ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín


By Yufrainy Perea Palacios

The aim of this paper is to analyze national standards for English and how they reflect (or do not) my local contexts, bearing in mind the Critical Literacy instruction, and some theories about the Colombian educational policies and relating them to our context, before doing so it is useful to define some concepts such as what is standards and provide information concerning some important issues that has to do with the further discussion in this paper.

 What is Standard?

According to the Glossary of Education reform (2014), they are explained as “written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. Learning standards describe educational objectives, what students should have learned by the end of a course, grade level, or grade span—but they do not describe any particular teaching practice, curriculum, or assessment method (although this is a source of ongoing confusion and debate)”.

Colombian context

Colombia is the fifth largest country in Latin-America and with a population of 26 millions of inhabitants, it takes the third place after Brazil and Mexico is regards to its population. Its population is young and relatively dense. More than a third part of the Colombians are younger than fifteen years old. Colombians are an ethnic mix of the inhabitants from the region with people from Africa, Europe and Middle East. Afro Colombian and indigenous constitute the largest minority groups with the 11% and the 3% of the population respectively. (Hernández and Pinilla, 2010).most of Colombians (76%) lives in urban areas, although urbanization rates vary significantly throughout the country (OECD, 2015a). Population and development levels are concentrated in some departments and municipalities. While four municipalities (Bogota, Medellin, Cali and Barranquilla) have over 1 million inhabitants, of the 1,122 municipalities existing populations, some 746 have fewer than 20,000 inhabitants. These sparsely populated rural areas, mainly located in the east of the country, face particular challenges of infrastructure, security, poverty and development. Colombian the Colombian executive branch is headed by the president, vice president and cabinet ministers.democratic republic is one of the oldest and most stable democracies in Latin America.  The president and congress (102 senators and 122 representatives) are elected by popular vote for four-year terms Colombia’s 32 departments and the Capital District of Bogota have administrative autonomy.

Guidance of National standards for English

The education general law (ley 115 de 1994) establishes that educational institutions must offer their students a foreign language learning which begins from the elementary level. Consequently, MEN sets up curriculum guidelines in order to guide the students´ learning –teaching process in elementary and media education. However, most of students kept showing a low level of English .At the end of 2004, the Education Ministry supplied the need to count on a common reference framework for learning, teaching and assessment of languages by adopting the Common European Framework. From this common reference framework firstly were set up the Estándares Básicos de Competencias, which were published in December 2006. In accordance with Colombia Aprende the main purpose of Programa Nacional de Bilingüismo is that Colombian citizens are able to communicate in English with internationally comparable standards, which get the country involved in universal communication processes, in the global economy and cultural openness. The standards guideline establishes levels of performances and the required competences in order to promote an integrated and gradual development of language. The Basic Skills Standards in Foreign Languages  are grouped into sets of grades: from first to third, from fourth to fifth , from sixth to seventh,   from eighth to ninth and from tenth to eleventh grade.  The common European Framework levels scale (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2) was adopted and related to the names teachers use to call the different levels of performance (beginner, elementary, pre intermediate, intermediate, pre advanced and advanced). So that the beginner is for the level A1 which covers the grades first, second and third. The A2 covers the grades fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh, B1 for eight, ninth, tenth and eleventh. B2, C1 and C2 are for English teachers and professionals from other careers. By the implementation of the standards students are expected to develop the communicative competence, which at the same time includes: linguistic, pragmatic and metalinguistic competence. The standards of English are properly divided into listening, reading, writing, monologue and conversation.

A reflexion about standards

By giving an inside look to the standards we are summoned to analyze and critique their motivations, components, restrictions, implications and so on. One of the motivations behind the creation of the standards is that citizens are able to get into a globalized world, in regards to this Fandiño, Bermudez and Lugo (2012) argues that a deeper analysis shows English is not the only condition for the globalized processes. As cited by them Graddol indicates that “global English is altogether too ethnocentric to permit a broader understanding of the complex ways in which the spread of English is helping to transform the world and in which English, in turn, is transformed by the world” (2006, p. 59). At the same time Mufwene (2010) brings up what he called ´´the fallacy of globalized English“: the overvaluation of the role of English in the global economy. This overvaluation is appreciated in context such as Colombian´s, where there is a disproportion between rural and urban population.

In places that are still on the margins of economic globalization, the presence of English remains scant, especially where the rural population still exceeds the urban one. Although one will always come across peddlers who manage to speak some English at craft markets and in other touristic areas, for commercial purposes, the proportion of educated people who still do not speak English (confidently) is too high to be overlooked (Mufwene, 2010, p. 46).

Likewise, Fandiño, Bermudez and Lugo (2012) state that the lineaments of PNB seem just to reflect the transposition of certain international standards pro the globalization to our educational system. Without a public reflexion over its background and relevance. They argue that the lineaments attempt not to take into account the globalization specific contexts. Consequently Areiza (2008) points out that the globalization process which purpose is the cultural and economic development of the towns is being carrying out without taking into account elements such as the interests and strengthening of particular cultures. Consequently, as cited in De Mejía (2006), Valencia (2005) explains how the globalization affects the cultural diversity in our country:

“As a result of globalization and widespread use of English worldwide, the term ‘bilingüismo’ has acquired a different meaning in the Colombian context. It is used by many …to refer almost exclusively to Spanish/English bilingualism…. This focus on Spanish/English bilingualism now predominates and the other dimensions of multilingualism and cultural difference in Colombia are often ignored. The existence of other languages in different regions of the country is overlooked, particularly the languages of indigenous Colombian populations. The teaching of other modern languages (e.g. French …) has also been undermined by the spread of English and by people’s increasing desire to ‘invest’ in English”. (p.1).

On the other hand, it is worthwhile to refer to the CEF which played an important role in the creation of standards, although some national teachers from all over the country took part on this  the influence of the European Common Framework turns the standards in an English program which responds to the needs of other context. The common European framework was designed bearing in mind the European and North American context which are made up of developed countries with strong economic and educational conditions better than ours. This is supported in Ayala and Alvarez (2004) who argue:

The CEF is designed to achieve political, cultural, academic, and

Economic objectives. It is necessary to consider that it was elaborated to

Suit specific needs and characteristics that were identified in the European

Context. The most relevant characteristics are ethnic richness, language variety

And the geographical conditions encountered on the continent that make it a

Multicultural and multilingual society. (p.13).


Putting the CEFR issue aside, it is necessary to take a look on the socio-political and economical situation of our country. As above mentioned Colombia is a country with high rates of poverty, the social inequality between rich and poor has an especial impact on Education the standards program attempt to ignore this by assuming all students are in the same conditions to learn what must learn in English and ignore the wide gap between public and private school or between rural or public schools. (Ayala and Álvarez 2005 p.4).

On the other hand it is worthwhile to turn to the relation between the standards and textbook, since the standards foster the implementation of textbooks whose content do not strengthen cultural identity since they are created by international publishers, in accordance with Dendrinos 1992 the textbooks used to the English teaching are characterized to be designed by foreign authors.  In the author’s viewpoint it is because local teachers do not have a native communicative competence in foreign language which is relevant for the production of learning materials for teaching English. As supported in Truscott, Ordoñez and Fonseca (2006) the features of this kind of material do not take into account neither learners´ needs and expectations, nor their cultural background.


As far as I concern, as an English teacher on one hand, I am bounded by educational Colombian policies to develop a special English program in order my student get the expected level and this was shown by the results of the national test Saber 11, but on the other hand, as a ML2 student I am summoned to undertake pedagogical practices, which lead my students become conscious of how importance and worthy is our cultural and ethnic identity. As cited in Fajardo (2015) and supported in (Gainer, 2010; Vasquez, Muise, Adamson, Hefferman, Chiola-Nakai, & Shear, 2003),

´´Critical literacy educators provide students with the opportunity to question,   resist, and reconstruct textual representations that do not correspond to their own identities´´. (p.4).

Consequently, as cited in Mora (2014) and supported in Janks (2014) in spite of the pressure to teach English for a Globalized world, teachers must be conscious the significance of critical literacy.

1719 words

Areiza, R. (2008). ¿Lenguas en contacto o lenguas en conflicto?: lenguas amenazadas. Lenguas en contacto y bilingüismo, 1, 11-20.

Ayala Zárate, J., Álvarez, V., & Aldemar, J. (2005). A perspective of the implications of the Common European Framework implementation in the Colombian socio-cultural context. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, (7), 7-26.

De Mejía, A. M. (2006). Bilingual education in Colombia: Towards a recognition of languages, cultures and identities. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, (8), 152-168.

De Mejía, A. D., Ordóñez, C. L., & Fonseca, L. (2006). Estudio investigativo sobre el estado actual de la educación bilingüe (inglés-español) en Colombia.

Dendrinos, B. (1992). The EFL textbook and ideology. Grivas.ISO 690.

FAJARDO, M. F. (2015). A review of critical literacy beliefs and practices of English language learners and teachers. University of Sydney Papers in TESOL, 10.

Fandiño-Parra, Y. J., Bermúdez-Jiménez, J. R., & Lugo-Vásquez, V. E. (2012). The challenges facing the National Program for Bilingualism: Bilingual Colombia. Educación y Educadores, 15(3), 363-381.

Graddol, D. (2008). Why global English may mean the end of ‘English as a foreign language’. ULIS.

The Glossary of Education Reform. For Journalists, Parents and Community members (2014). Learning standards. Portland, USA. Great schools partnership. Retrieved from .

 Mora, R. A. (2014). Critical literacy as policy and advocacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 58(1), 16-18.

Mufwene, S. S. (2010). Globalization, global English, and world English (es): Myths and facts. The handbook of language and globalization, 3155.

VALENCIA, S. (2005) Bilingualism and English language teaching in Colombia: A critical outlook. Paper presented at the ELT conference. Universidad del Quindío, Armenia.October, 2005.




  1. ML2
    August 18, 2016


    I agree with you when you say that the “Estandares” don`t fit our context. They forget that Colombia is a multilingual country. I see those as way to impose this language in our context, no matter what.

    On the other hand, the “estandares” have little to do with other governmental policies regarding foreign languages in Colombia.


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