The Linguist

The Linguist 53,2

The Linguist is a languages magazine for professional linguists, translators, interpreters, language professionals, language teachers, trainers, students and academics with articles on translation, interpreting, business, government, technology

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 13 of 35

Good news for universities? 14 The Linguist APRIL/MAY FEATURES Nick Byrne on the increase in non-specialist language provision N ext year, I will have worked as a language provider in the Higher Education sector for a quarter of a century. For the last ten years, in particular, I have monitored the rise of non-specialist language provision for the Association of University Language Centres (AULC), the Departments of Education and Business, Hefce (the Higher Education Funding Council for England) and the European Commission. I have also been able to observe its effects on the sector as a whole – both positive and negative. The term 'non-specialist language provision' needs some initial clarification. On the one hand it simply refers to the language provision provided for students who are not doing a full language degree; on the other it encompasses a wide range of courses that often link to official university policies on employability, mobility, internationalisation and even income generation. Non-specialist language provision can vary greatly between institutions. At a 'high-status' level it can be in the form of credit-bearing modules, which count towards each year of degree study. This can vary from as little as 5 percent to a high of 25 percent. Most universities also run separate not-for-credit language courses, which are generally priced low enough to attract as large an uptake as possible. These courses do not count towards a degree but they are certified and quality controlled by the host institution. Furthermore, the course grades or statements of attendance appear on students' transcripts, which record all the activities that contribute towards a successful employability profile. Both routes can come under the acronym IWLP ('institution-wide language programmes') and I shall use this term to apply to both routes throughout this article. The arrival of language centres The development of IWLPs is closely linked to the growth of language centres, which began to increase as a way of supporting language learning in the 1960s and 1970s. Forward- thinking languages faculties and departments were quick to recognise the role of technology in language acquisition, and established units that contained language laboratories and open-access learning facilities. Oxford and Cambridge did so in the 1970s, creating purpose-built environments for students to practise their applied language skills. Other visionary universities that pioneered purpose-built units were Warwick, Manchester, Leeds and, in particular, Sussex. Universities such as Bradford, Sheffield and Bath developed language degrees with a focus on applied language learning, and consequently invested in technology that developed into language resources centres. During this period, universities that provided traditional language degrees had the unshakable belief that practical language skills were to be acquired either in the year abroad or in these newly established centres. Traditional or mainstream language departments were thus able to concentrate on the more formal and theoretical aspects of language and literature, leaving a parallel workforce of native speakers, lecteurs and assistants to deliver actual language tuition. Language centres were therefore a useful (and sometimes the only) resource for students to learn and develop practical language skills – and it was precisely these skills that students of Business, Engineering, Law and Journalism wanted to acquire alongside their main courses of study. A period of optimism In the 1990s, a different pattern of support emerged in response to a realisation that traditional language degrees were losing both students and value in the eyes of employers. There was also a noticeable growth in the provision of joint honours programmes (eg, Law and French, Economics and German, Finance and Spanish), and degrees with a named language component (Engineering with German, Journalism with French). These joint and combined honours programmes focused on practical language competence, rather than theoretical knowledge or an understanding of linguistics, taking a practical approach to language instruction, often using technology. Language centres gained greater status as standalone Students are well aware of what an institution has to offer: the luxury canteen, the excellent language centre Good news for universities? IMAGES: © THINKSTOCK

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Linguist - The Linguist 53,2