Swedes struggle to write in English

April 22, 2005

English departments in Sweden are in crisis and English proficiency among new students is a major concern, writes Jon Buscall in Stockholm.

Many students speak excellent English, but growing numbers have poor written skills, according to a National Agency for Higher Education report.

Candidates who come from teacher-training colleges to study English for two or three terms are among those who struggle most.

At Lund University, the English department "is in a financial and organisational mess and struggling to recruit well-qualified students", the report says.

Mats Johansson, the department head, told the Sydsvenska Dagbladet newspaper: "Many students come to us because they were not accepted to study anything else."

Margrét Benedikz, a lecturer at Södertörn University College said:

"Students speak English fluently because it dominates music, TV and film.

But many struggle to write coherently in English. Schools need to place more emphasis on written English."

Sheila Ghose, lecturer in English at Stockholm University, said: "Teacher candidates tend to have problems. Their written proficiency is often poor."

Caroline Palmstierna, a student at Stockholm, says studying English "was a bit of a shock at first". "We were expected to do discourse analysis, analyse a novel and write essays in perfect English from the start. It was more academic than I expected."

The English department at Orebro University, which was severely criticised in the report, has decided to shut its graduate programme and focus on undergraduate teaching.

To help improve written skills, the agency recommends that the 24 universities and colleges of higher education that teach English consider collaborating and sharing resources.

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