Monday, May 21, 2012

National universities using....English?!

This morning, before I left for work, an article caught my eye in my RSS reader from Inside Higher Education (amazingly, they gave me enough of a blurb to want to read the article - usually they don't!).  The article is about an Italian University that is going English-Only for their instruction. This article is an interesting read (I can't wait until the comments start coming in).

My initial reaction was one of being taken aback.  Why the heck would a national university use a language for instruction that IS NOT the language of the country?  My secondary reaction was one of opportunity (Imagine old style cartoons with dollar signs in the character's eyes ;-)  ).  Since English is a language that I understand very well, and obviously use on a daily basis, I thought that this is an opportunity for people like me to work in other countries and at the same time not have to worry about attaining an Academic Language Proficiency in the national language.  After all, my long term goal is to live somewhere in the mediterranean (Greece, Italy, Spain, Southern France) and teach.

Going beyond my own selfish motives, I return to my original thoughts about this university's move: a feeling of "what the hell?"  Don't get me wrong, I understand that a lot of the research literature in a lot of fields is now English-Only.  I think this is a major issue. We should all be bilingual, if not multilingual.  We should publish in a variety of languages, and be able to read research in a variety of languages.  Knowing that most publications are English-Only does make it a little more palatable to have English-Only instruction, however most national schools are geared toward serving local populations.  So, for a school in Greece (for example), the population served are Greeks.

I think that this type of policy, of having English as the language of instruction, in countries where the primary language isn't English, is a pretty bad idea.  I think that students ought to be expected to be able to read literature in other languages, but to be able to discuss them in their own native language. By having English-Only instruction not only are we heading down a path of diglossia but also straddling the home-school mismatch territory.   There are ways of being proficient in a lingua franca (English in our case) without sacrificing scholarship and academic thought and speech in your native language.

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