Vytautas Magnus University

Author(s): Nemira Macianskiene
Institution/Organisation: Centre of Foreign Languages, Vytautas Magnus University (LT)

1. Description

1.1 Scope of the initiative

The initiative is undertaken at the level of Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuania, to ensure that all (or most) students have access to language learning.
The initiative targets the first-cycle students.
Obligatory language courses:
(1) All students of the first cycle of studies have to take the Lithuanian Language Standards course (4.5 ECTS)
(2) English as a foreign language (12 ECTS) is a part of General obligatory subjects (Group A); the scope of studying English depends upon the entrant’s level of English language competence.

All full-time students accepted to the first year of Underground (1st cycle) studies have to reach level B2 (on the CEFR) of English as a foreign language during the first four semesters of studies at the university (in part-time studies – B1 level of English, German or French in 6 semesters).

The scheme of learning English as a foreign language depends on the following criteria: a diagnostic test which is taken after signing the contract with the university (50% of the whole evaluation) and the evaluation for the English language subject received upon completing the secondary education (state examination -30% or school examination - 10%, final mark at school – 10%, oral credit taken at school – 10%). If the student complies with the required B2 level upon entering the university, he/she then does not have to study the language and saves 12 ECTS credits for elective subjects.

Some faculties have specific additional requirements for language competence acquisition.
Catholic Theology Faculty (Department of Catholic Theology - 1 level of Latin language (6 ECTS).
Faculty of Humanities:
(1) Department of Ethnology – Latvian language and culture (4.5 ECTS) is offered among other 5 optional but credited courses students have to choose 2 from;
(2) Department of History – speciality language – students have to choose and study 2 levels of one of 4 offered languages Polish, Russian, Latin, German).;
(3) Department of English Philology – obligatory - 2 levels of a foreign language (12 ECTS);
(4) Department of German Philology – obligatory - 2 levels of a foreign language (12 ECTS);
(5) Department of French Philology – obligatory - 2 levels of a foreign language (12 ECTS) and the Fundamentals of Latin language (6 ECTS)
(6) Department of Philosophy – 1 level of foreign language
(7) Department of the Lithuanian Philology - 1 level of Latvian Language and Culture (6 ECTS) and Fundamental of the Latin Language (6 ECTS)

1.2 Range of languages studied

Apart from 2 obligatory languages offered to all first cycle students (Lithuanian Language Standards for students in each study area, e.g. for students in Business and Management, for students in Economics, etc. (4.5 ECTS) and 12 ECTS of English as a Foreign Language), 1st cycle students have a wide range of optional but credited subjects which are taught at the Centre of Foreign Languages.

Currently 22 languages are offered to our students at Vytautas Magnus University. The Centre of Foreign Languages offers 19 languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Polish, Norwegian, Swedish, Latin, Old Greek, New Testament Greek, Estonian, Latvian, Japanese, Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, and Lithuanian Sign Language. Czech and Old Scandinavian have been taught for some semesters; however, at the moment they are not offered.
The students can choose all the languages offered at the Centre of Foreign Languages freely.

3 other languages are taught at other faculties: Hebrew (taught at the Faculty of Catholic Theology), Korean and the Lithuanian language to foreigners (taught at the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy).

In addition, culture and language related courses are offered at the Centre of Foreign Languages, such as “Islam in Today’s Contemporary World“, “Old Greek Language and Literature“, “Birth of European Literature“, “Latin Culture and Literature in the Great Lithuanian Duchy“, “Antique Culture“, “Antique Mythology“, “Culture of Helenism and Christianity“, “Symbolics“, “Ancient City: Culture and Politics“, “Culture of Turkic Countries”, “Japanese Way of Thinking: Ethics of Communication and Management”. The students can choose all the culture related languages freely.

The English language is taught as obligatory (B1 and B2 levels) and elective – levels A1, A2, C1 (two courses are offered - with the focus on Grammar and with the focus on Intercultural Communication), C2 – 15 ESP courses have been prepared, 4-5 of them are offered each semester (Business English; English for Law Students; English for Europe; Academic English; American English; English for Natural Science Students; English for Students in Education and Psychology; Preparation for IELF and TOEFL Exams; Rhetoric; English for Students in Theology, and etc. 

1.3 Learning outcomes

All first cycle full-time students have to acquire the English language competence at B2 level irrespective of where they start upon the entrance to the university. By the end of their first cycle of studies 100% of VMU students have English language competence at B2 level and the majority of them have competences of other languages at different levels.

All first cycle part-time students have to complete B1 level of English, German or French irrespective of where they start upon entrance to the university. Only a small number of part-time students have competencies in other languages, mainly the ones they acquired learning at secondary schools.

E.g., the total number of full-time and part-time (extramural) students attending language courses in 2007 was 6294 (the student population at VMU is around 9000). However, it does not mean that almost 70% of students were learning languages, as the same student may have been learning two or three languages; it means that teachers at the Centre of Foreign Languages were teaching 6294 students enrolled in their foreign language courses, mainly the first cycle students.

The total number of full-time students attending language courses in 2007 was 4673. In spring and autumn semester of the year 2007, 1990 full-time students were attending obligatory English language courses, 2683 students – optional but credited language courses (including language and culture related courses – 775). The total number of part-time students attending language courses in 2007 was 1673 (92% obligatory English, French and German language courses).

The students attend general English courses which encompass communicative language competence development, increase intercultural awareness and competence and develop specific communicative skills relating to academic life and to employability (for example, the ability to make oral presentations on a topic related to students’ mainstream study programme, or to write a report on a specialised, work-related topic).

The content of optional but credited English language courses is mainly ESP leading to C1 and C2 language competence levels.

The content of other modern languages (German, French, Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Norwegian, etc.) (levels A1–B2) is mainly focused on general language and intercultural competence development, except for rare cases of C1 levels (students seldom reach this level in other languages) which focus on specific academic and professional competence development. The tendency with other optional but credited languages apart English is to study more languages but at lower levels (usually students take A1-B1 levels, occasionally B2-C1 of other languages apart English).

1.4 Practical realisation

ECTS weighting for language learning (formal classes or independent learning):
The majority of languages taught at VMU are of 6 ECTS credits value (100 contact class hours + 60 independent work hours). Only Arab, some Latin language courses, Old Greek and New Testament Greek are worth 4.5 ECTS credits (80 contact class hours and 40 independent work hours).

Language learning as an obligatory component of students’ programme:
Obligatory language courses:
(1) All students of the first cycle of studies have to take the Lithuanian Language Standards course (4.5 ECTS).
(2) All first cycle students have to reach level B2 of English as a foreign language (12 ECTS) by the end of the fourth semester (completing the second year of studies) as a part of General obligatory subject group. If the student is assigned to level one (A1) upon entrance to the university, s/he studies levels A1 and A2 as optional but credited courses that allow her/him to enter levels B1 and B2 that are obligatory. Studying English at levels five and six (reaching C1 and C2 level competencies) as well as studying other languages offered at VMU is an optional but credited component of the students’ programme, except for some specific cases in some faculties (see 1.1).

Teaching of academic courses via an L2.
Academic courses for Lithuanian students are taught in the Lithuanian language. However, courses for foreign students are delivered in the English language. Presently the university offers 25 full-time BA and MA degree programmes in English and the number is increasing every semester (The complete list of the programmes in English is available on www.vdu.lt). Each semester at least 4-5 courses in all programs are taught in English, if 3 or more foreign students enrol in these courses. It is also possible for an international student to study any of the offered subjects individually, do research projects and get consultations in English.

Linguistic and/ or pedagogical support for students or lecturers involved in L2 teaching.
Lecturers who work with foreign students are paid for extra work (according to Rector’s order, the lecturer is given 7.5 additional hours for 1 foreign student per semester). The Centre of Foreign Languages is performing a research into the needs for support in organizing pedagogical and linguistic consultations for the lecturers involved in L2 teaching.

European / international partnerships
VMU has almost 100 Lifelong Learning and Erasmus programme partners in the whole world, has signed 44 treaties of mutual cooperation with universities in Europe, Asia, the USA and Japan and is a member of a number of international organizations. This is one of very important factors enhancing language learning, as academic mobility is an imperative to learn languages. VMU is also a member of Campus Europae project and is the only university in Lithuania participating in this inter-university exchange programme.

Collaboration with cultural institutes, embassies
The Centre of Foreign Languages has always been seeking to promote the teaching of foreign languages and establish successful relations with Centres of Foreign Languages of other universities, cultural institutes and embassies of the countries which languages are taught at the Centre. The Centre of Foreign languages collaborates with The British Council, the Institute of Italian Culture, Swedish Institute, the Embassies of Turkey, Norway and Estonia. The institutions help university community to acquire and improve their knowledge of other cultures by providing books for language learning, scholarships for summer language courses and inviting students and lecturers for meetings at the embassies.

Introduction of novel learning environments (ICT, a self-study centre, etc.)
VMU Centre of Foreign Languages offers an opportunity to study languages in a multimedia language learning laboratory. Equipped with the state-of-the-art digital language teaching and learning facilities, SANAKO Lab 300 helps students to advance in their language proficiency within a stimulating and easy-to-use learning environment. While enhancing the development of all aspects of language use, SANAKO Lab 300 is especially effective in improving students’ listening and speaking skills as well as in raising their general interactive and communicative competence of the language they study.

Successful language learning in SANAKO Lab 300 is guaranteed through the technical solutions and digital study tools: the main student’s tool is an innovative media player – Media Assistant Duo – containing two tracks: the program track and the students recording track. Consequently, the digital study material can be played on the program track, while the student’s input can be recorded on the student’s track. This not only enables the teacher to monitor the student’s input and to comment on his or her mistakes, but also enables the student to benefit from effective self-check and self-correction.

The teacher is equipped with the rich SANAKO Lab 300 Teacher Software to set and run a PC-based language lab environment in the way that most precisely corresponds to the needs of a particular language class. The teacher can select the students to work in pairs and groups delivering them different tasks or the students can be engaged in simulated telephone calls to each other. The teacher can listen and speak to the whole class, to a selected group or to a single student thus participating in the students’ activities. SANAKO Lab 300 enables the teacher to use a variety of multimedia teaching resources and the Internet video and audio material.

The teachers of the Centre of Foreign Languages use a variety of teaching resources depending on the language that is taught and the class level. In addition to the application of the world known producers of the teaching and learning resources such as Longman or BBC, our teachers passionately engage in building up the SANAKO Lab 300 based course material for specific targets or class periods.

A language club or café
There is a language club DIWAN at the Centre of Foreign Languages. It aims at gathering together people who are interested in the history, culture and traditions of nations living in Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan. The club unites those who want to learn more about the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. Where does the name come from? It means a Legislative Assembly in some countries of the Middle East, as well as a collection of Persian, Ottoman or Urdu poetry.
On 26 September each year the Centre of Foreign Languages has a tradition to celebrate the European Day of Languages. The activities of the Day do not only concentrate on linguistic diversity but also promote lifelong language learning. The participants are mostly academic youth and their teachers. Each year new thematic events are organized during the EDL, for instance, “Meeting the Queen” in 2006 (to commemorate the state visit of the Queen of Great Britain Elizabeth II and The Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip to Lithuania on 16-18 October, 2006), “How to Kill Boredom in the Class”, and etc. Students perform, sing, act, make posters, language fairs and invite others to join them and study a foreign language of their choice.

Preparation for external language certificates
The Centre of Foreign Languages offers advanced English language course (C2): “Preparation for the English Academic Examinations (IELT/TOEFL)”. The course aims at providing and developing practical academic English language skills for their successful employment in various academic situations. It includes a review and gives further theoretical and practical development of the skills for the employment of the main grammatical and syntactical categories and structures relevant to academic examinations and expands specific professional and academic vocabulary. It also introduces the methods of examination taking techniques, guessing techniques and time-saving techniques necessary for successful examination taking. Finally, it provides the development of academic writing, reading, listening, and speaking skills.
In June 2008 negotiations have started with Pearson Language Tests to become a Test Centre, applying to offer the London Tests of English and the London Tests of English for Children.

2. BACKGROUND TO THE INITIATIVE

2.1 Context

The linguistic situation in Lithuania at national level

As it is stated in National Programmes and Educational Standards of Secondary Education (2003), it is useful to study the most popular European languages (English, French, German and Russian) as well as the languages of neighbouring countries (Polish, Latvian, Estonian) and the languages of these countries that we communicate in different life areas (e.g. languages of Scandinavian countries). In General secondary schools pupils study two obligatory languages: the first foreign language is started in the 4th form (at the age of 10-11) and studied for 9 years; it is one of the three EU languages (English, German or French). The second foreign language is started at the 6th form and is studied for 5 years; it is chosen from some most popular European languages: English, French, German, Russian, Spanish or neighbouring languages Polish or Latvian or other European languages – Danish, Norwegian, Swedish and etc. Languages are taught 3 times a week, except for some schools with early language or intensified language learning programmes that devote more hours to languages. Students are expected to achieve B2 level of the first language competence and B1 level of the second language competence.

However, the real situation is far from the one targeted in the standards. Due to lack of English language teachers in town and in the country, lack of teachers in Scandinavian or neighbouring languages, lack of foreign language teachers in regions in Lithuania, only three hours allotted for language learning at secondary schools, and other reasons, a number of school leavers do not acquire the language at the stated above levels, even if they acquire their marks are diverse. E.g. out of the total number of entrants to VMU in 2007 (1800), only 4.6% had English language competence of B2 level and above. Therefore, universities have to devote attention no only to maintaining the acquired language competence but also to improving it, supplementing it with specific academic and professional language competencies.

The official language policy at institutional level

Since the re-establishment of Vytautas Magnus University in Lithuania in 1989 (after being closed during the soviet period), conditions for learning languages have been favourable. The re-founders of the university set the goal to achieve that all university 1st cycle programme students acquire the English language competence at upper intermediate level and above. Four levels (A1-B2) of English as a foreign language (24 ECTS) were obligatory for all non-language students till 2006. Since autumn semester of 2006, levels B1 and B2 have been obligatory (12 ECTS). Besides, learning of other foreign languages as optional but credited subjects has been encouraged.

During almost two decades a well-functioning language teaching system has been created and developed, unique in Lithuania:





2.2 Strategic goals of the initiative


The strategic goals and priorities of the institution:

There is a disposition at Vytautas Magnus University that good competence in several languages is an indispensable part of a modern university education. University Strategy states that broad humanitarian, social and language preparation is the main feature (among others, such as modernity, liberal education, etc.). Further on it is stated in the Strategy that university creates opportunities and access to study more than 20 languages to all university non-language programme students. “During the language courses students acquire not only good language skills but become aware of the target country culture, customs and traditions”. An important aspect that requires good language competence is the target to develop “PARTNERSHIP of research and study participants:


The Strategy Implementation Plan (2.1.5) defines an ambition “To create an optimal foreign language learning system cohering students’ intentions and opportunities, requirements of professional activity and international communication”.

The Strategy of the Centre of Modern Languages sets the following goals, among others: to liberalise the choice of foreign languages cohering students’ needs with the employability and international communication requirements; to expand the diversity of languages offered and renew the content of language programs regularly, taking into account new societal and professional needs; to offer distant language education courses; to design language courses to university community (faculty, staff), etc.

All the objectives listed above are inherent of language policy at VMU:

 

3. SUCCESS INDICATORS

All first cycle non-language programme students (100%) have to achieve level B2 in English by the end of their second year of studies (4th semester). This is an obligatory requirement; if not fulfilled, the student has to take an academic leave for one or two semesters to finish the obligatory English courses.

High uptake of extra classes (A1 and A2) designed to support students with a lower initial level in the language; eager acceptance of mobility programmes; no questioning of the role of English in students’ programme. About 25% of students achieve C2 by end of the 1st cycle programme (the exact numbers are under calculation). Over 3000 full-time and part-time first cycle students attend A1-B2 levels of all 19 obligatory and optional but credited language courses during each academic year. On average 93% of students successfully complete their language courses (whether these be obligatory or optional).

Greater uptake of optional courses or other language learning possibilities. Comparing the enrolment of full-time students into language courses in autumn semester in 2004 and 2007, the following research data were obtained:
In 2004, 21% (876) of the first cycle full time students of the whole first cycle student population were enrolled in language courses, 95% were learning one language, 3.7% - two languages and 1.3% - three languages. Whereas in the autumn semester of 2007, 54% (2133) of first cycle full time students were enrolled in language courses, among them 91.4% were studying one language, 7% - two, 1.2% - three and 0.4% - four.

A well-functioning system ensures efficient language acquisition and students’ ability to use the language in communicative situations in academic, everyday and professional context. VMU graduates distinguish themselves by higher level of the English language competence and broader range of acquired other foreign languages than graduates of other Lithuanian HE institutions.

4. SUCCESS FACTORS

Clear international communication and professional orientation to students in terms of mobility, creating positive attitudes to language learning.
VMU has almost 100 LLP/Erasmus partners in 23 countries, and 44 bilateral cooperation partners with universities in 18 countries in Europe, Asia, the USA, Japan, is a member of 4 international organizations. Since 2003 VMU is the only Lithuanian partner of the project “Campus Europae” – an interuniversity exchange programme which joins 19 European universities with the aim of enhancing learning the languages of the European countries. The students from the School of Law can obtain a Certificate in Transnational Law, awarded by Michigan State University-Detroit College of Law according to the bilateral agreement. The number of students participating in the exchange programs exceeds 130 per year. This is an explicit and implicit message that serves as a motivator to learn languages.

Clear professional orientation to students’ academic programme in terms of employability, creating positive attitudes to language learning. Job placement offers, adverts in national and local press, meetings with employers, university alumni, student’ participation in Work and Travel programmes during their summer holidays explicitly and implicitly state that competence in two or three foreign languages is an advantage.

Other factors which have contributed most to the gains in motivating learners to study languages:

 

5. LESSONS TO BE LEARNED

5.1 Lessons to be learned at institutional level


The initiative to organize the teaching and learning languages at the Centre of Foreign Languages Vytautas Magnus University is a success story. The survey (n=1999) of first cycle students in 2007 showed that 93% of the respondents were satisfied with language policy at VMU. University is recognized in the country as having positive experience in teaching languages to non-language programme students.
The following features can be considered positive:



5.2 Broader implications

What are the lessons that could be derived from the language policy initiative described above that could be of relevance in other contexts?
First, institutional support and understanding of the importance of plurilingual competence development, seeing staff and students’ language competence development as one of the priorities in university Strategy Implementation Plan; allocation of credits for language learning.

Second, need to use English and other languages in the students’ academic and professional area (reading literature, writing summaries, listening to visiting professors, going to mobility programmes and work and travel programs).

Third, a well-organised system of language provision (intensive language courses – five times a week in the morning hours; devoted and competent teachers; safe learning environment; active teaching methods; continuous language assessment form).

Fourth, extracurricular activities – language weeks, festivals, clubs; attractive advertising of language courses.