Sprachlehrinstitut (SLI) der Universität Freiburg (Language Teaching Center, University of Freiburg)

Author(s): Frank Reiser
Institution/Organisation: Sprachlehrinstitut der Universität Freiburg (DE)

INSTITUTION/S, NETWORK/S ETC. COVERED BY THE CASE STUDY

The Language Teaching Center (SLI) is part of the Philological Faculty at the University of Freiburg and its learning programs make up a portion of courses available at the University. However, in contrast to other institutions at the University, the SLI is for the most part financially independent. The SLI is responsible for the organization and conceptualization of all language courses at the University of Freiburg for students of all disciplines as well as university staff. Currently around 5,500 students and staff attend SLI courses yearly. In addition, the SLI offers language courses tailored to particular disciplines, institutes and faculties. A particular area of focus includes teaching German to foreign students. The SLI also provides a large selection of self-learning materials and technology to learners. These resources are available for use autonomously or in conjunction with a course at any of the four digitalized language laboratories, used by 1,600 learners in 80 courses and by 2,000-2,700 users in the Self-study area.

The SLI is a member of the European Language Council (ELC), the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education (CercleS), and the Association of language centres, language teaching institutes and institutes of foreign languages (AKS).

1. A SUCCESSFUL VENTURE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

In the context of ever broadening internationalization in education and the labor market, the SLI is making a significant contribution to European language policy. It accomplishes this by means of high quality teaching and guidance that systematically enables and motivates students towards multilingualism and foreign language acquisition. To reach these goals the SLI aims to intensify cooperation with foreign partner institutions. The integration of the “Deutsch als Fremdsprache” department has transformed the SLI into a central point of contact for foreign students in Freiburg.

1.2 Range of languages studied

The SLI currently offers language courses in the following 25 languages: Alemannic, Arabic, Chinese, Dutch, Farsi/Persian, English, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Italian, Irish/Gaelic, Hungarian, Japanese, Latin, Modern Greek, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Swahili, Thai, and Turkish.

Much attention is given to promoting neighboring country languages - with a special focus on French, given the geographical position of Freiburg, but also on Dutch and Polish - and to regional languages such as Alemannic.

Most courses of study at the University do not require students to learn a specific foreign language. Thus students are free to choose from any language course offered. Due to the high percentage of foreign students, German language courses are the most commonly attended, followed by English, Spanish and French.

1.3 Learning outcomes

At the end of 30 units learners undergo formal testing in which their writing, reading, speaking and listening skills are assessed according to the CEFR. Specialized courses serve to enhance participants’ communication skills both in terms of professional and academic proficiency. This is best illustrated by courses like “Reading and Writing Skills for Academic English”, “English for Students of Law”, or “Wissenschaftssprache Deutsch: Jura/Wirtschaft/Geschichte/Politik” (Academic German: Law/Economics/History/Political Science).

The language-module structure allows students to reach various CEFR levels. A placement test is used to place students in appropriate courses at varying levels. Classes for the most sought-after languages usually cover CEFR levels from A1.1 to B2.2.

1.4 Practical realization

The core strategy of the SLI is implemented by utilizing the following activities and teaching programs:

 

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg, founded in 1457, is among the most attractive universities in Germany and considers itself a leading research-oriented European university. It has about 21,000 students (3,000 among them come from abroad) and 11 faculties. In 2007, the University of Freiburg achieved one of the top rankings in the Initiative for Excellence in German Universities, which placed it among the nine specially selected universities to receive funding for its future development. In addition to its numerous partnerships with universities worldwide, the University is actively engaged in the European higher education arena. It is a co-founder of the Confederation of Universities on the Oberrhein (EUCOR). The University is also at the forefront regarding the realization of the Bologna Process and the creation of a European Higher Education Area. The above developments demonstrate the urgent necessity for a multilingual student body and appropriate language training at an inter-departmental level. All of these factors led to the creation of the SLI in 2004. The demand-oriented language courses are therefore of great importance for the entire university. As the SLI charges course fees it is able to divert funds from capacity-filled courses to finance a broad spectrum of languages that are not in high demand, languages less widely spoken and languages for special purposes. Courses that are compulsory according to the university and examination regulations are financed by the university and are free of charge for the students concerned.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

In line with its range of activities the SLI has set itself the following goals:

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

 

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

Practice-oriented language instruction in groups of maximum 20 participants allows a learning environment that ensures ongoing contact between the learners, the language and culture they are studying. This constellation guarantees subsequent applicability of the skills gained. It also ensures sufficient personal supervision of each individual student, while leaving room for both formal and informal learning options. The focus lies on practical communication competence.

A significant success factor is the SLI’s transparent course structure, which prepares learners in one or two semesters for the next language level in accordance with the CEFR. All courses are credited within the ECTS framework. Students who require a certain level of language for their major or minor will find the SLI courses coincide with pre-determined internal university requirements. Self-placement software in 12 languages enables the learners to find the right course. As a rule, if courses are obligatory for curricular requirements, students may attend SLI courses free of charge.

The SLI has 4 fully digitalized language laboratories with almost 100 work places and interactive language learning software that can be used for self-study or as complementary material for face-to-face classes.

The SLI also pays great attention to the support and further development of its teaching staff (e.g. supervision by heads of department and in-service didactic workshops).

The SLI managing and advisory boards work closely with the philological departments. This allows for effective cooperation not only with those departments but also other university institutions. Since the SLI is partly financed by course fees, new courses and languages can be offered or existing course programs expanded upon.
Along with learners and other institutions, the SLI understands itself as a service-oriented facility targeting a specific audience.

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

In order to motivate foreign language learning in as many students as possible the SLI needs to preserve and further expand its flexibility and user orientation.

In this context, imparting general knowledge to philology students with little or no prior grasp of a language may be expanded upon. This may be accomplished by way of strengthened cooperation with the philological departments: in October 2008 there will be a Teaching Information Day for lecturers from all faculties and institutes. Such collaboration will tie together SLI’s “know-how” and infrastructure resulting in increased competency in the provision of basic language studies.

The institutes are the sole guarantors of a sound connection between research and development on the one hand and practical applications on the other. In this context, cooperation with philological departments is equally important as the execution and coordination of projects. For example, the SLI could act as an empirical testing ground for final theses in the field of language teaching research.

5.2 Broader implications

The structure of the SLI can, for all intents and purposes, act as a blue-print for other institutions. For example: 1) instruction in small groups, 2) orientation and adaptation to the participants’ requirements, 3) tutoring, 4) tools for self-learning, 5) amalgamation of students and other target groups, 6) opening of a university subsidiary to the public at large (the aim being promotion of lifelong language learning, thus contributing to multilingualism amongst students and other groups). Due to the SLI’s location and close proximity to France and Switzerland, its position will be increasingly advantageous in the future.