Science - March 25, 2004

Chinese students still need English course

Many foreign students in Wageningen still need extra English instruction. The Wageningen Centre for Language Education advises that entrance standards be raised and is also going to China to give lessons.

The 24 Chinese BSc students who arrived last November have been doing a crash course to help their English for the last couple of weeks. To be admitted to the Wageningen BSc programme they had to get a 5.5 in the internationally recognised IELTS test, which consists not only of tests for writing and reading ability, but also for listening comprehension and oral skills. According to Marjan Noordhoek of the Centre for Language Education, a large number did not pass the oral and listening skills parts of the tests, but made up for this with good scores for the other parts.

“The Centre for Language Education had already offered to test the Chinese and develop an appropriate language course for them in November, as we did for previous groups,” said Noordhoek. “But the study coordinators did not think the students would need a course. In the end they got back to us when they realised that not all the students were capable of functioning in the Wageningen environment.”

In addition to English lessons from the Centre, the students are also receiving training in speaking from student assistants, who are paid by the Education and Student Affairs. The emphasis in these sessions is on helping the students to change their habits. Noordhoek: “The students have to learn first to open their mouths and then that it is OK to criticise each other. The students learn quickly, but being able to apply the knowledge they have at a higher level is difficult. The lack of a good grounding means their language skills remain passive. They would have been better off if we had been able to help them immediately in November.”

Noordhoek recommends the university to raise the admissions level for English to a six for all parts of the IELTS test. “This will only work, though, if the level of teaching of English improves. That means that teaching should not only be oriented towards passing the test, as is often the case in China. For this reason we will go soon with the Wageningen delegation to the China Agricultural University. At present there are two American students who have already started training the next group of Chinese students, but they have little idea of teaching methods. We are going to try and train the Chinese teachers so that they can teach their students to gain a more active mastery of English. Although this is a challenge, they are very open to the idea.”

Noordhoek would like to see mastery of English included in the Bachelor’s programme here. “We are developing a module for writing in English at the moment. The idea is to give the course in the fifth period, but it is not yet certain whether this will happen,” explains Noordhoek.

Guido van Hofwegen

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