An Overview of Language Teaching at Kaunas University of Technology

Author(s): Regina Petrylaite
Institution/Organisation: Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania (LT)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

This case study presents the initiative undertaken within Kaunas University of Technology, Lithuania, to ensure that all students have access to language learning.
The initiative targets 1st cycle students during the first two years of their 1st cycle programme.
A set language policy is applied to all the faculties of the University. Language learning is an obligatory component in the 1st cycle programme comprising 8 credits (corresponding to 12 ECTS - one KTU credit is equal to 1.5 ECTS). This applies not only to daytime/full time department, but also to evening and correspondence. Foreign language modules at Kaunas University of Technology are arranged according to the requirements of general university education. The fundamental students’ competence in L2 is determined at the beginning of the first semester. Students with inadequate basic competence in the language are to study in the remedial courses and achieve level B2 in their first L2, and then seek for level C1.
By the end of their 1st cycle programme, students have to achieve level C1 on the CEFR in one L2, otherwise they are not granted a Diploma when finishing Bachelor studies. In order to achieve the required competence and level C1, L2 is studied 1, 2, or 4 semesters, respectively.  
After achieving it, students may study alternative language courses either by starting to study new languages or further developing the first L2 competence for specific purposes: International negotiations and Correspondence, Business Language, Introduction to TOEFL. The Centre of Foreign Languages provides language teaching to students of all the faculties of the University.

1.2 Range of languages learned

English, German, French, Russian are taught as compulsory languages (levels B1, B2, C1). The rationale for the choice of the imposed compulsory languages: by the end of the first-cycle programme students are to achieve C1 in the first L2, i.e. the language they have studied and passed the state exam at secondary school. Thus, the focus is on improving the first L2 competence acquired at secondary school by studying it for specific purposes.         

Students can freely choose one of the electives: English, German, French, Russian, Italian, Spanish (levels A1, A2, B1, B2). 

The Centre of Foreign Languages also offers visiting Erasmus students courses of Baltic studies or Lithuanian at basic and intermediate levels:  Introductory Lithuanian Studies Course, Lithuanian Studies.  Furthermore, they may join Lithuanian students studying L2 from basic to advanced levels or L2 for specific purposes (academic and professional language) in English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian.

1.3 Learning outcomes

C1 is the target level of language achievement in the four skills (reading, listening, speaking, writing) developed by integrating language learning with their mainstream academic subjects of the technical university. By the end of the study programme students can:

 

1.4 Practical realisation

ECTS weighting for language learning
One KTU credit is equal to 1.5 ECTS credits. 12 ECTS are allocated to foreign languages (English, German, French or Russian) in the 1st cycle programme, language learning being an obligatory component of the programme. A mixed type of learning is implemented, i.e. both formal classes (with both general and specific purpose orientation depending on the basic L2 competence level) and independent learning is provided, integrating e-learning to meet the learner needs. In the curricula, the ratio of time allocated for independent learning and classroom hours for the first cycle students is the following: independent learning per semester: 96 hours for full time students, and 136 hours for correspondence students; formal classes per semester: 62 hours  for full time students, and 24 hours for correspondence students.

Language learning as an obligatory component of students’ programme
(cf. 1.1) During the Introductory session, all the 1st year students are divided into 3 streams according to the results of the state language exam taken at secondary school or according to the set university ‘diagnostic’ test which fully corresponds to the requirements of the state exam.  After the test, students with inadequate competence in their first L2 are provided with the possibility to improve it studying the remedial language modules.  The obligatory language modules: French, English, Russian, and German. The compulsory language modules are fully state funded for the first cycle students.

Language learning as an optional but credited component of students’ programme
After achieving level C1 on the CEFR, first-cycle students may choose to study one L2 from the electives: French, German, English, Russian, Spanish, and Italian.  In order to continue language studies in their 3rd and 4th academic years, students must have available/free credit points or they have to pay for their language studies according to the fixed university rates. However, out of 8 (12 ECTS) available credits devoted to elective modules, 4 (6 ECTS) credits are not to be exceeded for the second L2. Elective L2 modules are fully funded, partially funded and non-funded, it varies from faculty to faculty, and it depends if a student has free credit points in his study programme available.

Integration of language learning with students’ mainstream academic subjects
The compulsory language modules of English, French, German and Russian are directed towards reading authentic technical texts, learning to write reports, essays, developing academic writing skills,   writing research papers in the field of their major studies. The course-books for studies for levels B2 and C1 cover authentic material.

Teaching of academic courses via an L2
Academic courses for undergraduate students are delivered in the Lithuanian language with the exception of one faculty: International Studies Centre, where all academic courses are delivered via L2. At the International Studies Centre, Bachelor’s programme in Export Engineering is intended to provide studies in the field of Electromechanics - Mechatronics with the stress on the ability to communicate in a foreign language (English, French, German and Russian) on a professional level. After two years of fundamental and general courses in the foreign language, students either continue their studies in Lithuanian in the chosen branch in a relevant faculty at KTU or they may apply to study at any of eight Western European universities in accordance with the mobility programmes.
The University provides the following Master programmes in English: Industrial Engineering and Management, Environmental management and Cleaner Production, Control Technologies, Ultrasonic Material Characterization, Mechatronics, Clothing and Polymer products Engineering, Applied Chemistry, Marketing Management, European Integration Studies. The complete list is available at: http://internet.ktu.lt/en/scriptas1.asp?meniu=virsus2.html&pirmas=studies/menu.html&antras=studies/knyga2007/title.html)   

European/international partnerships: The University has cooperation links with foreign universities, research institutes and companies based on bilateral agreements, projects carried out by departments or research groups in the frame of international programmes. This academic year the university has been involved in the following programmes: LLP/Erasmus, Intensive programme, LLP/Leonardo da Vinci. Last year, i.e. academic year 2006/2007 there were 157 agreements signed with 130 partner institutions. In this regard, 35 teachers from partner institutions worked at KTU last year. During the same year, 161 students of KTU went on mobility programmes, while only 54 students from partner institutions arrived at KTU.

Collaboration with cultural institutes, embassies
KTU has maintained long-term cooperation (since 1993) with the French Embassy. Since 2003 KTU has been the host of the Robert Schuman Centre, which has been organizing events for the academic community, students and the wider public. The Resource Centre of the British Council has also been holding seminars and workshops. The Centre of Foreign Languages at KTU is engaged in cultural activities organized the German embassy as well (German minority cultural centre, Bobrovsky’s German Library). The German language fans’ club has been meeting once a month (people who wish to refresh their German language skills.

Introduction of novel learning environments (ICT, a self-study centre, etc)
Computer labs are accessible for language classes once every other week and classes in a computer lab are scheduled in advance. For this reason, WebCT 4.0 product has been used as an outcome of the project for distance learning course development. Furthermore, a course ‘Academic and Professional English’ was created. In addition to this, Nicenet virtual classroom (www.nicenet.org) is frequently applied as a useful environment for class maintenance, student discussion management and relevant task display, employing various internet sites and links.  The main target groups are first and second year students of daytime, evening and correspondence departments. Methodological recommendations for the programmes were prepared by a group of teachers, a balanced combination of independent work  and laboratory time was worked out and the computer programmes became an integral part of different language courses.

Language projects linked to cultural activities
Since 1999 several KTU students’ groups have participated in successful communicative projects: SIMULAB www-based communication project in which students communicated with their Polish, Norwegian and Danish partners. Later Internet-based collaborative learning continued within the framework of Gruntvig project ECOLE in which students of KTU discussed intercultural issues with students from Denmark, Germany, Norway, Sweden and Portugal. In February of 2008, 6 students from the faculties of Humanities and Social Sciences took part in the intensive programme ‘Borrowed identities’ which took place in Achill Island, Ireland and brought together 40 learners from all over Europe. International mix in workshops contributed to their intercultural learning, gaining experience in international leadership and teamwork in a community project under time-pressure and in a foreign environment. The programme was sponsored by the European Commission under Socrates ERASMUS programme.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The linguistic situation in the country as a whole
Lithuanian society is rather homogeneous – according to the population census of 2001, 82.0% of the population consider Lithuanian as their mother tongue. The development of the knowledge society and the integration of Lithuania into the EU and other international structures make it necessary for the population to obtain competence in more languages. The population census questionnaire included a question on communicating in foreign languages. Most of the population (40%) know one L2 and a quarter of the population know two languages, 6% know three and more languages. The breakdown in numbers in L2 competence is the following: 356 thousand of non-Lithuanians (Lithuanian citizens) have competence in Lithuanian, Poles, Russians and Belorussians making up the majority of them. 60% of the population know Russian, 17% - English (21% in the urban, and 9% in the rural area), Polish is known by 9%, German by 8%, French by 2% of the Lithuanian population. 64% of Lithuanians and 77% of Poles know Russian. What concerns language competence in different age groups, it can be noted that young people know English and German better than older ones. Every other 15-19-year-old youth knows English, every fifth knows German. 40% of 20-24-year-olds know English, 16% German, among 30-year-olds and older, the distribution is the following: 11% of the population in the mentioned age group know English, and only 7% - German.

The make-up of the student population – national
In the academic year 2006-2007 the student population of Lithuania consisted of 47868 students (out of the total 3.3 million people). The breakdown in the percentage of students’ studying languages is the following: 84.3% (40361 students) studied one L2, 14.2% studied two L2s (6777 students), 1.3% studied three (611 students), 0.2% (119 students) of the total student population studied four and more languages.

Language learning at secondary level
The approach to language learning in secondary education is system-based, and is oriented towards learners’ preparation for state exams. In the past, language teaching was mostly focussed on writing skills, while at present, it has been observed, existent focus is on teaching communicative skills, which causes deterioration of writing skills in L2. Secondary schooling has an established institutional language system. One L2 is compulsory, the most common first L2 being English. Other first L2s include French and German, but there’s a trend for these languages to have the status just of optional languages in secondary schooling. 

The attitudes to languages of institutional management
Major decisions on language policy are made by the Senate of the University. Language teaching has not been one of the highest priority issues in the technical university, faculty heads are more interested in developing their academic science related courses than providing language teaching courses to their students. Currently the existent language policy of the university has been under discussion and is undergoing changes.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

The strategic objectives of the institutional language policy are:

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

Quantitative data:
achievement results on the university scale indicate a rise in the percentage of the student population completing the obligatory L2 courses (from 82% in the autumn semester of 2005-2006 to 90% in the autumn term of the current 2007-2008 academic year).

Qualitative indicators:
The Centre of Foreign Languages carries out a regular survey (at the end of each semester) to find out students’ attitude towards language teaching/learning. The most positive results have been obtained at the International Studies Centre (the only faculty providing its first-cycle students with Bachelor study courses via L2).

 

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

Language learning has institutional support: – the number of credits allocated to language learning has not been reduced so far;
More adequate language learning facilities have been opened:  all the 11 faculties and International Studies Centre have computer labs designed especially for language teaching;  - the number of students in a group has decreased (from over 30 to about 25/20 students)
The Centre of Foreign Languages has been encouraging language teachers to create new language modules as well as implement them in distance learning. 

The pedagogical skills and motivation of the language teaching staff add to the motivation of learners.


The integration of computer programmes and Internet resources into the syllabus makes it possible to update language learning and enhance learners’ motivation. Regular surveys of students’ evaluation of the computer programmes have always shown positive or even enthusiastic results, and this is the main encouragement for further work and experimentation in the area.

Success factors due to the academic policy of one particular faculty, namely the International Studies Centre:


The University hosts the National committee of the International association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience (IAESTE). The association provides opportunities for KTU students to have internships abroad and for foreign students to have training in Lithuanian enterprises. This year students were offered 25 work placements in 13 countries.

The linking of language learning to students’ employability:
The annual event ‘Career Days’ held at KTU is a large fair designed for Lithuanian and foreign companies as well as KTU students. Students get an opportunity to get acquainted with the labour market, to get into direct contact with company representatives, to find a job or work placement, and companies can find prospective employees. Attractive catalogues with information about all the participating companies in several languages are offered for students’ study before the meeting and discussion. In the ‘Career days 2008’, 118 Lithuanian and foreign enterprises took part. Companies are eager to employ students with competence in several foreign languages.

KTU students’ participation in mobility exchange programmes is competitive. One of the most significant and relevant eligibility criteria is the language proficiency level, which makes it one of the major factors for language studies. Only after the language assessment are they allowed to participate in the selection for the mobility programme at their respective faculties.

Access to the target language sources may contribute to students’ motivation for self study and personal development: the library of KTU has subscription world databases: universal  ones, as Science Direct, Academic Search Complete (EBSCO), SpringerLINK/Kluwer, SAGE Journals Online, and specialized ones, e.g.: IEEE / IEL, ACS Publications, Institute of Physics Publishing (IOP), Annual Reviews, Emerald Engineering etc.

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

Language policy development at the institutional level is initiated and carried out exclusively by senior university management. Language learning could be more effective if the University authorities took into account the following factors:

 

5.2 Broader implications

Educational system should be adapted beyond learning languages towards educational competence building across a range of skills. These include situational adaptability (social skills), problem-solving skills and those related to life and work in diverse intercultural contexts. Students should be motivated by the educational environment not just by the idea/willingness to learn a language, e.g. for the purpose of later applying it in one’s job – you may never know what language skills the job might require. In this view, students’ participation in intercultural projects should particularly be promoted – students should get in direct contact with the target language and people rather than just acquire academic information.