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A new look at teaching in English

Claimed language issues arising in classes held in English may actually be cultural misunderstandings, says PhD student

In English-language classes, most teachers and students rely on a language that is not there own. This opens up a whole range of potential misunderstandings.

However, Joyce Myra Kling Soren, who is at the start of a PhD project on English-language teaching at the Faculty of Life Sciences, is not rushing to any conclusions.

What appears to be a language issue, may actually be something else entirely; cultural confusion.

Read the University Post article Lecturer provoked by poor English evaluation here.

Academic cultures vary

»When you have people coming from different cultures, they may still not share an academic culture. It’s not just the language, because the words you might have are all the same, but if you don’t have an academic culture in common, you might still miss each other entirely,« Joyce points out.

As yet, her own research is in the embryonic stages.

»A great deal of the research on the subject is from the student’s point of view, but I am looking at it from the viewpoint of the teacher,« she explains.

Non-natives teaching non-natives

Her project also concentrates on the relatively new situation in many internationalised universities of non-native English speakers teaching other non-native speakers.

A situation where the possibilities for misunderstanding are, it would seem, doubled.

See the University Post article Bad accent is considered bad teaching here.

»Most of the research on the subject deals with native speakers teaching internationals. For the first ten or 15 years of international education, universities brought in English-speaking professors to hold lectures in English.«

»But that has now been replaced by local teachers or sometimes teachers from other countries coming in and using English as a medium,« she continues.

Life Sciences to be certified

Her focus on the Faculty of Life Sciences is due to the faculty’s pro-active stance in relation to internationalisation, she says. From September, 13 of the faculty’s 16 master’s degrees will be in English.

The Faculty of Life Sciences has provided the first 19 volunteers for the English-language certification process at the University of Copenhagen, which Joyce has helped to develop. The faculty has also signed a contract to ensure that all of its teachers will go through the certification process.

Certification is a tool which both assesses lecturers’ language skills, and helps them to improve, Joyce explains.
»It is not just a test,« she says.

»There is a formative element and extensive feedback. We give teachers an assessment of areas they are good at, areas that they could improve. They also get a video of their performance and access to us for a follow-up meeting.«

And when teachers do not make the grade, it is not up to the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use (CIP) to tell them what to do. They simply offer guidance.

»We can assess, but we do not make any demands. It is like going to the doctor,« explains Joyce.