Vignette 6: Concepts of language

Antonio: “We don’t have an embedded approach in our first year curriculum. Unfortunately students are seen as having remedial rather than developmental needs and the whole institutional approach is based on this, with students being sent off to take extra seminars that they can’t see as being relevant to their studies. We do have some credit-bearing language and learning units, but these are elective, non-core units, and so don’t get high numbers of enrolments.”

Mike: “There is constant pressure from management to produce evidence that language development programs are working. The problem is that this is really difficult – how can we measure the learning within a language development workshop to performance in a degree context? There are too many other variables to take into account. We have trialled a screening test and the inclusion of language assessment criteria in one course and found that there was a strong correlation between lower English results and lower academic results. However, while we were piloting initiatives it was unrealistic to evaluate progress in English, so our focus was on practical elements and the responses from students, staff and other stakeholders.”

Sue: “At our university the vast majority of staff talk about English language proficiency as though it is synonymous with an IELTS score. Discussions tend to be framed around band scores without any apparent understanding of what they might actually mean in real life or whether this is a desirable way of viewing language capabilities in the complex and multicultural world for which our university claims to be preparing its students.”