University of Cyprus

Author(s): Pavlos Pavlou
Institution/Organisation: University of Cyprus (CY)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

The Language Center of the University of Cyprus was officially established in 2003 with the aim to provide high quality language learning to all the students.  Prior to the establishment of the Center the provision of  language courses was coordinated by the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures (now Dep. of English Studies). This is a university-wide policy and has been under the faculty of humanities.  The number of courses and the language to be studied each student take is part of their undergraduate degree requirements and therefore it varies from department to department.  However, graduate students may take the courses as well.  Some students may choose the language of the country they want to visit under the Erasmus student mobility programme. 

1.2 Range of languages studied

The languages studied are the following:  English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Turkish.   Students may choose the language they want to study but the majority chooses English because they have to deal with readings in English for their major.  Often, the advisors may suggest to a student to follow a specific language according to their academic plans.  For example, scholarship in Modern Greek Studies and Turkish Studies is conducted in German so students from those departments are encouraged to take German classes.

1.3 Learning outcomes

The LC staff has been trying to relate the levels of the courses to the CEFR.   Even though it varies across languages the aim is for students to reach A1 level after the first semester, A2 level after the second semester and  B1 level after the third semester.   Again, this is a more or less realistic goal depending on the language.  Moreover, English is an exception since students are expected to be at, at least, B1 level when they start university level language courses in English.  Since students are at a higher level in English their curriculum may include Specific communicative skills relating to academic life such as the ability to make oral presentations on a topic related to students’ mainstream study programme.
Special attention in given to the development of intercultural awareness and competence.

1.4 Practical realisation

All language courses carry ECTS credits (though less than other courses) and as stated they are mostly obligatory component of students’ programme.  When foreign language courses are  optional they are credited to the students’ programme even though they can not replace other elective courses.  Students simply finish with more credits something that it is stated on their transcript. There is very little Integration of language learning with students’ mainstream academic subjects and academic courses via an L2 are taught only in the foreign language departments.  There is close cooperation with cultural institutes / embassies and often  language projects linked to cultural activities The most important development is the effort to introduce a novel learning environment which relies heavily on ICT.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The UCY is the main state university of Cyprus.  Theoretically, the languages of instruction are Greek and Turkish which are the two official languages of the Republic of Cyprus.  Practically, however, the language of instruction in Greek.  English, French and Turkish are the languages of instruction in the respective departments.  In general, Cypriots are fond of foreigners and foreign language learning.  The classes are quite homogeneous with 90% of students being Greek Cypriots and the rest are mainland Greeks.  The foreign students that study at UCY under the Erasmus programme are gradually increasing.
Students learn foreign languages at the secondary level but it seems that the investment in terms of money and time has not yielded very good results.  Seven foreign languages are taught at this level (English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Turkish) with English and French being compulsory and the rest optional.   Spanish and Italian seem to be the most popular among, a trend that appears to be replicated at the tertiary level.   There are praiseworthy efforts to modernise foreign language teaching and adopt the communicative method but a lot of teaching remains system-based.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

Undoubtedly, the goal of tertiary foreign language teaching is to go beyond competencies acquired at secondary school.   The range of languages may be the same but the goals set are certainly higher and the methodology certainly much more informed and effective.  The UCY curriculum aims at promoting graduates’ employability, their mobility both academic or professional.  Overall, the tertiary level curriculum aims at the development of general communicative skills in the L2 as well as the development of specific communicative skills in the L2  such as making academic presentations or writing academic articles.  This is especially the case with English.  Finally, the LC aims to promote cultural openness as well as linguistic diversity by adding new language courses in the curriculum.

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

Even though there are no objectively verifiable gains in language competence such as success in external exams or anchoring to the CEFR, there seems to be greater uptake of optional language courses and more satisfaction about the courses offered among the students.  It seems that the overwhelming majority of students successfully complete their language courses.

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

The relative success of the LC foreign language courses can be attributed to many factors.  The first one has to do with the pedagogical skills and motivation of the language teaching staff; All of them have native or near native competency in the foreign language, have formal education in foreign language pedagogy and they are constantly encouraged to pursue their professional development. Also, the range of learning possibilities on offer especially ICT seem to be motivating factors.  Also, the international environment within the institution (Erasmus students) or the local context (tourism, immigrants) seem to be convincing factors for the learning of foreign languages.  Also, Cyprus is trying to become a service based economy and a regional educational, financial and health center, therefore foreign language competencies in many foreign languages are necessary.

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

The lesson that is to be learned is that constant innovation of teaching methods is a motivating factor since students come to tertiary education with a negative attitude towards foreign language learning; an attitude formed during their high school years.  However, there are much more things that can be done to further motivate students such as the certification of their knowledge or the preparation of external exams, the institution of minor degrees in foreign languages, the improvement of self-study facilities and the increase of the technology available for teacher and student use.  Further actions that are to be taken are the reduction of students in each language class, the development of assessment techniques that do not necessarily mean excess workload for the instructor, creation of partners both academic and commercial and the introduction of minimum levels of achievement for each level.

5.2 Broader implications

Investment in professional development and technology which naturally lead to innovations in foreign language teaching seem to be motivating for the students who are usually bored in a traditional language classroom.