Student - May 8, 2018

Student Alliance Wageningen moves against lecturers’ Dunglish

Friso Veenstra,Linda van der Nat

Using a quotes bingo, the Student Alliance Wageningen wants to draw attention to the pidgin English spoken by some lecturers. They fear the quality of education will suffer. According to the university, the situation is not as bad as SAW makes it look.

© Marte Hofsteenge

Lecturers who call each and every image a ‘cartoon’ or wish their students ‘success with your assignment’: the Student Alliance Wageningen (SAW) claims that some WUR lecturers would do well to improve their English skills. During the next term, the union will be handing out bingo tickets with Dunglish spoken by Wageningen lecturers.

With the start of five English bachelor’s programmes next September, people start to fear for the quality of education. ‘This does not only apply to Wageningen, as it is a nation-wide occurrence’, says Gulia Homs, chair of SAW. ‘An increasing number of programmes are being offered in English. But is this at the cost of the quality of education? We want to raise people’s awareness of the issue whether this is a good idea in the first place.’ This awareness applies to students – ‘Does my lecturer speak proper English?’ – as well as to lecturers. Homs: ‘A lot is about to change. There will suddenly be five additional programmes that will have to be taught in English.’

An increasing number of programmes are being offered in English. But is this at the cost of the quality of education?
Giulia Homs, chair Student Alliance Wageningen

Students can fill out the bingo tickets during lectures. The person to mark off all positions on their ticket wins. ‘The level of English should really improve for both students and lecturers. This is a friendly activity for both groups’, says Homs.

Sylvia van der Weerden, Head of Wageningen in’to Languages, likes the idea of students keeping the English level of their lecturers in check, but she is also prepared to stand up for the lecturers. ‘Such a game quotes extremes, but it isn’t a representation of reality. As I see it, the lecturers are dealt with unnecessarily harshly for their accent, for example, although their lectures are clear and intelligible.’

Dean of Education Arnold Bregt calls the student’s campaign ‘playful’. ‘It reminds me of the booklet I always get my sin about the mistakes the Dutch make when speaking English. I don’t have the feeling the English of our lecturers is much of a problem. Student assessments have never revealed anything of the like. But it is obviously always a good idea to keep developing.’

SAW’s bingo ticket
SAW’s bingo ticket

The English level of all Wageningen lecturers is currently being tested by Wageningen in’to Languages. Van der Weerden: ‘The lecturers of the Environmental Sciences Group have already been tested, and we are working with the Animal Sciences Group as we speak.’

Based on the zero measurement, the university will take measures to improve the English level of lecturers, where necessary. The university would like all lecturers to speak English at a near-native level. According to Van der Weerden, most lecturers of the Environmental Sciences Group are already at a high C1 level, ‘this is a very good start, but not yet the target level of C2’.

Van der Weerden sees a lot of lecturers hesitate whether they should attend. ‘Work pressure is high, they often have been teaching in English for quite a while, and they have different priorities. I fully understand that, but it is the wrong approach. The quotes that end up on such a bingo tickets are the ones made by the somewhat weaker brothers. It is therefore incredibly important that each lecturer participates in the zero measurement. The university aims to get all lecturers at the highest possible level; that is not something that can be achieved overnight.’

According to SAW, the lecturers are only tested for their understanding of English, not their pronunciation, intelligibility or language skills. This is incorrect, refutes Van der Weerden. ‘The assessment consists of an online test and an oral intake. Additionally, we recommend a quick scan of an online lecture. We use this to assess how comfortable someone is in the use of English, whether they react to questions correctly, and the extent of their vocabulary. This allows for a good estimation someone’s familiarity with the language.’ To Van der Weerden’s regret, these quick scans are rarely done yet. ‘Managers should encourage this. Perhaps it is not yet sufficiently known among them.’

Additional reading (partly in Dutch):

Re:actions 5

  • The Pot Who Calls the Kettle Black

    As a native English speaker, I am always shocked by how harshly Dutch students judge the English abilities of their lecturers. Sure most lecturers (and students) speak accented English and very occasionally don't know a word or use the wrong word. But in my opinion, these factors are much less likely to negatively impact teaching or learning than, say, students playing on their smartphones during class.

    • The Pot Who Calls the Kettle Black

      ... or playing bingo for that matter.

    • Student Alliance Wageningen

      You are absolutely right. That is why we are trying to make everyone (students and teachers alike) aware of the changes that will take place coming year. The whole university needs to adapt. Besides, excursion leaders from outside the university and other people involved need to be informed clearly. Furthermore, important choices about what material should be thought to the students (e.g. still teaching the Dutch soil classification system?), since many students still need to be able to communicate in Dutch at their jobs in the Netherlands. So, there is a lot to do for everyone.

    • Nienke Fleur

      someone being on their phone impacts their personal understanding of the course material, whereas failure of teachers to properly communicate the course material to the students affects the understanding of the course material for all students. Even if the impact of smartphones on the individual might be worse, it remains a personal choice of which the impact is restricted to whoever is making the decision, unlike failure to communicate properly, which impact others, and therefore is a problem that actually needs to be addressed.

  • student

    Heel goed van SAW, ik maak in mijn bachelor meerdere docenten mee die het Engels niet goed genoeg beheersen. Het toppunt was een docent die zei 'the consumer is always the peanut'. Het heeft mij wel een tijdje gekost om te begrijpen dat hij 'de pineut' bedoelde. Als Nederlander kan je dit soort dingen nog begrijpen, maar voor internationale studenten wordt dat vrijwel onmogelijk.