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Language Learning in Higher Education

Journal of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education (CercleS)

Editor-in-Chief: Szczuka-Dorna, Liliana / O’Rourke, Breffni

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Plurilingualism, multilingualism and internationalisation in the European Higher Education Area: Challenges and perspectives at a Swiss University

Stephan Meyer / Petra Gekeler / Sebastian Manger / Daniela Urank
Published Online: 2013-07-06 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cercles-2012-0022


The relationships between the internationalisation of higher education and language are still poorly understood. We foreground the perspective of students in order to advance our understanding of these interrelations in the context of the consolidation of the European Higher Education Area (EHEA). Accordingly, we propose gathering answers to the questions: What, from students' perspectives, are their experiences and perceptions of pluri- and multilingualism in the context of the internationalisation of higher education? And how are they dealing with these experiences and perceptions? Existing studies confirm that local specificities pertaining to languages and education systems impact substantially on the answers to these emerging questions. Thus, an overall picture of the interactions between language and internationalisation that shape the EHEA require the integration of findings from localised investigations that bring to light these particularities. Here we present an overview of findings from a mixed methods study in a medium-sized, historically German-language university in multilingual Switzerland. Our findings confirm that students are making considerable efforts to ensure that their plurilingualism extends beyond English. Notwithstanding attempts by the university to respond to their needs, students however still struggle with the tensions between what they can actually do, what they report they would like to do, and what they perceive is expected of them concerning language competencies during their studies and after. On the basis of these reflections, lecturers at the Language Centre developed a four-language course Communication training in multilingual settings that uses French, Italian, English, and German. This course is briefly introduced as an example of a language training intervention which seeks to move beyond the persistent constraints of a compartmentalised approach to pluri- and multilingualism in higher education.

Keywords: plurilingualism; multilingualism; student perspectives on languages; diachronic development in student language learning behaviours; multilingual courses

About the article

Stephan Meyer

Stephan Meyer co-ordinates the English programme at the Language Centre of the University of Basel. His present interest concerns the interrelations between personal plurilingualism and social multilingualism.

Petra Gekeler

Petra Gekeler is the Director of the Language Centre of the University of Basel. She seeks to develop course programme concepts for plurilingual teaching and learning in higher education that are informed by students' perspectives and by assessments of developments in students' actual language learning behaviours over time.

Sebastian Manger

Sebastian Manger is responsible for all aspects of information technology and statistics at the Language Centre of the University of Basel.

Daniela Urank

Daniela Urank is a co-researcher and lecturer in the multilingual project team at the Language Centre of the University of Basel and lecturer of English at the Zurich University of Applied Sciences. Her current research interests include teaching methodology for multilingual academic settings and pluralistic approaches to languages.

Published Online: 2013-07-06

Published in Print: 2013-07-05

Citation Information: Language Learning in Higher Education, ISSN (Online) 2191-6128, ISSN (Print) 2191-611X, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/cercles-2012-0022.

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©[2013] by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston. Copyright Clearance Center

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