What is the Action-oriented Approach to Language Education?

We recently published The Action-oriented Approach by Enrica Piccardo and Brian North. In this post the authors explain what is meant by the action-oriented approach.

Many people seem to be convinced that language methodologies have not progressed beyond the communicative turn, and that all more recent developments are just a refinement or extension of the communicative approach. In particular many who are familiar with the CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) think that it simply promotes the communicative approach and provides a set of levels to define competence in the four skills. In fact, by seeing the user/learner as a social agent engaging in different types of language activities, the CEFR introduced rich concepts like the action-oriented approach, mediation and plurilingualism, which called for further development.

Our book The Action-oriented Approach explains the distinct characteristics of the approach and shows the way in which, over the past thirty years, different complementary theories and bottom-up experimentation have enabled the development of an innovative, holistic form of language education.

The action-oriented approach is growing significantly on the ground as a means to provide motivating, realistic, project-based language teaching linked to the promotion of interculturality and Competences for Democratic Culture (CDC).

 Whilst it is difficult to summarise the action-oriented approach in a few lines, and not all aspects listed below are present in all examples, the main tenets of the overall approach are:

  • Backwards design of teaching modules (3-10 lessons) working towards ‘can-do’ aims (learning outcomes)
  • Acceptance rather than avoidance of complexity, with scaffolding as necessary
  • Authenticity/credibility of the scenario for the task/project in the module, with a focus also on the authenticity of materials, and autonomy to research different source materials
  • A unifying task at the end of the module, which probably contains several phases including: reception, interaction, mediation, and the (co-)production of an artefact, plus a reflection phase at the end
  • A pluri-/ inter-cultural focus at some point in the module
  • Agency to decide how to go about accomplishing the task/project; collaboration: and co-construction of meaning through the mediation of concepts and/or communication
  • Increasing language awareness
  • Integration of additional languages, in terms of openness to learners’ linguistic (and cultural) resources and support to plurilanguaging within and beyond the language classroom
  • Feedforward and feedback in a iterative approach adopted to build self-efficacy
  • (Self-)assessment of the outcomes, informally, both at the level of the individual user/learner and as regards the scenario/module itself

The recently published CEFR Companion Volume with new descriptors has further supported the definition of the Action-oriented approach with its focus on mediation, strategic learning and plurilingualism.

Further information can be found on the following Council of Europe websites:

Language Policy


Enrica Piccardo: enrica.piccardo@utoronto.ca

Brian North: bjnorth@eurocentres.com


For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like From Principles to Practice in Education for Intercultural Citizenship edited by Michael Byram, Irina Golubeva, Han Hui, Manuela Wagner.