circles (Bliesener 2003: 82). In a sense, more than a new methodological proposal, content-based instruction is a political move, since it is a particular model of bilingual teaching and does not differ much from the well known Écoles Européennes. The important caveat here is that these schools were for the cultural elite only, whereas content-based instruction is expanding mostly through State school networks. It is only through this insight that one can fully grasp how radically content-based instruction departs from traditional L2 teaching. This happens in a number of fields considered below, such as psycholinguistics or language teaching and learning methodology.

Towards a European citizenship: Content-based learning


Psycholinguistically, content-based instruction differs from mainstream L2 teaching and learning in one fundamental aspect. Teaching an L2 through academic content implies that language will be learnt incidentally, without consistent attention to the formal properties of the language, or at least viewing these elements as secondary. Although there is little doubt that incidental theories of learning are fundamentally correct as opposed to a secular focus-on forms tradition – which interpreted languages in terms of formal objectivism – there are not many educational traditions that embrace and foster teaching languages incidentally (Long 2000, Lorenzo 2006). Incidental teaching in content-based instruction affects basic aspects of education. First, language syllabuses tend to vanish and be replaced by academic content. Second, language teachers have to find new areas in teaching, which effectively amounts to them reinventing themselves as practitioners. In many areas content-based instruction has been taken as a model for enhancing language learning in formal settings, including Andalusia, Berlin, Lombardia or Turk (see Wolff/Marsh 2006 for a review). What this has meant is that teachers are asked to incorporate new skills: dual degrees, certified levels of language knowledge or even native competence. It takes a lot of determination for an Educational Administration to initiate a reform of this calibre. The decision is only understandable if it is a response to a political challenge set by the EU. Methodologically, content-based instruction also departs from traditional L2 learning and teaching. Although communicative methods and notional syllabuses were of European inspiration, it soon became clear that this attempt had fallen short of the European ambitions to spread plurilingualism. Although content-based learning does not normally depart from a communicative rationale – in fact one of its most common shapes is task-based teaching – it incorporates a new element uncommon in mainstream communicative methods. Usually, in content-based learning communicative activities in content-based learning are geared to developing academic language. The goal is not to make students streetwise but to empower them to take part in high profile professional circles. This being the case, content-based learning empowers students for the same reason that language students are qualified when they develop cognitive academic skills (as opposed to simply intercommunicative skills). Content-based learning sets the path for effective integration in the social world beyond the geolinguistic borders of their tongues. The logic of the educational goals comes full circle with the political goals of the EU. All in all, the content-based learning move has a firm footing in the notion that there is nothing essential that makes European languages different. In any case, they are not different enough to make speakers of different tongues have a different worldview. This would deter them from sharing the same political projects, feelings of belonging, or a common citizenship. This has never been


Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo

questioned, not even by the strongest believers of linguistic relativism (Whorf or Sapir). One of their oft-forgotten intuitions is that there is some underlying similar ground in all European languages that made them all essentially similar. In their own terminology, this is called ‘Standard Average European’. European history proves this fact to be true. The belief that language, nation, and citizenship have had a one-to-one correspondence has not usually been part of the past of the continent (see Braunmüller/Ferraresi 2003, Burke 2004). That is why monoglot ideologies have never and (one dares say) will never succeed in the continent.


Building up European citizenship in the classroom: social skills and cooperative learning

If content-based instruction’s motto is ‘languages are for all’, cooperative learning’s is ‘success for all’ (Slavin 1995). Cooperative learning practitioners aim to help all students to reach the highest levels of achievement, giving special attention to disadvantaged children such as those from minority groups. That is why cooperative learning has been used consistently in bilingual contexts. As content-based instruction, cooperative learning differs from mainstream L2 teaching and learning. As opposed to the traditional teacher monologue, cooperative learning techniques allow students to learn by contrasting and comparing what they have assimilated with what their classmates did. Students become more aware of the opinions of others and benefit from those different perspectives. Likewise, they learn to negotiate and, where necessary, to give up their own interests in favour of the group objective. Psycholinguistically, cooperative learning articulates elements from three different perspectives: 1) learning is a social process that relies on interaction with others. Communicative interaction provides the development of cognitive and personal growth, interpersonal relationships and peformance in social groups different from their own; 2) L2 learning involves negotiation of meaning. Interactive situations which occur in cooperative situations offer participants the chance to explain their point of view and communicate it in an understandable manner and to be in the position of explaining, giving instructions or helping others to perform a common task; 3) L2 learning needs affective support. When the groups communicate something to the rest of the class, the students find a better support and they feel more confident because their answer is not only theirs, but the group’s. Students may also encourage each other, feeling that they are not studying for themselves, but for the group’s sake. Methodologically, cooperative learning does not simply consist of placing the students in different groups and expecting them to carry out their task together. Johnson and Johnson (1999) state that for the students to work in a truly

Towards a European citizenship: Content-based learning


cooperative way, the educational context must comply with a series of conditions. First, classroom distribution must enable face-to-face interaction. In an ideal situation, all members of the group can see each other and also the blackboard, allowing the teacher to approach any student. Second, a group task must be assigned, that is, a specific aim the different students must achieve together as a group is necessary. A cooperative setting will not work properly if students simply speak or exchange ideas. The same is true even if they happen to help each other at a given moment when in the end they can carry out their task without the contribution of the rest of the group. This inter-relation is called positive interdependence. There are several ways to transmit this idea to the students, such as making the group share information to accomplish their objective. Third, Johnson and Johnson (1999) maintain that solving common tasks or problems requires the contribution of each of the participants. The group responsibility in the accomplishment of the task objective is supported by that of the individual student. Quoting Cohen (1994: 8), a group task is: a task that requires sources (information, knowledge, heuristic problem-solving strategies, materials and skills) that no single individual possesses so that no single individual is likely to solve the problem or accomplish the task objectives without at least some input from others.

This is known as individual accountability. Each member of the group must feel that they are contributing to the group’s success with their participation and learning. In order to encourage individual accountability each student may perform an individual test, task or written text on the matter of study; one group member might be chosen at random to explain something or answer a question; every member of the group would be responsible for one section of the project, etc. Finally, sufficient resources must be available for the correct development of the activity (Johnson/Johnson 1999). To this purpose, dictionaries, grammar references, etc., should be at hand. Students can be asked to bring their own material from home, such as old games, books, etc. This material can be part of the classroom resources. This way, in a cooperative framework, students are given the chance to know each other and overcome possible misunderstandings and stereotypes. Often such views are held by students against people that are different from themselves as pointed out by Tajfel and Turner. Learning in groups helps the students share their knowledge and their lack of knowledge with their peers. It gives them a more flexible attitude towards the different roles they will need to learn in their lifelong language learning processes.

Sonia Casal and Francisco J. Lorenzo




European citizenship as it is currently understood is based on pluralism (plurilingualism, pluriculturalism) and on being united under a common identity: that of sharing the more or less intangible condition of being European. Apparently stemming from a contradiction (a ‘common’ identity born from ‘pluralism’), European citizenship is reinforced by diversity through the different European guidelines, policies and documents. Diversity represents the real wealth of our continent, unparalleled in other civilizations. However, this ideal and theoretical ideology may encounter some difficulties when put into practice. Two of the problems mentioned in the paper are: 1) the atavistic relationship between language and nation (one language-one nation) and the still important factor of language as the most important, current admission criteria for citziens judging outsiders and 2) the natural human tendency described by Tajfel and Turner’s Social Identity Theory to categorize others into groups, emphasizing similarities with those who belong to the same group or country and stressing differences with those who do not. The implementation of this new mindset, therefore, calls for changes in the educational realm. These changes should contribute to the formation of responsible plurilingual individuals in a pluralist democratic society. Contentbased instruction stands as the solution to the European need of integration. Teaching L2 incidentally through academic content and fostering cognitive academic skills in students are factors. On the other hand, cooperative learning through structured group work not only enhances learning and increases academic achievement and success for all, but also improves socialization processes which serve as the basis for a common European identity.

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