Modernisation of ESP teaching at Vilnius University

Members of the Institute of Foreign Languages, Faculty of Philology, spent the last weeks before the new academic year developing and updating the descriptions of ESP courses taught to students of various study programmers at VU.

The centerpiece of this process was training concocted by Dr Johan Fischer, Director of the Centre for Languages and Transferable Skills at the University of Göttingen, who has over 25 years of experience in ESP. During the training, lecturers of the Institute of Foreign Languages focused on the task-based-learning (TBL) approach to language learning.

We interviewed Dr Fischer about TBL and its advantages as a learning strategy.

– Could you tell us how task-based learning functions?

The aim of TBL is for students to experience real, lifelike situations during English classes. These are tasks that the students will encounter later in their studies when they will be conducting research. One has to think of realistic, daily situations faced by students and researchers, and to adapt language learning to these situations. The most important aim of such learning is to ensure that students feel free and confident when communicating in a foreign language about their studies and about research in their field. TBL also takes into account what aspects of language use could be improved and what else can be learned in English lessons of this type.

TBL has been introduced at Göttingen a decade ago, and we constantly review and refine it based on the needs of students. All my colleagues who used to base their teaching of traditional methods of language teaching switched very quickly and enthusiastically to task-based-learning. I can feel the same enthusiasm at Vilnius University.

When TBL is applied, the teacher also learns from his/her students, and learns a lot of diverse information. TBL is not about cramming grammar, and is not as boring as some other methods. The aim is to get students to see the learning process creatively. Students are much more motivated to look for creative solutions and to present in a foreign language that which is interesting to them and relevant for their studies and future work, including their achievements, research, and discoveries.

– How is task-based learning different from regular learning using a workbook and role play?

The Companion Volume to the Common European Framework of Reference, published in 2018, emphasizes that linguistic competence is crucial for creating a common European education sphere. This document underscores the importance of person-centered language learning and teaching that would help each student to express his/her thoughts and personal ideas. This style of learning does not aim to simulate stereotypical situations. Learners are encouraged to present their thoughts and interests, and to talk about things that are relevant and important to the learners themselves.

– Is the method of learning the only difference, or is there also a difference in examinations and assessment?

I visited Vilnus University in early summer to conduct a professional training course for the lecturers of the Institute of Foreign Languages of the Faculty of Philology. During the training, we learned to apply task-based learning. We are now continuing this work and preparing assessment tasks that would reflect and supplement this learning method. We are developing a new structure of examination that would be different from regular language examinations.

We avoid basic grammar tests and seek to teach students to communicate information about their study and research subjects as well as their thoughts to a specific audience. We also aim to restructure the courses so that students could work in groups throughout the semester, and the final assessment would also be related to their group work and field of research. The exam primarily focuses on productive skills, i.e., writing and speaking, although they are closely related to listening and reading, as the students will have to prepare spoken and written material in groups using authentic sources, e.g. videos and text.

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