Kodolányi János University College

Author(s): Csilla Sárdi
Institution/Organisation: Kodolányi János University College (HU)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

The language policy targets the following groups within the university: 1st cycle full time students majoring in subjects other than foreign languages, visiting international students within the framework of Erasmus or other bilateral agreements between KUC and partner institutions, foreign language teachers at the university, subject lecturers, management of the university.

1.2 Range of languages learned

English, French and German are offered at the university for Hungarian and for international students too. It is possible for students to learn other languages too depending on the students’ requests. In such cases, a language course can start if the number of students who wish to learn the language reaches 10. This is because of financial constraints. For international students, a Hungarian as a foreign language (HFL) course is also offered, which includes a strong cultural module.

1.3 Learning outcomes

The learning outcomes are partly determined by the relevant ministerial decree. (N.B. Hungary is becoming a very centralised country and this strongly influences measures taken in higher education.) I will explain this in detail in 2.1.

The language policy determines the following learning outcomes: (1) successful language examination by the end of the study programme, (2) communicative competence for academic and for occupational purposes based of needs analyses, (3) development of skills related to independent learning so that students are able to further develop their language competences in their free time and after graduation, (4) development of intercultural communication skills.

In the case of HFL, the expected learning outcomes are that (1) students are able to communicate in general situations at an A1 level, and (2) they are familiar with the most important issues regarding Hungarian society, economy and culture.

1.4 Practical realisation

On the basis of the language policy, language learning and teaching takes place the following way:

  1. Students study one or two foreign languages building on the knowledge and competences they gained in public education. Therefore, courses at a beginner level are not offered. (See 2.1 for a justification.
  2. The focus of language instruction is teaching language for specific purposes (LSP) rather than teaching language for general purposes in the case of every degree programme, regardless of the degree requirements.
  3. Students are given the opportunity to take mock state language examinations, which provide them with information on how well they would perform at such an examination at a given point in time.
  4. Upon passing the required state language examination during the study period, students can be absolved from their LSP courses only. CLIL still remains part of their study programme.
  5. A number of subject-specific courses are offered in foreign languages (CLIL). Students are required to obtain a certain number of credit points for subject-specific courses in a foreign language.
  6. LSP courses partly precede foreign language subject-specific courses, and partly run parallel with them.
  7. Independent learning techniques are introduced and their use is encouraged by language teachers and subject lecturers.
  8. A self-study centre is available for the students using the expertise of the Department of Modern Languages and that of language experts at the university college and in partner institutions, and managed within the framework of the University Library. In order to ensure that students make the most of the opportunities offered by the centre, the following steps were taken by the Department of Modern Languages: language teachers were given a series of workshops on independent learning and the effective use of the self-study centre. Teachers took their classes to the self-study centre and introduced the possibilities there. Also, they give their students tasks which requires the use of the self-study centre.
  9. In-service training is organised for language teachers and subject lecturers who participate in the new language programme of the university college. The in-service training focuses on the linguistic, subject-specific and methodological aspects the newly developed and implemented language programmes.
  10. An institution-wide campaign is organised in order to inform students about the aims, the elements and the advantages of the new language policy.
  11. At present English, German and French is taught at Kodolányi. The institution makes a conscious effort to increase the number of foreign languages offered on the basis of students’ needs.
  12. As for HFL, this is an option for international students, and they receive credits for the fulfilment of the requirements. Altogether, 90 contact hours/semester are offered and students receive 6 ECTS for it.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

Below are some facts concerning the language learning background of Hungarian university students:

  1. Language instruction in one foreign language is obligatory from the age of 10 (grade 4 of the primary school).
  2. By the time a student enters higher education at the age of 18 or later, s/he has learned a foreign language for at least 9 years and another foreign language for at least 4 years.
  3. State foreign language examinations have a long tradition, high prestige, and face validity in Hungary. Therefore, the foreign language knowledge of citizens is usually determined on the basis of whether they have successfully taken such an examination.
  4. In September 2006, approx. 60 percent of the newly admitted first year students did not yet have a successful state language examination at any level.
  5. In summer 2006, approx. 40 percent of graduates did not obtain their degree because they did not pass the required state language examination.

Hungarian institutions of higher education, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education and the Hungarian Accreditation Committee, have already carried out a considerable amount of work in order to develop transparency and comparability between the currently very diverse academic programmes of higher education throughout Europe, as is stated in the Bologna Declaration.

There is at least one area, however, where there are not any considerable changes. The approach of the new degree requirements towards foreign language learning and teaching remains the same. (It is important to note that this claim does not apply to Bachelor and Master programmes in languages.)  It remains determined at a national level that graduates cannot receive their degree without the successful completion of an accredited state foreign language examination in one or two languages. The required level can be B1, B2 or C1. The required focus is mostly general language, but in some cases a specific purpose language exam is required. The criteria of the necessary language examination differ according to field of study and they are determined in a ministerial decree.

 

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

The language policy has the following goals:

  1. To further develop the language competences of students which they gained during their years in public education.
  2. To develop language for specific purpose courses on the basis of students’ linguistic needs.
  3. To integrate language learning and subject matters. Therefore, content and language integrated learning needs to be an essential element of degree programmes.
  4. For students to become aware of the possibility and usefulness of individual language learning during their studies and after graduation. In order to reach this aim, independent learning techniques are encouraged as part of the language programme.
  5. To develop students’ intercultural awareness and to encourage learners to study a semester or do their practical placement abroad.
  6. At an institutional level: To fully integrate the university college in the European Higher Education Area by providing an international study environment for students and lecturers from al over the world.

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

  1. The number of full-time students studying abroad within the framework of Erasmus has increased significantly during the past 4 years. This is true in the case of incoming international students as well. On the basis of completed evaluation sheets, students return home with positive experiences and motivation to further develop their language competences and seek other opportunities to study or work abroad.
  2. The number of visiting lecturers to and from the university has also increased significantly in the past 4 years.
  3. The number of CLIL courses offered has increased. These courses are offered jointly by the Department of Modern Languages together with other departments. The content of the courses is negotiated by the language teacher and the subject lecturer. This requires a close cooperation between the departments of the university, and is crucial in order for the CLIL courses to be effective. This way it can be ensured that both the language and the content elements receive focus in the course. Many courses are delivered by language specialists who are able to teach using the proper methodology and also have the necessary content knowledge. In other cases, the course is given by the subject lecturer. In such cases, the problem often is that the colleague does not necessarily have the methodology needed for successful CLIL teaching.
  4. Hungarian and international students attend the same CLIL courses. This way the international students are not isolated from their Hungarian peers in study situations, as is the case in many Hungarian universities. Hungarian students are also in an international study environment. This can serve as encouragement for them to apply for Erasmus grants or to find a practice placement abroad. The presence of international students ensures that the working language is used throughout the course and communicative solutions are sought in the working language. Intercultural awareness of students and teachers are increased this way too.
  5. The self-study centre is in active use. This is, at least partly, because students are required to complete tasks where the facilities of the self-study centre can be used well. Pupils of the local secondary schools have also access to the self-study centre. This is important because they are the future students of the university, and their familiarity with the possible uses of the centre will be able to be used well for further L2 learning purposes during their studies at the university too.
  6. The number of successful language examinations has not increased. This, clearly, is not a success indicator. Instead, it suggests that the amount of language instruction provided by the university is not sufficient. There are, however, financial constraints which hinder the university from increasing the number of language lessons. The language learning targets set by the Hungarian Ministry of Education are misjudged because they do not take the Hungarian context in which language learning in higher education takes place into consideration. What is true in the case of KUC is true in the case of all Hungarian universities. Negotiations are needed at a national level in order to make the requirements more realistic and for the universities to gain more autonomy is determining their goals in terms of language learning and teaching.
  7. The language courses are obligatory, therefore a very large number of students participate in them and the drop out rate is average. Also, students have become more aware of their level of language competencies and of how much work they need to do in order to successfully pass a state language exam.
  8. Evaluations sheets filled in by the students and informal interviews with them equally point to the fact that the aims of the language courses seem to be too ambitious from the students’ point of view. Again, this is not a success indicator. The syllabuses of the language courses were developed on the basis of the requirements set by the aforementioned ministerial decree and needs analyses. Unfortunately, the two do not collide. KUC face a dilemma: shall we disregard the findings of the needs analyses and focus on the language exams only or shall we continue our efforts to focus on both national requirements and real life needs?

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

  1. Attempts have been made by the university to help students become more aware of independent learning techniques, i.e. the active use of the self-study centre; course requirements where students are expected to use the centre in order to fulfil tasks set by language specialists.
  2. The introduction of CLIL courses increased the number of contact hours spent in a foreign language learning environment. The CLIL courses are credited, which motivate students to participate. The content element of CLIL courses is also a motivational factor as well as the participation of international students.
  3. Many CLIL courses are taught by language specialists who also have sufficient content knowledge. This way it is ensured that language learning also receives a sufficient amount of attention, the course does not merely attempts to convey information on content (which is also an important part!) This can be done only when there is a close cooperation between the departments of the university, and it is not regarded as a prestige issue which department gives the CLIL courses. Also, workshops organised for language teachers and subject lecturers are very useful.
  4. Most students participate in the language courses because these are obligatory. Also, mock language examinations have increased students’ awareness in terms of their own level of language competencies.
  5. Students’ language learning needs are taken into consideration with the help of needs analyses. The problem is, that very often short term needs (i.e. the successful completion of a state language exam) and long terms needs (i.e. those relating to the requirements of the labour market and to academia) differ, and it is often felt by both teachers and students that the amount of time devoted to language learning is not sufficient to cater for both types of needs.

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

  1. LSP course content needs to be revised so that students’ short term and long term linguistic needs are taken into consideration in a more appropriate way. This can further motivate students.
  2. It needs to be examined whether and how it would be possible for students to gain credit points for LSP courses too. This can be another technique to motivate students. At present, LSP courses are not credited, mainly, but not entirely, due to the requirements set in the relevant ministerial decree.
  3. More workshops are needed in order for different departments of the university can work together smoothly and effectively. It is evident that workshops at the beginning of a new programme are very useful but not sufficient. Follow up opportunities are needed and indeed very useful.

5.2 Broader implications

  1. In Hungary, several nation-wide studies have pointed out recently that, in general, the level of language competencies of school leavers (aged 18) is far from sufficient. At the level of higher education, a nation-wide agreement is needed regarding what is and what is not the role of universities in terms of language teaching, and what strategic goals Hungarian higher education has as far as graduates language competencies are concerned.
  2. An institution-wide language policy can be successful in the long run if participants (management, administration, faculty members, students) are aware of and agree with the aims of the policy, and are willing to participate actively in the development and implementation of new programmes.
  3. Once new programmes are on their way, constant monitoring is needed. This makes on-going evaluation possible whereby necessary decisions can be made as soon as possible.
  4. Language teachers play a fundamental role in motivating students successfully. Therefore, it is essential for teachers to take an active role in the development of the language policy and the programmes that are created, and also in the implementation of such programmes.