Language skills

The language learner’s language self

In this section, the aim is

  • to understand what language skills are made up of,
  • to identify and present your language repertoire,
  • to identify and learn to describe your plurilingual skills,
  • to identify language awareness as a component of language skills and to learn how language awareness can be made use of in communication, and
  • to gain an understanding of language needs in further studies and in working life.

Language repertoire

Language repertoire is a term used to refer to all the languages you use in your daily life, hobbies, work, and possible further studies. Your language repertoire consists of the languages and dialects you speak at home as well as those you learn at school and in your free time. It also includes the languages you use with your family, friends, and other social circles.

The term plurilingual does not refer only to people with bilingual or multilingual childhoods. Plurilingualism can also be regarded as knowledge of languages that are learned throughout life, be they home languages, dialects, languages learned at school or outside of school, at any point in time. Even the slightest knowledge of a language is valuable.


Different languages are used in different ways, in different situations and with different people. You use some languages at home with your family, some with your relatives, and some when playing, reading, or engaging in other activities. Language use may refer to, for example, speaking, listening, and reading, and your choice of language can vary depending on the situation or the person with whom you are engaging in conversation. In the following task, think about where and with whom you use the languages you listed in the previous task.


Language skills also refer to the ability to vary and adapt language(s) in different situations and for different purposes. For example, when communicating on social media, responding to work emails, or when writing answers to exam questions, the context of language use is very different depending on the situation. Attention should also paid to the objective of language use: is the objective to give a neutral summary of an online piece of news, or is it to influence readers’ opinions with a blog post on the subject, characterized by your subjective views on the matter?


“When are you fluent in another language?
” (c) British Council 2015.

Studying languages is inherently connected to building cultural competence. Languages and cultures are intertwined, and it is worth remembering that they know no national borders. For example, English, German, Mandarin Chinese, and Farsi are spoken in many different parts of the world, as first languages, second languages, and foreign languages. At the heart of cultural competence is an understanding of the diversity of cultures and an open and respectful approach to diversity.

Language and culture are discussed in more detail in the section on Language, culture and internationalism.

Language awareness

Using language always entails making (linguistic) choices in terms of what we say, how we say it, and who we are addressing. The linguistic choices we make play an important role in interaction. Using language in a way that is attentive to the listener or reader requires linguistic awareness, that is, an understanding of how, for example, the choice of words and the style of the message being conveyed affects what is said and how the message is interpreted – or whether the message is understood at all.

Therefore, linguistic competence is also about being able to adapt the way you communicate and the language you use according to who the recipient of the message is. Developing your language awareness is an essential tool for communication of any kind.


Language awareness also refers to knowledge regarding attitudes towards language communities, that is, to an understanding of how different languages are valued and appreciated in different communities. This is reflected, for example, in being aware of the fact that some languages enjoy the status of being more acceptable to use and are often more visible, while others may be disregarded, even disapproved of, either intentionally or unintentionally.


Language can also be used to prevent or discourage others from participating in conversation. For example, the use of academic or discipline-specific vocabulary and complex sentence structures can make it difficult to understand a message, be it a web publication, a TV appearance, or an email. That is, a language does not need to be “foreign” for it to be incomprehensible. It may just contain vocabulary that is unfamiliar to you. Examples of such “foreign” terminology may include, for example, engine parts, medical terms, or agricultural vocabulary.


  • 7. Language awareness and jargon (underway)

Language awareness is also a tool for learning. For example, learning about the structure of different languages helps you learn new languages. In addition, learning different subjects at school not only increases your knowledge of different disciplines, you also learn the language of disciplines: for example, mathematics makes extensive use of graphs, pictures and notation, and history teaches you how to interpret and critically reflect on different sources.


The development of learning skills will be explored in more detail in the section on language learning skills.

Plurilingual communication

When engaging in interaction, creative use of shared languages can help in situations where the message would otherwise not get across. In such cases, even limited knowledge of a common language is of particular importance in interaction.


Multilingualism and creative language use may come in handy when you meet new people and you need a way to break the ice. For example, if you have studied basic French and meet another person who speaks French, even a brief exchange in French can help create a positive atmosphere and ease conversation.


Language choices can be made to emphasise solidarity or shared linguistic and cultural features. For example, when two people from the same dialect area meet, they may switch from the standard language to a dialect variant (for example, the Turku dialect) to show that they come from the same place. Using a dialect is also a way of expressing one’s linguistic and cultural identity when the person you are talking to comes from a different region.


The parallel use of languages in interaction, translanguaging, may help to smooth the flow of meaning-making more than sticking to one language. Multilingualism encourages creative, lively, and playful language use.


In fact, using several languages flexibly in conversation is more common than monolingual communication. However, it is important to be aware of the situations in which multilingual communication is acceptable or commendable and when it is better to stick to just one language.


Developing language skills

Describing language skills

An important part of language learning in general upper secondary school is learning to identify and assess your language skills, as well as to learn to describe your skills to others, such as employers.

A good way to describe your language skills is to give concrete examples of situations in which you can use a given language with ease. In which situations are you able to communicate in different languages? Examples of such situations include, for example, making small talk, customer service, or more complex exchanges of opinions and views.


In the following exercise, you can practise assessing your language skills using the European Framework of Reference for Languages.


The Evolving Language Proficiency Scale (NCC 2019), a Finnish adaptation of the CEFR, can be found on the Studyinfo website of the Finnish National Agency for Education.

Language skills for future studies and working life

Language development does not stop at the end of general upper secondary school, but continues in further studies and working life. After general upper secondary school, language skills are developed so that you can communicate in a way that conveys your expertise in a given field. Linguistic expertise includes, for example, knowledge of the vocabulary and text genres in your field (such as reports, memos) and proficiency in internal and external communication at the workplace.


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