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Teaching staff at the University of Copenhagen accept the need for more courses taught in English but also fear the consequences for the Danish language
Danish universities, including the University of Copenhagen, offer more courses in English now than ever before. However, the university’s predominantly Danish academic staff see a downside to the increased use of English in the classroom: Danish as a language of research as well as the quality of teaching could be undermined.
According to a recent study, which was carried out by the Centre for Internationalisation and Parallel Language Use, there is widespread acceptance of the need for English language in class.
Teaching courses in English makes it easier to recruit the best international lecturers and students. It also provides graduates with greater opportunities in an increasingly international – and English speaking – marketplace, and fits into the overall strategy of internationalising the university.
Three out of five respondents believe that their own department should increase the number of courses offered in English to attract students from all over the world. A solid seven out of ten respondents say that the university needs to offer more courses in English if it is to be internationally competitive.
However, nearly four out of every five university employees feel that the university is obliged to communicate research results in Danish.
Critics of the increasing use of English point to the phenomenon of language domain loss; as more and more people are educated in English, they may find it harder to discuss their field in Danish. In the long term, the development of discipline-specific terminology in Danish may be halted.
Three out of five staff members consider it a problem for the Danish society that subject areas develop in such a way that they can no longer be explained in Danish.
The staff survey poses a challenge to a university with an international profile, and which offers more and more courses in English.
Students learn best when they are taught in their mother tongue, say three out of four university employees. Also, not all university teachers are able to teach in English, at least in the opinion of 73 pct. of their peers.
If the University of Copenhagen is to draw any conclusion from the study, it is that it may have to face up to the paradox of offering more English language courses, while ensuring that the Danish language domain does not shrink.
According to Christian Jensen, one of the authors of the study, an increase in the number of courses taught in English and research dissemination in Danish should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
»It is not an either/or question, but a both/and question. University teachers want both the English medium teaching, while ensuring the Danish terminology,« he says.