Employability and linguistic competence: the importance of certifying a C1 level of English in a globalised world

Author: Melisa Téves

 

 

In today’s job market, having a good level of English has turned from being a desirable tool that provides added value to a candidate’s resume, to becoming indispensable when finding a job or accessing a better paid position. According to a recent report by Infoempleo and Adecco —published last October— 34.84% of job offers demand knowledge of at least one foreign language. Furthermore, this report reveals that English is an essential requirement in 93.66% of those offers; a fact that consolidates English as the language of business par excellence. 

 

Source: Infoempleo Adecco 2017[1]

 

In order to respond to the growing demand for languages driven by the internationalisation of the business sector, some Spanish universities have begun to request their students to accredit an intermediate or upper-intermediate level of English (B1 – B2)[2] in order to obtain a bachelor’s degree, as well as to apply for an Erasmus scholarship. However, at Antonio de Nebrija University, we believe that these measures are not enough neither to guarantee the quality of education nor to improve the job prospects of our students. That is why we dare to go one step further by firmly committing to a language learning policy that allows our students to certify an advanced level of linguistic competence in English (C1) upon leaving university. 

Taking into account the new challenges of language training in Nebrija, the Institute of Modern Languages (ILM, by its initials in Spanish), under the direction of the Vice-rectorate of Transversal Integration, has designed the Diploma in English Professional Communication (DEPC); a compulsory programme for all the students of in-campus degrees of the university. Its main objective is to provide the students with the necessary intercultural and professional language skills to develop in a globalized working environment. This new teaching-learning model, which will replace the current Diploma in English Professional Skills, is the result of years of research into the different approaches and methods applied to language learning, and of a profound process of reflection on the needs and challenges faced by our students. It is in that context that the DEPC was born to make up for the learning deficiencies that emerged after nine years of implementation of the current diploma. Furthermore, it aims to break with the inertia of the traditional learning process that often leads to lack of motivation, frustration and absenteeism in the classroom.

For the reasons mentioned above, the DEPC has incorporated the project-based learning model, opting for a multidisciplinary approach that stimulates collaborative work and allows the development of diverse transversal competences such as autonomous learning, responsibility, self-criticism, and the ability to interact with others and solve problems. Our methodological model bets on learning in a practical and interactive way the diverse grammatical, lexical and cultural aspects of the language. Moreover, it puts special emphasis on the development of communicative competences, since these are the most demanded in the labour market.

As Bernadette Holmes, campaign manager of the Speak to the Future program, explains in her essay “The Age of the Monolingual Has Passed: Multilingualism Is the New Normal”:

A great deal of professional activity in all sectors of employment relies on leveraging relationships. When clients come from a different language community, if a company can connect using a common language, this adds to their credibility and to their competitive advantage. Contracts can be won or lost on an organisation’s ability to communicate. (2016: 184)[3]

However, it is clear that a project as ambitious as this one needs an entire ecosystem of support which maximizes the hours of contact with the language. For this purpose, the Vice-rectorate of Transversal Integration has launched relevant actions that seek to promote the use of the language outside the English classrooms, and make students the main protagonists of their learning and personal growth. Said actions or touchpoints will be key pieces in the linguistic training of our students, not only to complete the teaching hours of the DEPC, but also to integrate the use of English in our educational community. For instance, the international mobility programmes, the bilingual subjects offered in the degree, the Buddy programme or the Socializing CEHI-Erasmus, just to mention some of them.

English promoting Touchpoints Nebrija. Source: Nebrija

 

As professionals in the field of teaching English as a second language, we take up this challenge with commitment and enthusiasm, since we believe that the current situation requires competent professionals who are able to make a flexible use of English for social, academic or professional purposes. We also understand that the globalisation of the labour market must bring with it a change of mentality. This change leads us to understand that English plays a hegemonic role as an international lingua franca, and that any professional, no matter how well prepared, will be excluded from any recruitment processes unless a high command of the language is proved. That is why we defend the urgent need to leave behind the stigmata reflected in well-known phrases such as “I understand English, but I don’t speak it” or “I’ve always been bad at English”. It is time to begin a new tradition of linguistic excellence, one that brings us closer to countries with solid language learning policies such as Sweden, Norway or Denmark. Only then will we be able to be part of a globalized world without communication barriers that hinder our progress.

 

Melisa Téves

Instituto de Lenguas Modernas

Centro de Estudios Hispánicos

 

[1] https://iestatic.net/infoempleo/documentacion/Informe-Infoempleo-Adecco-2017.pdf

[2] All levels mentioned are based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR).

[3] See: Holmes, Bernadette. “The Age of the Monolingual Has Passed: Multilingualism Is the New Normal.” Employability for Languages: A Handbook, edited by Erika Corradini et al., Research-Publishing.net, 2016, pp. 181–187

ILM Projects (II): How to make a TV Spot

Here we are again to share with you another ILM project, developed in the Fall semester (2016/17) with a B1 class (a great class, by the way). This time, our first-year students had to make a TV spot.

 

After covering related grammar and vocabulary contents in class (future for predictions and plans, for example), we dealt with inventions and their impact in our lives. Then, we recreated the “Inventor’s process”, that starts with finding the solution to a problem. Also, identifying the target customer is essential to appropriately communicate with the audience. In this case, the class professor (someone students knew well enough) would be the target audience for their products and spots.

 

Once students, in groups, had decided on their inventions, we moved on to learn how to describe them best, showing their market advantage and adequately using comparative structures and descriptive adjectives. Creating the perfect spot for a given target audience is not as simple as it seems, so several advertising techniques were exemplified, the structure of a spot was explained and some tips to address the audience in a persuasive and attractive way (question tags, catchy slogans) were dealt with along several sessions.

 

Students, then, elaborated the script for their spots, which had to include a detailed description of their product, a number of positive consequences the product would have and some of the main grammar contents studied in class. They also prepared an oral presentation to sell their invention to the class (and, of course, to their professor), where they showed their spots. Some of the spots were recorded in class with the collaboration of us all and some groups preferred to keep it secret. The experience was great and we want to share with you some of these amazing spots. Enjoy!

Invented by Virginia Espinosa, Athenea Pérez and Emma Vene

Invented by Miguel Alonso, Gonzalo Cabello, Marta Rodríguez and Marian Vázquez

Invented by Sebastián Collado, Magdalena Pérez-Rasilla, Víctor Sansegundo and Aitana Vázquez

Invented by Laura Higuera, Javier González Silva and Pablo Parrilla

 

Alicia de la Peña

Profesora del Centro de Estudios Hispánicos

 

 

Bits of life

Author: Teresa Lamas

 

The first most disturbing question regarding technology that I ever heard came on an average day from my grandma Dominga. We were sitting on the sofa watching her favorite program on TV one warm afternoon in our cold, old village in Galicia, when she caressed my knee and said (I translate from Galician): “Babe, can I ask you a question?” I said, “yes, of course, granny” so she looked at me with her most innocent grandmotherly expression: “What are all those people doing there, and why do they only have that tiny little window? Can’t they get out of there? And why can’t they see us?” It took me a while to understand she was referring to the television, and that those “tiny little people” were in fact Ava Gardner and Clark Gable playing Mogambo.

I have wondered ever since how long she had been thinking about it, being a ninety something year-old woman who had survived a war, even famine, and didn’t know how to read, perplexed at this entire modern mini-world going on right there, in her house.

I can recall many other questions of the sort after that one brave one. I guess she had never had the courage to ask, since everybody seemed comfortable and understanding with the idea of observing those little dwarves living in her kitchen, who couldn’t see us. And she was not going to be the one raising doubts about the normality of all that. Now that I think of it, I remember as well this one time when she asked me how come, if I was living in another city, she could hear me perfectly well (on the phone, of course).

I bought my first computer in my second year at university. I had always said that I would never need to use those devilish things, and had refused to own one until one of my professors, after receiving my typewritten assignment, asked me the second most disturbing question of my life regarding technology: “Miss Lamas, were you born in the dinosaurs’ era?” Little did I know how important computers would become ever since in my daily life.

In my third year in university I bought a mobile phone. None of my classmates (or anybody I knew, for that matter) had one. It was a pretty deep blue “One touch easy” and I immediately felt in love with it. The first call I made from my brand new phone was to my Mum. She was happy she could finally communicate with me easily now. But owing a mobile phone 25 years ago was difficult at times. Receiving a phone call in public when almost nobody had a mobile phone at the time was quite embarrassing, although it was very satisfying at the same time as it gave you a certain feeling of freedom… and what to say about SMS! Amazing!

Owing this phone was the first step to my current absolute devotion to technology.

Now that I have been a teacher in Nebrija for 12 years, and after teaching online since 2011, I look at technology and education from many different perspectives. On the one hand, it would be very difficult right now to “survive” in this current education system without certain knowledge of the latest developments… I know, who would have guessed when watching the little people who were living with my grandma what classes would be like 20 years later? On the other hand, I am always questioning myself: are we missing something? Are we losing contact with reality and with other human beings, as some more traditional educators claim? I guess this is a concern that each of us have to figure out, find a balance between the machine and human condition.

I am just worried about the latest (but probably not last) most disturbing question about technology I’ve heard (this time from an online student): “But, teacher, were there computers already when you were young?”

“I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”

Bill Gates

 

Teresa Lamas

ILM (Instituto de Lenguas Modernas)

 

English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) Innovating with responsibility

The universities around the world are increasingly facing an unstoppable internationalization process. Its transversal lines of action and research are partially encompassed in the term “English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI)”. To put it simply, EMI is the use of English to teach academic subjects in countries or areas where English is not the first language of most of the population. When favoring EMI, two frequent assumptions are that the students’ proficiency in English will improve as a result of EMI, and that the transition to normalizing it might be unproblematic. Yet, there is still no scientific evidence that proves the first assumption. The second assumption is far from reality. The goal of the following lines is to introduce EMI, applied to higher education, to those who are not familiarized with it, and also to encourage some further critical thinking on how we would like to implement this new methodology at our university.

 

Who are the actors involved in EMI? To identify them is one of the main responsibilities of the universities. Without any doubt, an initial action of the EMI process at any university should be to decide who those actors are going to be and why. They can vary slightly depending on different factors, among others the size and the internal structure of each university. What is important is that universities take responsibility to create a powerful and active committee and provide it with the necessary human and financial resources. Once identified and appointed, the members of the committee should constantly do research on the topic, know the characteristics of their university and help adopt consistent measures in order to move forward in the right direction.

 

Commonly, the language centers of universities are always present in committees of this kind, and they are regarded as key agents in any EMI planning. There are various reasons for this. First of all, the scope of action of language centers is usually transversal, which gives them a thorough and realistic panorama of the academic institution in particular: language centers work regularly with the administrative staff, the academic staff, with all the undergraduate students, and they also have a good perspective of what is being done at other universities.  Secondly, language centers are made up of experts in languages and culture (native or non native, very often with international professional experience), as is the case at the Instituto de Lenguas Modernas at Nebrija. Besides, the teams from the language centers are proud to be “English teachers”, but most of them are not only that. They also do research on specific topics considered essential in the EMI studies (e.g. translation, intercultural studies, second language acquisition and education, bilingualism, multilingualism etc.). It could be discussed whether there is a common assumption that language teachers are second-rate teachers at universities, and it would also be worth discussing if language centers are properly equipped in terms of resources. For the universities it will only be beneficial to count on the expertise of language centers in the EMI process. It goes without saying that they should have the necessary resources and that their roles should be redefined in part.

 

The scope of EMI is enormous. Therefore the decision-making agents, the students, the academic staff and the administrative staff of every single department should be aware that new insights will be imperative. The reasons why universities are willing to face EMI are numerous and complex: to attract international students, to be better positioned in the university rankings, to increase revenue, to give our students the possibility to study abroad, to further student and staff career possibilities, to modernize universities or even to follow global trends of how universities are supposed to become more international (“everybody is doing EMI now, so we should too”).

 

Hosted by the Language Center (Centro de Lenguas) of the Universitat Politècnica de Valencia, the 2nd International Seminar “Internationalising learning: English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI)” was held on the 30th and 31st of March 2017. Representatives of different national and international universities (Nebrija was represented by the Instituto de Lenguas Modernas) had the chance to engage in discussions aiming at guaranteeing quality in teaching using EMI.

 

One of the main aspects of those discussions dealt with how difficult it is for universities to manage the innovation that EMI requires. Let’s remember that EMI is teaching academic subjects in English, in countries where English is not the first language. In order to teach in English I would like to highlight that the starting point, the implications and the consequences of an EMI process are different depending on the country’s current level of internationalization. But implementing EMI entails considerable implications for everybody, since the implementation means preparing the whole university for its internationalization: students should be ready to be taught subject content in English, and the academic staff should be able to teach through English — orally and in writing. Therefore, the right pedagogical strategies should be adopted and assessment issues should be reconsidered; the members of the directive board and the administrative staff should be ready to use English as a means of communication daily, progressively, etc.

 

Another aspect that caught attention at the international seminar was the design of language exams for lecturers and students taking part in EMI programs. It was discussed what the minimum starting level of English should be for students who are about to begin undergraduate studies through English. For example: at many universities, including Nebrija, a significant amount of our undergraduate students start their different degrees having an intermediate level of English (B1). This level would be insufficient to start an EMI program. Taking this into consideration, more questions arose: what are universities going to do with students that might be really bright but are not ready to start EMI programs? The same applies to lecturers: what should universities do with good lecturers not capable of teaching through English? And keeping the previous questions in mind: who should be responsible for the level of English of our students and our lecturers taking part in EMI programs, and up to what extent? (The institution? Themselves?) To sum up, the design of language exams, both for lecturers and potential students, requires previous reflection, critical thinking and sensitivity, in order to decide on issues such as the duration of the exams, the parts they will consist of, the mode of implementation (e.g. optional or compulsory for lecturers?), the piloting of the exams, and the positive actions that are going to be taken according to the results of the exam (e.g. in terms of support for lecturers willing to teach through English but still not ready to do it).

 

Finally, a feeling of resistance to EMI was perceived at the seminar, which was concluded to be due, among other reasons, to a mistrust of this new way of teaching (there is no scientific proof of the benefits of EMI yet), second thoughts caused by the amount of resources that are needed for the project to be successful, perceived threats (mainly by the lecturers that think e.g. “Am I ready to teach through English?”, “I am interested, but what will the incentives be?”, “I would be interested but my English skills are not high enough”, or “I do not want to teach through English”), students’ and parents’ fears (therefore it is our responsibility to inform them both appropriately, without following trends or particular interests), and also sociological reasons (e.g. will EMI mean losing our own language and culture?).

 

Some conclusions drawn at the international seminar were:

 

  • There is not proof yet of the fact that students improve their English skills by studying the content of their degrees’ subjects through English. We all should ensure priority of learning over innovation, which means that EMI should be the servant and never the master.

 

  • The academia is experiencing a big changing role: should EMI teachers be language teachers, content teachers or both?

 

  • There seems to be a lack of awareness in terms of language and cultural issues that leads to a certain relaxation when universities implement certain measures related to EMI, too frequently in a rush.

 

  • Universities should reflect on the importance of their language centers, such as the Instituto de Lenguas Modernas: their teachers have really high English language proficiency (very often of other languages too), an awareness of multicultural issues and an interactive pedagogy. Besides they can also provide language support for EMI academics, students and administrative staff or revise linguistic awareness through assessment and observation tools.

 

  • Human and financial resources are necessary, in order to research, to take action and to provide support to the university community in any EMI process.

 

  • We should not find excuses for implementing EMI with half measures. EMI will be beneficial and profitable with consistent measures that are the result of critical thinking and research. Actions resulting from a lack of reflection, isolated decision-making actors or trends could be comparable to a time bomb that would eventually explode with no rewards.

 

Much more could be read and said about EMI. I hope that I at least have been able to convey the great responsibility that it is for a university to embark on an EMI project. All in all, good EMI institutions should adopt solid policies for decision-making, teaching modes, training, support, and also for convincing all university stakeholders of the need for innovating with EMI. An irrefutable fact is that our university, Nebrija, is officially committed to the internationalization process, because it was an active member of the Grupo de Trabajo de Política Lingüística that, in collaboration with 22 Spanish universities, wrote the Plan para la Internacionalización Lingüística created by the Comisión CRUE-IC de Política Lingüística (coordinated by Mr. Plácido Bazo), on March 3rd 2016, in La Laguna (ULL). This should be a solid step forward for the EMI future at Nebrija.

 

Nuria Mendoza

Coordinator Modern Languages Institute

Researcher on EMI

Researcher on Audiovisual Translation

Dream in English

It has often been said that if we dream in a foreign language then we may consider ourselves bilingual, but as I remember hearing my colleague Marta Genis say even someone who only knows how to say “Jelou mai neim is Juan” is bilingual, implying there are levels of bilingualism. Let’s dream in English in another way whatever our level of bilingualism.

In ILM we encourage students not only to study the syllabus which we propose but also to go further and consider English as an investment in their own future, both professional and personal. These days it has become so easy to get authentic exposure to other languages from the comfort of their own sofa. I tell my students on the first day of term, join the 948.6 million other users of the internet in English, the internet has almost unlimited possibilities for learning a foreign language and not just through specific language learning pages. With my English in Professional skills students they are encouraged to seek professional webpages in order to get a feel for their own professional lingo. Here are a few examples:

LAW:  http://www.translegal.com/cup/the-practice-of-law

JOURNALISM: http://www.pressassociation.com/

BUSINESS STUDIES: 

SCENIC ARTS: http://www.uktheatre.org/

From the personal point of view the original version content available via the internet is endless. Thousands upon thousands of series, films, podcasts to name but a few sources. I even have students who understand Sheldon Cooper, more or less. Albeit if he starts getting stuck into the complexities of String theory even us native speakers struggle to follow him.

Autonomy is the key to dreaming in English or any other language for that matter, and with over 50% of webpages being solely in English there’s something for everyone. www.bbc.com/news is a must for me every morning over my obligatory cup of cha (tea). TED talks are another favourite, so many themes and what a wonderful way to improve your listening skills without even noticing.

You’ve got to dream big though, with one in five managers in Spain without a high enough level of English to carry out their jobs correctly, there’s hope for many of you.  Get the job of your dreams!

Having said all this, at the end of the day like many Brits I’m a practical person. To live day to day and aim high it’s always advisable to have tangible evidence of your level of English.

¡Apúntate a ACLES en inglés con Nebrija! And prove what level of English you have.

 

Statistical data source: http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm

 

Clare Taylor BSc. Hons

Profesora  de inglés ILM 

Responsable ACLES inglés para ILM

ILM Projects (I)

Autora: Alicia de la Peña

[See Spanish version]

 

In the last semesters, the ILM (Modern Languages Institute) has geared to a project-based methodology in the teaching of languages. In Project-Based Learning, students are the protagonists of their own learning. They acquire knowledge of a specific subject (in our case, ingles as a foreign language) and at the same time they also develop a series of transversal abilities and attitudes that will be very useful in their academic life and in their professional future: ability for team work, communication, persuasion negotiation and decision taking skills, ability to solve problems…

Here you have an example of a project that B2 students did last semester: Create a hotel website for a specific market niche.

Image: Title of the activity. Source: Alicia de la Peña.

 

To elaborate the website, we worked in class about the topic of trips and holidays, especially Niche Holidays (vacation solutions for a specific market niche). Several grammar contents were practiced to make promises (different future forms) and to talk about ability, permission and obligation (modal structures). Finally, a small leaflet was elaborated with recommendations for travellers and tourists to practice some of the contents required for the website. 

 

With all these linguistic tools, students, in groups of four, had to decide the market niche target for their hotel (extreme sports holidays, romantic holidays, family holidays…) and visit websites of similar hotels to look for a bit of inspiration. Thus, we could establish a common structure for all the groups’ websites, regardless of the market niche the wanted to focus on:

  • Brief description/presentation of the hotel
  • Description of the surroundings and nearby places
  • Room options
  • Included/Available services
  • Recommendations for the potential client (from the hotel, from previous guests…)
  • Special experiences
  • Pictures
  • Address and contact

 

Then, we presented Wix (www.wix.com) to the students, a free website editor that allows to create, using templates, of a wide range of websites. This tool is very intuitive and easy to use, and students reacted very positively. Two class sessions were devoted to group work, but most of them went on working on it at home.

Once the websites were done, each group had to present theirs to the class and try to convince their classmates that their hotel was the best option for their next holidays.

The results were very positive because most of the students reported that they had had fun (learning English does not have to be boring), and agreed that the members of the group collaborated well together and felt satisfied with their own webs. And, apart from all this, now they can create websites.

For you to see the results, here you have some pictures. Where are we going on holidays this summer?

 

Images: Webs designed by students. Source: Alicia de la Peña.

 

 

Alicia de la Peña

Profesora del Centro de Estudios Hispánicos

Los proyectos del ILM (I)

Autora: Alicia de la Peña

[Versión en inglés]

 

En los últimos semestres, en el ILM (Instituto de Lenguas Modernas) hemos dado un giro a la enseñanza de lenguas y hemos empezado a seguir una metodología basada en proyectos. En el Aprendizaje Basado en Proyectos (Project-Based Learning), el alumno es el protagonista de su propio aprendizaje y a la vez que adquiere conocimientos de la materia específica de estudio (en nuestro caso, el inglés como lengua extranjera) también desarrolla una serie de habilidades y actitudes transversales que le serán útiles tanto en su vida académica como en su futuro profesional: capacidad para trabajar en equipo, habilidades de comunicación y persuasión, negociación y toma de decisiones, capacidad de resolución de problemas…

 

Aquí tenéis un ejemplo de un proyecto que los alumnos de B2 hicieron el semestre pasado: Crear la página web de un hotel de vacaciones para un nicho de mercado específico.

 

Imagen: Título de la actividad. Fuente: Alicia de la Peña.

 

Para la elaboración de la web, se empezó trabajando en clase con el tema de los viajes y las vacaciones, especialmente las Niche Holidays, soluciones vacacionales para un nicho de mercado específico y determinado.  Se practicaron también diferentes contenidos gramaticales para hacer promesas (diferentes formas de futuro)  y hablar de habilidad, permiso y obligación (estructuras modales). Y, por último, se elaboró un pequeño folleto con recomendaciones para viajeros y turistas como una práctica previa de algunos de los contenidos requeridos para la web.

 

Con todas estas herramientas lingüísticas, los alumnos, en grupos de cuatro, tuvieron que decidir a qué nicho de mercado querían enfocar su hotel (vacaciones de deportes extremos, vacaciones románticas, familiares…) y visitar páginas web de hoteles similares para buscar un poco de inspiración. Así, se pudo establecer una estructura común a las webs de todos los grupos, independientemente del nicho de mercado al que se dirigieran:

 

  • Breve descripción/presentación del hotel
  • Descripción del entorno y los lugares cercanos
  • Opciones de habitaciones
  • Servicios incluidos/disponibles
  • Recomendaciones para el cliente potencial (del hotel, de clientes anteriores…)
  • Experiencias especiales
  • Fotos
  • Dirección y contacto

 

A continuación, se presentó a la clase la herramienta Wix (www.wix.com), un editor de páginas web gratuito que permite crear, a partir de plantillas, una amplia gama de sitios web. La herramienta es muy intuitiva y fácil de manejar y tuvo una acogida muy positiva por parte de los alumnos. Se dedicaron dos sesiones de clase al trabajo en grupos, pero la mayoría de ellos siguieron enganchados en casa también.

Una vez terminadas las webs, cada grupo tenía que presentar su página a la clase e intentar convencer a sus compañeros de que su hotel era la mejor opción para sus próximas vacaciones.

 

Los resultados del proyecto fueron muy positivos porque la mayoría de los alumnos afirmaron haberse divertido (aprender inglés no tiene que ser aburrido), coincidieron en que los integrantes de los grupos colaboraron bien juntos y se sintieron satisfechos con su web. Y, además, ahora ya saben crear páginas web.

 

Para no dejaros con las ganas, aquí tenéis algunas de las fotos. ¿Dónde vamos de vacaciones este verano?

 

 

Imágenes: Webs diseñada por los alumnos. Fuente: Alicia de la Peña.

 

 

Alicia de la Peña

Profesora del Centro de Estudios Hispánicos