Bridging the language gap

September 11, 2008

I read with amusement, interest and a degree of recognition William Burns' opinion article ("Ditch the island mentality", 4 September).

However, I have two objections to make. The first has to do with Burns' choice of the word "fluency". Fluency in English, or lack of it, is of small importance compared with accuracy in academic English.

International students often confuse the two aims themselves but it is fairly evident that even the most fluent monolingual English speakers are not, as a result, experts at handling the language at university level.

My second objection to the piece is that at the University of Hertfordshire at least the island mentality is already some way down into the ditch.

A number of programmes, including one in the "blinkered world of the natural sciences", as Burns describes it, are now taught by a mixed team of bioscience and English language lecturers who are able to inform each other's teaching as well as provide the kind of service Burns suggests.

International students have their language difficulties addressed within the specific parameters of their subject and are able to "rehearse" interactions with home students.

Further, academic staff attend development sessions intended both to change attitudes towards increasingly heterogeneous student groups and to promote teaching-room practices that emphasise inclusion rather than division.

Paul Roberts, Head of English language training, University of Hertfordshire.

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