Passing on a selected newsitem from the latest newsletter of the Belgian & Dutch Association of academic Language centres ‘NUT’ with a focus on its Jubilee conference in Antwerp.
On the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the NUT, the NUT anniversary conference “Power and splendour of language” took place in Antwerp on 5 April 2019. For the first time, non-members were also welcome at a NUT event: the conference had a total of 240 participants!
The Academic Language Theme Group was well attended by 23 participants from different Dutch and Belgian language centres, with both academic Dutch and English represented. Various topics were discussed, including digital tools for academic language teaching, the growing super-diversity in our society and how this poses a challenge to (language) teaching, language impoverishment in Dutch, language policy at the various institutes, and academic writing evaluation. These topics were first discussed in small groups and then summed up in a plenary session.
As far as digitools are concerned, there are several centres that have already developed digitools for academic language education on different platforms (e.g. Canvas, Brightspace, Moodle, Speedgrader (evaluation), Prowise, Testvision, Academic Writing Assistant (Leuven), Novolanguage (Nijmegen), Better Writing (UvA) = frequently used platforms) and there are many valuable materials and initiatives to be found on the Internet such as Taalwinkel / Arnout Kuijpers’ films / Cambium. However, it remains a challenge to motivate students to use these tools.
Several points were raised during the discussion on super-diversity, including the point that the centres are not a big fan of the increasing use of English as Lingua Franca in Higher Education, but believe that the problem is bigger than language in both Dutch and English. Academic skills must therefore be included in the story and there must be a realisation that they are not universally the same. In this respect, native Dutch speakers have an undeniable advantage as they have already acquired certain skills in their previous education which are very important in our academic system.
An extra meeting of this theme group took place last January. The topics of policy issues and evaluation tools for academic writing were discussed. Now these topics were again discussed for language policy. In practice, however, money remains a major problem, together with the underestimation of academic language skills by the central administrations. Language proficiency is a basis for academic proficiency and a university is obliged to support this development. It would be interesting to share the different language policies on paper in order to look at similar trends and, if necessary, to take the initiative together. The question for whom the writing evaluations were discussed was whether it could be streamlined, but the answer was clearly no because the focus of what you are trying to learn is different in each course/assignment. What also emerged was that time and attention were needed when giving feedback, especially for those who score an unsatisfactory score. Around these two points we want to come together again during an extra theme group meeting. There we can discuss the policy documents and correct a number of papers together to see if a difference in approach does not lead to a large difference in score.
The discussions resulted in a number of statements that will be presented for discussion at the network lunch:
- Language policy is a long road, where small interventions have to be taken using a bottom-up method.
- Teachers with a heart for language should take the lead in academic language policy.
- We cannot automatically assume that anyone with a secondary education diploma will be able to speak English at B2 level.
- It is the duty of higher education institutions to offer academic language proficiency as an embedded subject.
- Digital tools make human interaction unnecessary.
- A grid does not replace human evaluation.
Unfortunately, not many people came to lunch to discuss it. We look forward to discussing these points further with each other.
(Estelle Meima & Tom De Moor, Chairs of the thematic group on Academic Language)