Wetenschap - 1 januari 1970

Language problems

Language problems

Language problems


After reading the article entitled ‘Working group wants quality control for
English’ in the English page of the 16th January edition of the Wb, I was
compelled to send my comments.

Frequently, both University Board members and students themselves seem to
forget that international students are not the only ones who might have a
low level of English language within a classroom. Portraying the problem as
if Dutch students ‘suffer’ from the lack of knowledge of foreigners, as the
writer (most likely based on the opinions of those interviewed) did, is
biased and partial. Saying that ‘It costs them [teachers] three times as
much to explain things to international students than to Dutch students’
reflects an oversimplification of a complex problem: both international and
Dutch students suffer the consequences of foreigners, Dutch students and
lecturers with a low level of English.

Indeed, the solution to this problem is far from simple. In the case of
international students, bringing them all the way from their countries to
take a test here does not seem reasonable to me. Demanding a higher grade
in the English language test taken before coming might be a start. The
TOEFL is a very reliable test, and the University could simply demand
higher grades or other specific tests to be taken (oral ones, for example,
also available within the TOEFL). However, not all the students coming from
abroad are obliged to take such a test. Those coming from ‘well-known
universities’ (as defined by the WUR, in what seem to be rather
opportunistic and subjective ways), mostly Europeans, and Erasmus students,
are still not required to take the entrance examination.

Concerning Dutch students, it would be clearly unfair to require them to
take all their subjects in English. After all, they are Dutch and live in
the Netherlands! Nevertheless, the recently introduced BSc-MSc system
demands that Dutch and foreigners take all the MSc courses together (and
therefore in English). Well, then it also seems right to demand from Dutch
students a reasonable command of the English language.

Last, but far from least, the level of English of some lecturers is one of
the most pressing factors of the problem. How many students have not yet
been faced with lecturers (and their readings) whose English is quite
difficult to understand? It sometimes costs us (students) three times as
much to understand and assimilate concepts and ideas!

Yes, the problem exists and demands urgent solutions. But simplifying it
will not take us anywhere… Since 2001, I have come across a flow of
suggestions and ideas that could be potentially taken up. Unfortunately,
none of them has been ultimately implemented.

With kind regards,

Mariana Wongtschowski
PhD Student (former MSc Student)

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