Foreign languages: what is a good teacher?


At a time when the training and recruitment of teachers is about to undergo a new reform, we ask the question of what is a good language teacher. Indeed, if the shortcomings of French students in this area continue to be pointed out ( CNESCO 2019 ), they are often put in parallel with the training of teachers, considered inappropriate, in a link of cause and effect that would be obvious.

What is it really ? What are the essential skills and how to develop them effectively? It goes without saying that fluency in the language at a high level is an essential prerequisite. Oddly enough, however, the level targeted by future teachers is never mentioned in the official instructions of the Ministry of Education.

Bearing in mind that some high school courses (in terminology L, advanced living language) are aimed at level C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages ( CEFR 2001 ), we would therefore be entitled to expect teachers at least an immediate higher level, ie a level C2 (the highest level on the skill scale).

The question is whether this level is a realistic goal to achieve as licenses specialize more and more late . Indeed, it is important to note the very special status of languages: these are the only disciplines that need to be used for their teaching, the object to be taught (language-object) being the same as the teaching medium ( language tool).

Class dynamics

Updating the knowledge of the language teacher is therefore a real challenge in that it does not only teach facts (linguistic, cultural, etc.) that could be learned in books, but where it is brought to communicate in the language to teach his students to communicate, which requires maintaining a regular practice.

One of the objectives of the main recruitment competition for secondary language teachers (CAPES) is precisely to check the level of proficiency in the language: from this point of view, the current balance between disciplinary tests and tests professional seems to be very relevant. However, it risks being undermined in the announced changes to CAPES, which is intended to be more professional (see Ronzeau report and Saint-Girons 2019 ).

Beyond this specificity of the discipline itself, researchers ( Borg 2006 ) have been able to identify certain characteristics specific to language teaching, corresponding to as many skills to be developed by future teachers.


  • the variety of interaction patterns within a session (communication between students and teachers, between pupils, work in pairs, groups, etc.), is essential to the development of the student’s ability to interact, it implies the ability to organize group work and engage students in activities that allow them to interact and co-act with their classmates (not just with the teacher);
  • the particular place of error , since the language teacher does not only value the linguistic correction of pupils’ productions (ie the absence of grammatical errors, for example) but also pragmatic and sociolinguistic skills. This implies being able to analyze students’ work more comprehensively in order to propose appropriate consolidation or remediation actions that do not only concern grammar and its lexicon. In other words, it’s about dealing with errors more positively.

Retreat of research

It is important to recognize that future teachers all have a background – consisting of previous knowledge and experience – and that redefining this background and transforming it into didactic and professional skills is the essence of training. .

It is therefore essential to engage future teachers in a process of awareness and, ideally, the evolution of their initial representations because these are often derived from their own experiences as a language learner and / or from the ambient speech on language learning.

More generally, reflective activity, based on observation or practice, also deserves to occupy a central place when it is accepted that teaching is not the simple application of pedagogical routines. (or “recipes”). It is in fact to make the future teacher autonomous to adapt his practice to various situations. This involves taking a step back from practice, colleagues and other modeling practices that are not always based on research findings.

It is also the reflexivity that it generates that makes research an essential training path, even if it does not mean the mere transmission of scientific knowledge (from research) to teachers in training. We speak indeed of training in research, epistemological and methodological, and training byresearch, which corresponds to driving, by training teachers, research activities related to the field.

In this perspective, action research, which starts from a field problem that we try to solve by regular back and forth between theory and practice, as well as data collection and analysis. field, is particularly suited to the development of teachers’ professional skills. In addition, familiarizing teachers with research makes them literate readers of the literature in language didactics, from a lifelong perspective.


While transnational teaching experiences are still rare in language teacher training courses because of their difficult integration into the Master MEEF curriculum (teaching, education and training professions), their benefits have have been noted quite systematically by the researchers. Firstly, internships in schools abroad allow trainee teachers to develop their language and intercultural skills.

Because they allow them to be in contact with different educational policies and to discover other pedagogical practices, they also promote a better appreciation and consideration of cultural diversity in the classroom, and therefore greater empathy for children. students with an immigrant background, as well as a greater ability to adapt to unanticipated situations.

These courses thus make it possible to kill two birds with one stone, opening up skills that are both disciplinary (in the language to be taught) and professional (on how to teach this language).

Finally, it should be noted that it seems a little easy to make the weight of the (quite relative) failure of language learning in France solely on the shoulders of teachers, without ever seriously considering the question of the hourly volumes devoted to teaching. languages, the size of groups, available equipment or exposure to languages ​​outside the classroom.

The new reform of the high school committed provides indeed an average of two hours of language per week (for those who would not choose the specialty teaching) and promises groups to 35 pupils (see the record of the interview of the APLV with DGESCO ). Under these conditions, would reforming the organization of teaching not be more effective than reforming teacher training once again?

Anyway, the good language teacher we are trying to train is first and foremost

  • a teacher who has been given the means to master his discipline during his university studies (time for learning and specialization, internationalization of training);
  • a reflexive teacher, able to take a step back on his own practice, on the resources and other textbooks at his disposal, but also on instructions and official documents;
  • a reader aware of the research work in language didactics who wishes to continue his training beyond his internship year;
  • a national education staff who will be given the means to make all their students succeed (hourly volumes, size of groups), if only by the “confidence” that will be given to him to make the right decisions in the future. within his class.

Author Bio: Cédric Sarré is a Lecturer in English and didactics of languages at Sorbonne University