Switzerland's education authorities are to adopt a Council of Europe assessment programme to enable learners to compare language skills according to a common standard.
The European language portfolio (ELP) was initiated by the EU and the Council of Europe to help compare the standards of language students, encourage multi-lingualism and to ease the mutual recognition of language certificates across Europe.
The heads of education departments in all 26 cantons agreed at their regular coordinating meeting on Thursday to launch a version of the ELP as Switzerland's contribution to the European Year of Languages.
The Swiss ELP, a personal document in the form of a binder that can be updated, should allow pupils from the age of nine, as well as adults who complete a language course, to measure their skills in a way that is compatible with international standards.
"We hope that the measure will boost the motivation of students to acquire new languages, or to improve their standards in languages they have already learnt," said Hans Ulrich Stöckling, president of the conference of cantonal education directors.
Of all the European council member states that took up the idea in 1991, Switzerland was the first to begin research and trials of an ELP in 45 schools. The version presented on Thursday is the final one.
Johanna Panthier, head of the modern languages division of the Council of Europe said at the presentation that Switzerland's contribution had been crucial in developing the ELP scheme. "Each country will have its own language portfolio, but I'm sure that after the excellent document that's been developed here, many education authorities across Europe will draw from the Swiss version."
Stöckling said that schools and learning institutions should now encourage the use of the new document. "The language portfolio will only become popular if it is seen to be used widely", he said. Employer organisations and trade unions also expressed their support and promised to encourage the use of the ELP.
The Swiss ELP has the shape of a binder and is divided in three parts. The first gives an overview of the language skills of the individual holder at a given time. It allows the student to assess his skills, but also lists exams passed or certificates acquired.
The second part consists of a "biography" of a student and lists details about which courses and tests have been taken, while the third part contains personal achievements, which provide further indications of how capable a holder is in a particular language.
"The idea is not only for the student to be able to present his skills, but also to lend guidance in the process of learning", Stöckling said.