Université Libre de Bruxelles 1: Plan Langues

Author(s): Ian Tudor
Institution/Organisation: Université Libre de Bruxelles (BE)


1.1 Scope of the initiative


From the academic year 2005-06 the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) launched what is described as the Plan Langues The initiative extended language learning to all students of four faculties, Humanities (Philosophie et Lettres), Psychology, Science, and Applied Science The students of these four faculties, until that point in time, had had limited or no language learning possibilities within their academic programme. The initiative affects over 3,000 students in these four faculties (out a total of around 19,000 students at the ULB).

The initiative targets 1st cycle students, mainly in their 2nd and 3rd years of study – BA2 and BA3.

1.2 Range of languages studied

The Plan Langues involves the teaching of one of two languages – English or Dutch.

  • English is the imposed choice in the Science and Applied Science faculties.
  • In the Humanities faculty, students may choose between English and Dutch, with around 90% opting for English. (NB. Students in this faculty have requested a wider choice of languages.)
  • In the Psychology faculty, English is obligatory for all students, but an optional Dutch course will be offered in BA3 from 2008-09.

The dominant role of English in the Plan Langues reflects the importance which this language has in academic life (in particular in terms of access to specialised academic material), and also with respect to the role of English in terms of employability, both internationally and within Belgium.

1.3 Learning outcomes

In achievement terms, the goals of the Plan Langues were defined with respect to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), with B1 as the minimum target level in four skills – reading, listening, writing, and speaking.

Specific importance is given to three main sets of competences:

  • Students’ ability to gain access to specialised academic material – primarily in the written language, but also with respect to the ability to follow lectures or other spoken material;
  • Students’ ability to present and discuss topics related to their academic field in the target language;
  • In BA3, students’ ability to present and discuss their academic and professional goals in the target language with a view to participating in various forms of academic mobility, international contacts, and with respect to employment. 

1.4 Practical realisation

The Plan Langues has two main components:

The first is made up of obligatory language courses with a weighting of 8 ECTS taught by ULB staff in students’ 1st cycle programme.

  • In the faculties of Humanities, Psychology, and Science these courses are in BA2 and BA3, with a weighting of 4 ECTS per year.
  • In the faculty of Applied Science, there is a 2 ECTS course in BA1, another 2 ECTS course in BA2, and a 4 ECTS course in BA3.
  • The BA2 (BA1 and BA2 in Applied Science) course is geared towards receptive skills – reading and listening; the BA3 course is geared towards productive skills – writing and speaking, with relatively more emphasis on the latter.
  • Teaching is in theory conducted in groups of around 25 students. However, in certain cases, group size may be larger.

The second component involves the provision of remedial language courses offered to students free of charge by the Fondation 9, a language school affiliated to the ULB. Two main types of course are offered:

  • Remise à niveau: A basic remedial course geared to students who have had little of no prior contact with the target language.
  • Remédiation: A slightly more advanced course geared to students who may be experiencing difficulties following their mainstream ULB language courses.

These courses are complementary to the mainstream ECTS-credited ULB taught courses. The courses are cost-free for all students, and attendance is by free choice. Teaching is conducted in groups of 8-12 students.

The Plan Langues also involves all students in the four faculties concerned taking a multiple choice level test in BA1. This test serves to inform students of their level in the target language. Students who obtain a low score on this test are strongly advised to undertake remedial work prior to beginning BA2, and specifically to avail themselves of the remedial courses offered by the Fondation 9, either prior to beginning BA2 or during the academic year. The remedial courses offered by the Fondation 9 are geared specifically to the needs of this category of student.

The Plan Langues involves obligatory language courses in four distinct faculties. The general goals of the obligatory and ECTS-credited courses in these four faculties are essentially the same (B1 on the CEFR as a minimum achievement target, and the relative emphasis on receptive skills in BA1/BA2 courses and on productive skills in BA3 courses.) However, the teaching-learning materials created are specific to each faculty, reflecting the students’ academic orientation. The approach to course design and materials development is thus an example of EAP / pre-experience ESP.

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