Alicia Aranda is Head of the CEU-UCH Languages Service. They have seen an increase in the number of students wanting to learn English, while the arrival of International Students has resulted in the addition of Spanish lessons. Those students with an upper-intermediate level of English have more chances of a better place at work.
From a global point of view, what is the importance of languages in the market place?
English, without doubt, is the international language and I would say it is, fundamentally, indispensable in the professional world.
Nevertheless, in the department, we encourage students to learn other languages, such as French and German. Students who want to work in Germany, for example, are requested to have a certain level of German. And we cannot forget Spanish. Spanish is a language that attracts more and more foreign students; at this moment we could say that almost 50% of our classes are aimed at teaching Spanish to international students. Our work here in the Languages department has changed a lot during the last few years.
And this change is due to CEU-UCH internationalization…
It is a fact that in the past we had hardly any foreign students. Nowadays we have not only Erasmus students but Students from Taiwan, England, Italy and France. This means some degrees are taught in English-Spanish and in French-Spanish. Therefore the Language Service is involved with other faculties such as Dentistry and Veterinary to impart classes in Spanish. Some international students from other degrees of the Health sciences Faculty such as Physiotherapy have just started a new Spanish course, and we still have term courses for Erasmus incoming students.
What kind of advantages does an Erasmus scholarship offer to students who study abroad?
My personal experience as an Erasmus student has been very important for my career. It is an experience I highly recommend: it is a chance to live in a foreign country learning about every aspect of its traditions, its life style and see how others universities operate. The foreign language level of proficiency has to be pretty high. Some students, here in CEU-UCH think that we are asking for a too high level in English (B2); the level for French is lower (B1).
Both the International Relations Office and us consider that students need to reach a certain level in the language of that country they are going to visit.
We have seen Erasmus students arriving here with a poor level of competency in Spanish. This makes that neither the teacher nor the student feels at ease in the class; it may also stop the student from total integration within the group.
How do you think companies view students who have been studying in another country for either one year or for the whole length of their degree course?
These students have a fundamental advantage; their language skills have improved considerably. Therefore when students do not find jobs in Spain, they should try to go abroad, then take an exam and achieve the necessary language level required to work in most Spanish and international firms. The employer will ask the employee for the right certificate which shows that he/she has passed the required language level. I highly recommend students to sit an exam and get a certificate with recognized validity.
To compare language skills, which level is higher: the English and Spanish level of International/Erasmus incoming students or the English/other language levels of Spanish students?
Foreign students are the winners! Their level of English is higher than the level of our Spanish Students. Their language skills vary a lot depending on the education system if their country.
I think Spaniards do not lean another language because Spanigh is widely spoken, so they do not need any other language apart from Spanish. And Films and series are dubbed; this makes a difference with the rest of European countries, where children have the opportunity of listening to English on TV since they are born.
I always recommend students to watch films and television series in English, even if it is shown with Spanish sub-tittles.
The language Department has designed the project called “Student partner”. It is a language exchange opportunity for any student who wants to improve a foreign language. We are also encouraging foreign students to participate.
Can you say that the interest in learning another language has increased over the past few years?
The fact that students need to reach the B1 level in English has meant an increase in the number of students who wish to learn English. In some cases students are self-motivated to learn English. Although a few would like to reach up to C1 level, the majority needs B2 for professional reasons. They should not be happy just with a B1 level, but they should continue learning…
Have you seen any changes in language teaching methods?
Language teaching methods have changed dramatically over the years. Teachers now focus more on individual and group needs, because we know everyone learns differently and it is better for us. We use more technology to communicate contents and to get access to software and all the fee resources on the internet. It helps us teach better and it is fun for our students. Our tutors are familiarized with modern technologies. At present, we are using a particular program, of a well known publishing company, which allows students to practice and learn at home online.
In your opinion, what would be the best method to teach a language? Which one would you recommend?
Teaching methods have to be adapted to the type of students we teach. At times because of time constraints teachers have to take a more traditional path, and do no have time to use as many communicative activities as we would want to. However, it is impossible, or very difficult, to use only one method in a language class.
In my opinion, it is essential to create an environment of mutual support, trust and understanding, between the teacher and the student. Learning a foreign language may be quite a hard task for some people, and they need to feel confident in the class, they need to feel that, with a little effort, they will be able to speak and use the target language.
Some students are not used to a communicative method and prefer more theory than practice. For example when you ask them to present an oral piece of work, they are less inclined to do it. Erasmus students, for example, are more open to a practical method. The teacher should then use an eclectic approach by applying what we think is the best option to help our students. I would say that the method we use will depend on the teacher’s style and the students’ needs. Variety and flexibility are a must in any foreign language class.