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Teachers’ Perspectives, Practices and Challenges in Multilingual Education

Edited By Nagore Ipiña Larrañaga, Ainara Imaz Agirre, Begoña Pedrosa and Eneritz Garro

The aim of this book is to address teachers’ perspectives, practices and challenges in multilingual education. The book that brings together perspectives and practices in multilingual contexts could be of great interest for researchers, practitioners and stakeholders because it also provides ideas for pedagogical practice and new language policies. It covers key concepts such as emotional aspects of multilingualism, innovation in language teaching and teacher training and challenges in (foreign) language teaching.

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Chapter 8. Challenges in English as a Foreign Language Teaching in the Basque Country: Pre-service and In-service Teachers’ Perspectives (Ainara Imaz Agirre and Agurtzane Bikuña)

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Ainara Imaz Agirre and Agurtzane Bikuña

Chapter 8 Challenges in English as a

foreign Language Teaching in the Basque

Country: Pre-Service and In-Service Teachers’


Abstract: The introduction of innovative English as a Foreign language programmes has revealed a change in the role of the foreign language teacher as well as the need of continuous teacher training (Enever, 2011). Regarding the development of primary English as a foreign language teachers two competencies have been identified as key throughout the teachers’ career (Wilden and Porsch, 2017): language proficiency and subject specific teaching methodologies. Thus, this study examines the perceptions in-service English foreign language (EFL) teachers encounter in their daily practice in the Basque Autonomous Community (Spain). A total of 15 school foreign language expert and novice teachers in primary education were interviewed. Data were collected from semi-structured interviews with the English as a foreign language teachers focusing on teacher training to teach subject-specific content, language competence required to teach primary children and teachers’ concerns regarding the implementation of innovative English as a foreign language programmes in primary education. The analysis of the data showed that teachers shared their views and concerns regarding the criteria examined in the interviews. Foreign language teachers’ concerns were enhanced in schools implementing innovative programmes suggesting the need for reinforcing teacher training in new pedagogical trends. Findings also revealed a need for reflection on the understanding of how current language policies understand language competence for foreign language teachers. In addition, a deeper reflection on the English as a foreign language teacher’s role in primary education is requested.

Keywords: EFL, Pre-service teachers, in-service teachers

1. Introduction

Recent research in the educational field has highlighted the need to address the problems identified by teachers and researchers in the practice of such interaction (Breidbach and Viebrock 2012; Bruton 2013; Laurent & Corey 2017; Llinares, Morton, and Whittaker, 2012; Pérez Cañado 2016). These works have revealed the conceptual and pedagogical limitations that show the previous approaches (CLIL, CBL, etc.). In a similar vein, the introduction of innovative English as a foreign language programmes has revealed a change in the role of ←183 | 184→the foreign language teacher as well as the need of continuous teacher training (Enever, 2011).

In the last decade, the teaching of foreign languages is spreading throughout Europe and the age of introduction at school is extending to younger age groups (De Bot, 2014). Taking this tendency into consideration, researchers are calling for a specific training of foreign language teachers. However, research into the challenges of foreign language teachers is still in its infancy. In pursuit of this goal, the purpose of this research work will be to gather evidence on the training needs and challenges of foreign language teachers. Specifically, to meet the training needs that identify students receiving initial training as well as in-service teacher voices.

2. Theoretical Background

The current educational context of the Basque Autonomous Community has a significant feature: multilingualism. Two official languages, Basque, the minority language, and Spanish, the majority language, co-exist with English, the predominant foreign language at school. Concerning minority language at this stage, around 18,7 % of children’s mother tongue is only Basque, whereas near 10 % of children are bilingual from their homes (Basque Government, 2016). So on average 70 % of children entering pre-primary school do not know the official minority language. So the goal at this early age is to introduce the language to those who do not know it through immersion programs before English (third language) is introduced. This fact influences the introduction of English in pre-primary, which very often starts at the age of three.

As the teaching of foreign languages has widespread in almost all European countries, the reflection on foreign language teaching has also emerged. In recent years, several lines of research have been launched focusing on the foreign language teaching (Lorenzo & Trujillo, 2018). In this vein, research has shown two main issues emerge when the teaching of the foreign language comes to the floor: the methodology used to introduce the foreign language and creating good quality spaces for communication to occur.

There have been many and extensive discussions on methodologies for teaching a foreign language in different fields of research. Also, several approaches have been used to make the teaching a foreign language more meaningful or successful in the last decade. However, research on these approaches has shown mixed results so far. Even though several studies have explored the advantages of CLIL (Cenoz, Genesee & Gorter, 2013; Lasagabaster, 2011; Dalton-Puffer, Llinares, Lorenzo & Nikula, 2014) some other studies have revealed that CLIL ←184 | 185→may not be reaching its full potential (Dalton-Puffer, 2013, 2016; Meyer, Coyle, Halbach, Schuck & Ting, 2015).

The emerging critical research agenda around CLIL points out the conceptual and practical shortcomings such as deficits in academic language use, in the knowledge and in the mastery of writing and oral communication as well as an absence of cognitive discourse functions (Dalton-Puffer, 2013; Meyer et al., 2015). Moreover, several studies (Arum & Roska, 2014; Meyer, Imhof, Coyle & Banerjee, 2018) have shown concerns on students’ learning approach and have emphasised the need to encourage deeper learning by developing the subject specific literacies.

The Pluriliteracies Teaching for Learning (PTL) (Meyer & Coyle, 2017) model attempts to address the conceptual shortcomings of CLIL by focusing on the development of specific literacies and offering pathways for deeper learning across disciplines, languages and cultures. The PTL approach addresses the development of 21st century skills cognitive, linguistic and emotional dimensions of learning. The PTL approach “allows for the design of deeper learning ecologies where mentors and mentees are engaged in the processes of constructing and communicating of knowledge” (Meyer et al., 2018: 241). Moreover, emotional and cognitive engagement are socially constructed and reconstructed in daily and school interactions, emphasising the social nature of the education.

However, apart from the methodological issues, foreign language teaching has a remarkable feature that makes it comparable to second language teaching: having fewer real contexts for using the same language outside educational contexts. This has a direct impact on foreign language teaching. In fact, it tends to create contexts for meaningful and effective communication for the purposes of professionals engaged in the teaching of a foreign language. To this end, a number of research studies have shown that teacher communication skills are of utmost importance in foreign language teaching.

In this respect, as Enever (2011) mentions, the profile of the foreign language teacher for young learners should consider the development of the child’s language and combine them with expertise in the foreign language, which is appropriate for each age. Furthermore, Mourão and Ferreirinha (2016) claim that “both pedagogical and language skills are essential” (p. 10) for foreign language teachers to work with primary and pre-primary young learners. Furthermore, teachers “require an understanding of the principles of pedagogy and child development as well as being sufficiently confident to speak fluently and spontaneously to children in the second language using language considered appropriate for this age group” (p. 10).

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3. The Study

As noted in the previous section, the spread out of foreign language programs to early ages has raised a need of researching teachers’ voices. Furthermore, the changes in education in recent years have led to a profound reflection on the profile of the foreign language teacher. However, very few research studies have considered foreign language teachers’ voices in this context. In order to achieve this aim, the purpose of this research work will be to gather evidence on foreign language teachers’ training needs and challenges. More specifically, to meet the training needs that identify students receiving initial in-service training as well as in-service teacher voices. Considering this gap in research, the following research question was entertained:

i. what challenges do pre-service and in-service English as a foreign language teachers encounter in Primary Education?

a. Participants

A total of 40 English as a foreign language pre-service and in-service teachers in Primary Education were interviewed for this study. On the one hand, 19 pre-service teachers participated in the study. All the participants were in the fourth and last year of Primary Education with a minor in foreign language teaching. At the moment of the interview, student teachers were finishing their school internship in the English as a foreign language classroom. On the other hand, 21 teachers were in-service teachers. All teachers were highly experienced English as a foreign language teachers in Primary education ranging from 11 years until almost 20 years of experience. At the time of the interview, they were working at public or charter schools with a permanent position. Regarding their teaching experience, all teachers acknowledged having left the textbooks aside and they were trying to introduce different approaches or methodologies to teach the foreign language.

Table 1. Description of the Participants

Pre-service teachersIn-service teachers

Number of participants



Years of experience


15 (sd:2.53)

b. Data collection instrument

For the present study, semi-structured interviews were employed due to their flexible approach that allows the interviewee to establish areas of interest ←186 | 187→(Birmingham & Wilkinson, 2003; Zhang & Wildemuth, 2009). Following the requirements and criteria mentioned earlier, individual semi-structured interviews were designed, carried out, transcribed and coded to gather qualitative data and get a holistic view of the phenomenon. Attention in the interviews was specifically paid to three criteria: teachers’ training, methodological aspects and the use of the language. In fact, the questions were open-ended and flexible because the content, the flow of information and the choice of themes vary according to what the interviewer feels, shares and answers in order to approach the real meaning of the answers. The semi-structured interviews lasted on average 45 minutes and interviews were conducted either in Basque or in English. Moreover, it should be noted that all the interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed with the consent of the participants, but their names were replaced by pseudonyms in order to keep their anonymity and ensure the accuracy of the study.

c. Data collection procedure and data analysis

All the data gathered from the interviews were transcribed and coded by the researchers. The units of analysis of this study were the turns of interactions identified in the transcription of each interview. Regarding the procedure followed to analyse the data, first, two blind researchers examined the transcriptions independently and coded 15 % of the data with a success rate of 95 %. The analysis was carried out considering four main categories: teacher training, teaching methodologies, communication in the foreign language and challenges as foreign language teachers. The rest of the data were coded with a success rate of 95 % by blind researchers. Consistent discussions were carried out when disagreements were found. A few turns of interaction in our data set were left uncoded due to the lack of relation with the main theme. After coding the main categories, the percentages of categories were calculated to allow a descriptive comparison. The groupings and percentages are shown below in the results section.

4. Results

The main objective in this study was to examine the challenges encountered by pre-service and in-service English as a foreign language teachers in Primary Education. A total of four main criteria were used to codify the data: teacher training, the methodological approaches adopted, the use of the foreign language and the future challenges. Table 2 describes the occurrences and percentages calculated from the codification of the interviews by in-service teachers.

Table 2. Descriptive Data of the Interviews

Pre-service teachersIn-service teachers

Teacher training

79 (34. 34 %)

63 (22.82 %)

Methodological approaches

59 (25.65 %)

87 (31.52 %)

Use of the FL

60 (26.08 %)

79 (28.26 %)

Future challenges

32 (13.91 %)

47 (17.02 %)




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Table 2 shows clear trends in terms of the criteria identified by pre-service and in-service teachers. Pre-service teachers focus mainly on teacher training, even though they highlighted methodological aspects and the use of the foreign language too. However, training seems to be teachers’ main concern. In-service teachers, on the other hand, mainly referred to methodological aspects and language use. Two criteria clearly associated with their daily experience. In spite of the fact that teacher training was also frequently mentioned by in-service teachers, they claimed for lifelong learning opportunities within their professional career.

Regarding teacher training, in-service teachers indicate the need to take a new perspective on foreign language teacher training programs. A more in-depth reflection should be posed in order that training to respond to the challenges of future education.

“It seems to me that if we are in a foreign language, we need to start a real reflection process. Nowadays, the ways we do things sometimes seem to be conformist, I wonder if we are making a real bet. Are we ready to respond to the needs of the future society, the educational model, the student profile? Is this the training we receive as a foreign language teacher? I have doubts. “


Most teachers stated that they are undergoing a process of innovation in their school but the foreign language is not fully integrated on these processes. This issue raised the question about the need for specific training in the foreign language is emphasised. There is also a shift in perspective in foreign language teaching and this, in conjunction with the rest of the education system, should address the challenges of the 21st century.

Foreign language teachers also point out the importance of the specific training in their teaching. In fact, certifying the C1 level in the CEFR framework in Spain is sufficient in English (Fleta Guillen, 2016). However, if in-service ←188 | 189→teachers want to take a significant step forward, receiving specific training relevant to this profile will be viewed as a key factor for in-service teachers.

“It is known that a good level of English for a foreign language teacher is essential. Is that enough, though? I would say no, we need pedagogical training in foreign languages and multilingualism.”


Concerning the methodological aspects in teaching and learning of the FL, integrating language and content in the everyday classroom practice is a main challenge. Pre-service teachers aipatzen dute atzerriko hizkuntzaren izan ohi dela ikastetxeko berrikuntza prozesuetatik kanpora geratu ohi den arloa.

“How to integrate the English projects with the other projects which are being developed in the school or corresponding grade. it is important not to have English as an “extra, isolated” element. Try to include it in the other projects. Trying to identify the different problems or interesting topics in society so that they can be brought to the classroom. To be able to integrate into other projects, materials need to be designed and developed. This area would need more attention.”


As stated in the following quote, a more integrative approach to continue integrating the foreign language with other areas of knowledge would be beneficial. In fact, training may lead to a change in that situation. In addition, pre-service teachers claim a need for developing critical criteria to connect the theoretical knowledge of the methodologies studied throughout their degree and the reality they find at school.

“Student-teachers need training on how to foster language development and use in natural ways. They need to have criteria on which pedagogical approaches will best enhance language development and use in different contexts. Therefore, it is not only a questions of learning what each pedagogical approach is about. They need to discriminate the pedagogical rationale behind different approaches concerning language development and use.”


In-service teachers identify their foreign language lessons as an isolated subject from others, and even in some cases, having little contact with other teachers.

Another great difficulty lies in the relation among teachers. If we aim at integrating the foreign language within the projects, coordination among teachers would be crucial.


In-service teachers showed difficulties in integrating the foreign language in project-based methodologies or found difficulties when in advancing both language and subject specific knowledge. Indeed, from the perspective of what ←189 | 190→has been done so far, it would require a change of perspective and knowledge in other areas. Likewise, the connection between content and language, based on CLIL approach, highlight the concerns mentioned in the interviews.

“We are working on combining the field and the language, we do social sciences in English, but we do not realize the full potential of this combination. It seems to me that such an approach can give us another game.”


Beyond the link between content and language so far, the pedagogical and methodological innovations mentioned above have revealed a growing need to integrate the teaching of the foreign language with other areas of knowledge or school subjects. Hence, adopting an interdisciplinary approach in the foreign language seems to be an important aspect. In fact, in-service teachers claim for a step further in foreign language teaching.

“How to integrate the English projects with the other projects which are being developed in the school or corresponding grade.”


Concerning the second criteria, communication in the foreign language criteria comprises two subtopics: language competence and language use. Teachers’ language competence as well as students’ language use were mentioned in the interviews. Among pre-service and in-service teachers, language competence has been one of the most recurrent aspects. In these conversations, it seems extremely important for teachers to have a good linguistic competence. But not only to have a good level of language according to the CEFR, but also to have the ability to adapt that language for each age group they are teaching to.

Foreign language teacher must have a good level of English. B2 level? Level C1? The higher, the better. But we must not forget, we ask a child ‘shall we wear an apron?’, ‘Shall we read a story?’ Or ‘what will we write on the blackboard?’ And sometimes that’s the difficult part.


On the other hand, the use of the foreign language was also a remarkable issue in the interviews. Three main aspects were identified by pre-service and in-service teachers: creating the need to use the foreign language, creating the use of the foreign language outside the classroom and answering to language diversity in the classroom. Promoting the use of foreign language within the classroom is one of the challenges identified by pre-service and in-service teachers. Creating spaces for children to use natural language in a foreign language classroom to make the room a breathing space for the language.

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“We need to find ways so that the kids find the connection between the language and their daily life; so that they find language useful and meaningful. I believe these two aspects are key: usefulness, functionality and meaningfulness. And so I think it is essential to embed the foreign language in their daily life in order to reach those objectives. So that children can feel they can play, laugh, have fun… with that language; so that they connect the language with positive experiences and with pleasure. Apart from that, we need to have a very clear idea of the foreign language objectives we set for each stage. Those must be objectives directly related to the (maturation) development of the kid and also we need to give relevance to experiences.”


Teachers also identify the difficulties of moving this situation out of the classroom. In other words, given the sociolinguistic context, teachers find a real challenge in creating opportunities to use the language outside the classroom.

“Approach the language to make them feel closer to the child’s everyday reality, to find usefulness and not to feel strangers.”


The third element identified by teachers is the need of strategies and resources for managing the linguistic diversity they have in their daily lessons. In-service teachers mentioned that, in addition to the official languages of the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC), Basque and Spanish, some of their students have other mother tongues. Taking into account the goals set by the curriculum in terms of language proficiency for two official languages, teachers show difficulties in integrating these goals with linguistic diversity they find in their classrooms.

“We have difficulties in achieving the goals set for the foreign language. What about other languages? How do we strengthen home languages?”


Final remarks depicted the challenges pre-service and in-service teachers have when teaching the FL. Both pre-service and in-service teachers identified continuous training as a necessary element to continue improving their professional profile. More specifically, as indicated by all teachers in order to continue improving their language competence as well as the new methodological trends outcoming by new pedagogical advances opportunities for continuous training are required.

“Need to have continuous training both regarding language and new pedagogic trends. In the past there was more support from the Basque government.”


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However, in-service teachers also claimed for a more integral language policy by stakeholders in order to “enable opportunities for continuous training for teachers as well as stronger connections between primary education and universities” (IS_08).

5. Discussion and Conclusion

Evidence from the interviews revealed that teacher training was one of the many repeated topics in the teachers’ discourse. Among pre-service and in-service teachers, apart from a high language level in the foreign language, the need for specific training was mentioned. That is to say, training adapted to the child’s context, school education project and social challenges is needed both, pedagogically and linguistically. Several recent studies in other contexts, such as, Madrid or Portugal, also highlight the need for this specific training (Enever, Fleta and Mourao). However, it is understood from the teachers’ interviews that in the schools where pedagogical innovations are taking place, teacher training becomes even more necessary.

Pre-service and in-service teachers identify in the interviews the need to develop methodological aspects. In current research, methodological aspects have also played an important role. A wide range of research studies have focused so far on CLIL but these studies to date have yielded different results (Dalton-Puffer, 2013, 2016; Meyer et al. 2015; Lorenzo and Meyer, 2018). In the voices of teachers, the field and the combination of language are not sufficient to meet the goals of the curriculum. Likewise, the difficulties or challenges that teachers have expressed in connecting foreign language with other projects also seem insurmountable with the current model. To this extent, PTLs can expand the possibilities of combining the foreign language with other areas of knowledge, with the aim of achieving deeper learning.

Inspite of the PTL approach addressing the 21st century skills, there still remain several questions unresolved. Teachers in their interviews indicated that from an interdisciplinary approach, the integration of the foreign language with the rest of the school subject or disciplines is required. In fact, in order to make the use of foreign language more natural in this context, the teaching of foreign language should also be integrated under the interdisciplinary approach. To find out how PTL can help us achieve this integration, we will need further research.

The third major challenge identified in conversations is the use of foreign language. Creating contexts to engage students in using a foreign language, both inside and outside the classroom, becomes a task for teachers. Similarly, for ←192 | 193→communication to be effective and for interaction to occur in a foreign language, it is necessary to use linguistically appropriate strategies (Enever, 2011).

A final thought that emerges from the interviews is a need for different institutions, i.e. government, universities and schools, to work together in order to approach the challenges foreign language teaching has in a holistic manner. Moreover, as Fleta Guillén (2016) points out there is a need to redefine the education policies concerning the teaching of FLs in primary and, thus, in pre-primary education.

In conclusion, this study has been an attempt to identify the challenges pre-service and in-service English as a foreign language teachers encounter in the Basque Autonomous Community. Evidence from semi-structured interviews showed that teachers in both public and charter schools shared their views and concerns regarding the teacher training, the methodological approaches for English as a foreign language teaching and the use of English in the classroom. English as a foreign language teachers’ concerns were enhanced in schools implementing innovative programmes suggesting the need for reinforcing teacher training in new pedagogical trends. Findings also revealed a need for reflection on the understanding of how current language policies understand language competence for English as a foreign language teachers. Nonetheless, this contribution has shortcomings that we need to acknowledge but we believe they open up new lines for research. Future work should include a larger sample and should be replicated in other educational contexts. Other interesting lines of research should examine foreign language teacher training and continuous training in more depth. This line of research could also contribute to analyse the new methodological approaches (i.e. PTL approach) in more detail. In order to address the challenges of future education, research should also consider a deeper reflection on the English as a foreign language teacher’s role in primary education.


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