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INTERNATIONALIZATION AND LANGUAGE Jan Persens University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa A presentation for the AUDIS Project A follow-up.

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Presentation on theme: "INTERNATIONALIZATION AND LANGUAGE Jan Persens University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa A presentation for the AUDIS Project A follow-up."— Presentation transcript:

1 INTERNATIONALIZATION AND LANGUAGE Jan Persens University of the Western Cape, Cape Town, South Africa A presentation for the AUDIS Project A follow-up activity at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgiun, June 4-6, 2008

2 SUMMARY Language is one of the crucial instruments in learning. If one is not appropriately skilled in the language of instruction, language could then be experienced as one of as one of the obstacles in the process of learning. Learning, education, research and development are increasingly taking place within an international context, involving teams of international scholars and by encouraging study or education abroad. Some of this internationalization is inspired by the progress made in information and telecommunications. It is, therefore, not surprising that language proficiency has become an important factor in the world. Scientific results and knowledge is being distributed at an ever faster pace in different languages. Developing countries, which experience substantial challenges, cannot afford to lag behind.

3 There are several particular activities in which the role of language is essential

4 There are several reasons and activities through which the importance of language can be emphasized within the context of internationalization/globalization. They include Student Mobility- Exposure to Diverse Cultures; Study Abroad Higher Education and Development Transnational Trade, and Political and international relations

5 Within the academic realm, language has inadvertently also become a source of academic conflict, especially between supervisors and their students. Often this conflict results from differences in language usage and idiom, misunderstandings, misinterpretations or different appreciations of expressions which may result from differences in culture. It is within these various possibilities that one must find the reality in order to suggest and implement potential solutions.

6 In this presentation we identify various roles for language in education, identify the essential aspects of the AUDIS-St Louis report which relate to language and internationalization. Workshop participants particularly identified and recognized that commonality of language

7 improves efficiency, results in greater participation and helps to ease communication.

8 By referring to a particular study, the author identifies several reasons why language could arise as a source of academic conflict and proposes a few reasons for concern about such conflict and how the language challenge can be resolved.

9 INTRODUCTION Language plays a crucial role in education. Here education is meant to include formal and informal education as well as sharing ideas/thoughts with a view of understanding. Here are some roles of language in education as identified by the author:

10 It is a vital tool for communicating with each other It allows us to understand each others ideas and points of view. Explaining concepts, both trivial and complex, is largely achieved by speaking and writing and, where applicable, by means of sign language. Features of nations, their languages and cultures are usually differently understood, interpreted and portrayed by speakers of other languages and practitioners of other cultures. Language has an impact on the scope and extent of internationalization in (higher) education. The ease with which communication takes place depends on the nature and complexity of the topic or activity under discussion or to be mastered. The meaningfulness of communication is usually, yet not always, improved when it happens between speakers of a common language. The more uneven the proficiency in the language identified for communication purposes, the greater the chance for misunderstanding or even delay in completion of a task. Language is one of the essential vehicles of enhancing Globalization which would demand that increasingly speakers of different languages would make efforts to improve the quality of communication and comprehension

11 BACKGROUND OF AUDIS PROJECT The Edulink project has an overall aim of Strengthening the International Dimension of a number of African Universities. The acronym AUDIS stands for African Universities International Dimension Strengthening. At the AUDIS Workshop (December 3-5 December, 2007) at Gaston Berger University (GBU) in St. Louis, Senegal four (final) priority challenges with respect to internationalization were identified, viz.,

12 Language; Planning and Management of the international dimension of education and research; Mobility of students and teachers; and Access to international funding for education and research.

13 The broad area under which the question of Language was identified as a concern/challenge/problem was labeled Mobility and the particular item 18 was listed as linguistic non-homogeneity and conditional selection of partners which points to the fact that language would play a role in the choices of partner institutions. This incidentally might also influence students choices of universities for advanced studies. The high priority given to language as an area for which training is needed, clearly came as a surprise to the organizers. Indeed, in the AUDIS-St Louis report it is stated that

14 the fact that language has been identified as one of the training needs shows how the problem exists, well beyond the expectations of the organizers. [1]

15 Yet, participants recognized that commonality of language: improves efficiency, results in greater participation and helps to ease communication

16 ACTIVITIES EMPHASISING IMPORTNACE OF LANGUAGE There are several reasons and activities through which the importance of language can be emphasized within the context of internationalization/globalization. For all these developments, effective and meaningful verbal and written communication skills have become essential. We describe four of these activities.

17 Student Mobility- Exposure to Diverse Cultures; Study Abroad Interestingly, mobility of students – another area prioritized for training in the AUDIS Project-- used to be almost limited to educating and training citizens from developing countries at institutions in developed countries. [The reverse type of mobility was an exception.] It is, therefore, not surprising that a number of the political and educational leaders in Africa were to be educated in the USA, Europe and the former Soviet Union. Judging from conversations and experiences with people educated in these countries, learning to write and speak languages of their host countries, became part of the deal. In some instances it might even have been a matter of spreading political influence under the guise of foreign aid.

18 Today, the above-mentioned trend is almost forgotten as a study abroad activity. Instead, institutions in developed countries are urged to grow the number of their students who participate in education programmes abroad, particularly in developing countries to enhance exposure to cultural diversity. Serious targets are being set and funding is made available to achieve these objectives. For example, it is believed that most of the growth in the number of (American) students studying abroad, can be attributed to increased institutional support of such initiatives under the larger rubric of international education (American Council on Education, 2003). [Quoted in [4], p143]

19 (The USA) federal government initiatives have also been significan factors in the growth of study abroad. … The Bipartisan Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Commission was charged with recommending a program to greatly expand the opportunity for students at institutions of higher education in the United States to study abroad, with special emphasis on studying in developing countries and that meets the growing need of the United States to become more sensitive to the cultures –and may I add languages – of other countries (House Resolution 2673, Section104). [Quoted in [4], p143] To show their seriousness, the commission released a report in November 2005 calling on the United States to send 1 million students abroad annually by (Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Programs, 2005) [4]

20 Higher Education and Development Given that we now live in the era of the Knowledge Economy, higher education plays a crucial role as an anchor for socio- economic and technological development. Thus, internationalization of higher education has a direct impact on, inter alia, international relations with respect to international trade, international diplomatic relations, and transnational cultural interactions. In some sense the effectiveness of these interactions depends on the extent to which languages are spoken and understood between and among nations. A look at a definition of internationalization of higher education institutions provides an appreciation of the importance of the latter conclusion. Internationalization of higher education institutions can be broadly defined as

21 a global phenomenon that comprises aa global phenomenon that comprises a large number of activities, including

22 student mobility initiatives such as exchange programs, field schools, internships, and other study abroad programs; research research collaborative development projects with partners abroad; faculty exchange programs; faculty exchange programs; off-shore programs such as twinning arrangements and satellite campuses; and others. [3]

23 There should be no doubt that language is a crucial vehicle for participating in the various facets of internationalization mentioned above. In addition, it is important that quality is assured when students and faculty participate in these activities. Such understanding and quality are closely linked to appropriate language acquisition and proficiency.

24 Knowledge generation occurs across languages. Most significant research groups, especially in science and technology, is comprised in a multilingual fashion, not by choice but as a result of the natural spread of knowledge and talent. Such mixing of talent does not necessarily result in a harmonious outcome but it is unavoidable. Somehow ways must be devised to ensure progress in projects despite the fact that members of a research or development group may speak different languages.

25 Transnational Trade and Diplomacy It can be argued that diversity did not really matter as long as there was no or insignificant reasons for nations to interact and communicate with each other. And, where such interactions were limited to trade, diplomacy, political dominance, etc., a limited number of role players could be trained to participate in such interactions. If required, the services of translators could be used. Due to the growth in and development of communication technologies, participation in these acts and forms of interaction has grown multifold. Transnational trade in some materials, including raw materials, has become crucial for the survival of some nations, both in the developed and developing world. In fact, certain developing countries have started to play roles in international affairs way beyond the significance of their overall role in world politics. With increasing conflict between nations and within nations, there is a greater need for diplomatic actions. Much of the success of such diplomatic actions depends on the tone and content of the language employed.

26 Political Expediency Perhaps, as an example of the considered need for language capacity, one could dwell briefly on the situation in the United States of America. This superpower became aware of the reality of the significant role of language and communication in the tongues of the other(s). In fact, the State Department decided to fund foreign language and area studies programmes at several universities and colleges in that country. Being able to speak the languages of several countries, both large and small, has become almost an obsession for some countries. In the process, the awareness of the need to study, or being (even partially) educated abroad, started to increase and opportunities were expanded.


28 Some Basic Thoughts Usually, as done above, one emphasizes the positive aspects in the usage of languages. Language challenges occur in a variety of situations. For the sake of focus, this presentation will emphasize language challenges as they relate to international graduate students participating in programmes offered in their non-native languages in foreign countries.

29 Believe it or not, a study [2], within the context of Internationalization of Higher Education, has shown that language proficiency or the lack thereof, could be identified as a serious source of conflict between graduate students and their supervisors. Usually it would be some of the most talented students who would be provided with financial support by their governments, recruiting international institutions or funding agencies such as foundations and foreign governments. However,

30 academic capability in their subjects of study/research does not mean that international graduate students are well-equipped in the preferred language of instruction of the host institution. the idiom of a language which is perfectly understood between native or regional speakers of the same language, is one of the most obvious sources of misunderstanding. lack of openness, time, and feedback; unclear expectations; and poor English proficiency (both oral and written) are some of the most common sources of conflict). destructive conflict occurs in a significant number of international graduate student and faculty supervisor relationships.

31 Almost all the reasons for conflict, mentioned above, can be, either directly or indirectly, related to communication and understanding.

32 Reasons for concern about such conflict lie in the fact that: A positive experience at a host institution does not only mean a qualification for the student, but both the student and the host country nationals benefit from an enriched learning and social environment that results from intercultural interaction. There is a close link between language and culture and beliefs. Writing styles which are analytical, direct, logically connected are (usually) valued in Western universities, while some students from East Asia would consider such styles as rude or childish or insulting to the intelligence of the audience, [2. p93 ] they consider a roundabout writing style as elegant, sophisticated, polite, kind, and, above all, interesting. [2. p93] Research shows a significant disparity between the views of supervisors and those of their graduate students

33 oSupervisors reported the following sources more frequently than did their international graduate students: student cannot write, understand and weak English adequately as sources of conflict. oThis finding did not appear explicitly among the students reasons for conflict: Students highlighted lack of feedback, lack of support or guidance from supervisor, different expectations about how close/personal the student/supervisor should be, and disrespect from the supervisor. [2, p100 ]

34 RESOLVING THE LANGUAGE CHALLENGE The small working groups at the AUDIS Workshop identified several resources and opportunities of addressing the language and communication challenge. Naturally, there would be several obstacles to the meaningful implementation of such plans. The following seem to be reasonable ways of tackling this challenge [1]

35 use of language centers and laboratories; use facilities and expertise of foreign language, communications, journalism, public relations departments at universities; use opportunities offered by foreign country cultural centres (such as Alliance Française, the Goethe Institut, etc.) and foundations; web-based language courses, especially where ICT infrastructure has been appropriately developed; use the language plurality within the AUDIS group in order to enhance language development among members; and be aware of the challenges posed by language diversity in internationalization.

36 In addition the author would like to add the following: offering of subject/discipline specific language courses; expect proficiency in language of instruction as compulsory requirement for enrolment but allow for exemption on the basis of a good performance on comprehensive language proficiency test; recognize that idiom of/in a language plays a crucial role in comprehension between mother tongue speakers and others

37 With respect to Language Proficiency for (Graduate) Studies here are some of the suggestions offered by [2, p109]:

38 If the skills in English or the language of instruction of (graduate) students are not of an appropriate level, the recruitment process needs to be improved so that students abilities and potential to develop necessary skills are more accurately measured. The degree and frequency of (mis)understanding when using the English or language of instruction, need to be considered when assessing language abilities. Recognize that some differences can be expected between students who do and those who do not speak the preferred language of instruction as a first language. Establish conversation circles or language written assignments to facilitate increase language proficiency. Realize that poor language proficiency does not equate to a lack of other critical or analytical skills. Ensure a certain level of proficiency of the research discourse as required by academic language of communication.

39 Clearly all of these reasons can be linked to communication and language. Significantly, among the faculty supervisor group, poor English proficiency was among the two most commonly mentioned sources of conflict. [2. p102]

40 REFERENCES AUDIS Workshop (December 3-5 December, 2007), Gaston Berger University (GBU), St. Louis, Senegal Adrian-Taylor, S.R.; Noels, K.A; Tischler, K.: Conflict Between International Graduate Students and Faculty Supervisors: Toward Effective Conflict Prevention and Management Strategies, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11, Number 1, Spring 2007, pp Schuerholz-Lehr, S.: Teaching for Global Literacy in Higher Education: How Prepared Are the Educators?, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11, Number 2, Summer 2007, pp Schuerholz-Lehr, S.: Teaching for Global Literacy in Higher Education: How Prepared Are the Educators?, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11, Number 2, Summer 2007, pp Dolby, N.: Reflections on Nation: American Undegraduates and Education Abroad, Journal of Studies in International Education, Vol. 11, Number 2, Summer 2007, pp

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