Stu­dents use Eras­mus ex­change as English prac­ti­cal

THE (Times Higher Education) - - CONTENTS - [email protected]­ere­d­u­ca­tion.com

Eu­ro­pean Union pol­i­cy­mak­ers would “have a heart at­tack” if they knew how many Eras­mus stu­dents were us­ing their year abroad only to im­prove their English, ac­cord­ing to the au­thor of a new book that ex­am­ines whether the mo­bil­ity scheme cre­ates a Eu­ro­pean iden­tity.

“Lin­guis­tic di­ver­sity” is a key aim of the cur­rent Eras­mus+ ex­change pro­gramme, while more broadly, the EU wants ev­ery cit­i­zen to be able to learn at least two for­eign lan­guages.

But Cherry James, a law lec­turer at Lon­don South Bank Univer­sity, found that “vir­tu­ally every­body used [Eras­mus] as an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their English”.

Her forth­com­ing book, Ci­ti­zen­ship, Na­tion-build­ing and Iden­tity in the EU: The Con­tri­bu­tion of Eras­mus Stu­dent Mo­bil­ity, set for re­lease on 11 Jan­uary, in­cludes in­ter­views with many stu­dents who stud­ied abroad not to ac­quire the lo­cal lan­guage but to brush up on their English.

For ex­am­ple, one Dutch stu­dent moved to Swe­den for this pur­pose. A Hun­gar­ian stu­dent de­cided to study in Poland to im­prove her English be­cause the UK proved too ­ex­pen­sive.

Dr James – who has been re­spon­si­ble for Eras­mus stu­dents at Lon­don South Bank and has a child who took ad­van­tage of the pro­gramme – in­ter­viewed about 30 stu­dents about their ex­pe­ri­ences.

The fail­ure of Eras­mus to pro­mote a range of Eu­ro­pean lan­guages was its “big­gest flaw”, she ar­gued. At most, Eras­mus stu­dents learned lo­cal lan­guages such as Dutch or Hun­gar­ian “for shop­ping” and took the at­ti­tude that they were “not go­ing to be of use in the fu­ture”, she said.

For Bri­tons study­ing in Ger­many, it re­quired “a lot of dis­ci­pline” not to fall into an English-speak­ing bub­ble, Dr James said. “Some of them were not even both­er­ing and just spoke English,” she added.

One prob­lem is that many of the classes at­tended by Eras­mus stu­dents are sep­a­rate from their do­mes­tic peers, and are con­ducted in English, par­tic­u­larly in eastern Eu­rope and the Nether­lands, she ex­plained. This is the “fa­mous Eras­mus bub­ble”, where par­tic­i­pants are “cor­ralled into classes away from the oth­ers [home stu­dents],” she said. “This is what the EU would have a heart at­tack at,” Dr James added.

Many Eras­mus stu­dents ended up be­ing housed to­gether, away from do­mes­tic stu­dents, and so de­faulted in so­cial sit­u­a­tions to their com­mon lan­guage, English.

“Stu­dents do want to com­mu­ni­cate with each other,” Dr James ex­plained. “So many of them were

us­ing this as an op­por­tu­nity to im­prove their English”.

The Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion is hop­ing that Eras­mus+ will help pro­mote a “Eu­ro­pean iden­tity” and has pro­posed dou­bling the bud­get for the next phase of the scheme from 2021-27 (whether the UK will par­tic­i­pate is still un­clear). In this re­spect, Dr James’ book con­tains some con­clu­sions that will please Brus­sels.

Af­ter their year abroad, “most of them felt that they were rooted in Eu­rope and aware of the pos­si­bil­i­ties”, she said, and added that “they did feel Eu­ro­pean by virtue of know­ing that ab­so­lutely key right of free­dom of move­ment”, and had proved to them­selves that they could live abroad again in the fu­ture.

The ex­pe­ri­ence also bol­stered stu­dents’ sense of Eu­ro­pean iden­tity, over­lap­ping with their na­tional iden­ti­ties, Dr James added.

Let’s talk the fail­ure of Eras­mus to pro­mote a range of Eu­ro­pean lan­guages was its ‘big­gest flaw’

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