Internationale Sprachkurse / International Language Courses (University of Freiburg)

Author(s): Sonja Dierks
Institution/Organisation: Sprachlehrinstitut der Universität Freiburg (SLI) / Language Teaching Center (DE)

1. DESCRIPTION OF THE SUCCESS CASE

1.1 Scope of the initiative

The International Language Courses are one component in the spectrum of courses that have been offered by the Language Teaching Centre (SLI, www.sli.uni-freiburg.de) at the University of Freiburg since 2005. Classes are offered every year in March, August and September. They have a dual mission: offering high-quality (continuing) education in German to students (currently 750 a year) from all over the world, while initiating an intercultural platform for the University of Freiburg in the fields of language teaching and learning. Furthermore, cooperation on a national and Bundesland level has been consistently promoted and encouraged. To facilitate this, the International Language Courses are part of the Association of Baden-Württemberg International Summer Schools.

In the context of ever broadening internationalization in the field of education and the labour market, the International Language Courses make a significant contribution to European language policy.

1.2 Range of languages learned

Currently the SLI International Language Courses offer instruction in German as a foreign language. The language levels range from A1 to C2 according to the CEFR.

1.3 Learning outcomes

Practice-oriented language learning in groups of up to 15 participants helps to foster a learning environment that ensures persistent interaction between the learners and the language and culture they are studying. This guarantees that the skills gained can be applied in practice after the courses. The focus is on communication competence and intercultural awareness.

At the end of 72 instruction hours, learners’ writing, reading, speaking and listening skills are tested and graded according to the CEFR. The specialized courses are not rounded off by a formal test. They foster academic proficiency and enhance communication skills for the workplace,  “German for Academic Purposes” and “German for Tourism” are typical examples.

1.4 Practical realisation

The core strategy of the International Language Courses is implemented through the following activities and teaching programs:

 

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The University of Freiburg regards itself as a leading research-oriented European university striving to implement incentives in the field of education that have been adopted or recommended at a European level. The Bologna Declaration, for example, seeks to establish a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) that encourages multilingual participants. Adequate language education is obviously a prerequisite for the creation of the EHEA.

Established in 2004, the SLI at the University of Freiburg sees its task as supporting the European Union’s commitment to multilingualism on the academic level and beyond. It therefore offers language instruction that complements university curricula.

The International Language Courses take place during university breaks in spring, summer and autumn. The International Language Courses staff members are either from foreign partner universities or University of Freiburg employees. The diversity of the teaching staff reflects the cultural openness and mobility of the courses. The link between the partner universities and the University of Freiburg manifests itself in a multitude of exchange programmes and scholarships.

2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative

In line with its range of activities, the International Language Courses have set the following goals:

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

The following trends in course registrations can be identified as success indicators:

 

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

The transparent course structure of the International Language Courses is a significant success factor, in 4 weeks learners prepare for the next level of competence in accordance with the CEFR (language courses lasting 4 hours per day; up to 4 hours of seminars and lectures in the afternoon; up to 2 hours language lab in the afternoon).

The group size of around 15 participants guarantees sufficient personal supervision of each individual student while leaving room for both formal and informal learning options.

Considerable attention is paid to the support and development of the teaching staff.
The Language Teaching Center (SLI) perceives itself as a service institution that is customer oriented. The SLI’s structure ensures flexibility in many ways:

 

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level

In order to motivate the maximum number of students to learn several foreign languages, the SLI needs to preserve and further expand its flexibility and customer orientation.

Close connections with the University are paramount for quality assurance and further development.

Project coordination will remain a central theme in a bid for a sound interplay between research and development on the one hand and practice on the other. More cooperation opportunities with the faculties should be pursued in the future. The SLI could for example act as an empirical testing ground for final theses in the field of language teaching research.

The aforementioned flexibility of the SLI and the International Language Courses is largely due to its partial financial autonomy since its inception in 2004. This follows market principles and is exemplified in the relatively horizontal organisational structure and short chains of hierarchy. In all other ways the SLI is still part of the philological faculty. This double status as an institution of the university and an autonomous institution has special consequences: Certificates issued by the SLI and the International Language Courses are recognized as credits within the University of Freiburg curricula. For the International Language Courses, the following fees are currently charged: € 80–€ 750 for private participants, up to € 580 for students receiving scholarships and grants.

One of our restrictions is that, as a semi-independent institute within the university, we are not entitled to university funding for research projects. This means that research activities are only possible to a limited extent. In order for the SLI to evolve into a university platform for language teaching and learning research, as initially planned, other forms of integration into university institutions would be required.

5.2 Broader implications

The International Language Courses structure provides a blue-print for other institutions in terms of the following: instruction in small groups, orientation and adaptation to participant requirements, the link to practical and project work, bringing together students and other target groups, the opening of a university subsidiary to the public at large, with the aim of promoting lifelong language learning, thereby contributing to multilingualism.

As a dynamic institute we are continually extending our boundaries. In this context our next step will  be to strengthen our cooperation with universities in France and Switzerland.