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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.

“The multilingualism of Lithuanians is surprising”, says Hungarian lecturer at Vilnius University

Each semester the Faculty of Philology offers study programmes and courses on 23 different languages. Most foreign languages are taught by specialists from abroad, who comprise 17 percent of the Faculty’s 300-strong staff. We interviewed Dr Noémi Bulla, a lecturer of Hungarian at the Faculty, about her decision to come to Vilnius University and what the University will be like in 10 years, when it will celebrate its 450th anniversary.

Honored to teach at VU

“I feel honored and privileged to teach at Vilnius University, especially in the Stephen Báthory Room of the Faculty of Philology. Stephen Báthory established Vilnius University 440 years ago. He was not only the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, but also the Duke of Transylvania. At the time, Transylvania was a part of Hungary, and we Hungarians are very proud of Stephen Báthory.

Because of his activities as a ruler, politician, and military leader, Stephen Bathory also earned the respect of Lithuanians, and the period of his rule of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania is referred to as the Hungarian golden age”, said Dr Bulla.

International environment

“I visited the capitals of the Baltic states as a student. They left a big impression on me, but I had no idea that I would come back here as a lecturer. When I learned that Hungarian was going to be taught in Lithuania, I thought that I would be glad to apply my teaching experience in a new environment, especially in a country that has so many links and similarities to Hungary”, recounted Dr Bulla, who started working at Vilnius University two years ago.

According to Dr Bulla, she has been pleasantly surprised by the multilingualism of Vilnius University’s community. “It is amazing that for most of my students Hungarian is the fourth, fifth, or even sixth foreign language. Last year, I attended a conference of international teachers of Hungarian and was very proud when the “Excellent Student” award was presented to one of my students from Vilnius University. This year, several students were awarded scholarships for attending summer courses in Hungary.”

Faith in the University’s future

“I believe and I wish that Hungarian and the languages of other smaller European nations would become an organic part of Vilnius University. I have noticed clear positive progress in this direction. I was pleasantly impressed by the Faculty’s positive and constructive view of developing the teaching and promotion of the Hungarian language from the very outset.

Multiculturalism, openness, and multilingualism create a lot of added value, and I believe that in the future the University will reach results that today we can only dream of”, reflected Dr Bulla.

The Faculty of Philology of Vilnius University offers free Hungarian language and culture courses taught by Dr Noémi Bulla. Hungarian can be chosen as an elective subject. Courses of Hungarian and other foreign languages are also available to the public as part of the non-formal education programme. Those interested can register at mvg.vu.lt 

5th International Conference of Applied Linguistics

On 26-28 September 2019, the Faculty of Philology of Vilnius University will host the 5th International Conference of Applied Linguistics “Languages and People: Communication in a Multilingual World”. The Conference is jointly organised by Faculty’s Institute of Applied Linguistics and the Lithuanian Applied Linguistics Association (LITAKA).

The Conference is dedicated to the latest research of Lithuanian and foreign scholars in the areas of sociolinguistics, language policy, discourse analysis, translation, language teaching and learning, language acquisition and testing, corpus linguistics, psycholinguistics, pragmatics, and other areas of applied linguistics.

Among the Conference’s keynote speakers are renowned scholars of applied linguistics, including Monica Schmid (University of Essex), Anna Mauranen (University of Helsinki), and Daniel Perrin (Zurich University of Applied Sciences).

All interested in applied linguistics are welcome to attend. More information is available at http://www.taikomojikalbotyra.flf.vu.lt.

 

International exchange students at the Faculty of Philology

On 4 September, 97 international exchange students from 19 European and other countries visited the Faculty. Giedrė Matkėnienė, Mobility Coordinator at the Faculty, introduced the students to studies at the Faculty of Philology, the history of Vilnius University, the Faculty‘s structure and the Students’ Representation.

In total, 364 international exchange students from 28 countries chose to study at the Faculty of Philology this semester.

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Estonian Ambassador to Lithuania and Rector of Tartu University visit the Faculty

On 4 September, Jana Vanaveski, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Estonia to the Republic of Lithuania and Toomas Asser, Rector of Tartu University, visited the Faculty of Philology. They met Professor Inesa Šeškauskienė, the Faculty’s Dean, to discuss cooperation opportunities in teaching the Estonian language and visited the renewed Estonian Room (Room 108), the renovation of which was funded by private Estonian companies. 

Immatriculation – a tradition older than Vilnius University

Every September, the raising of the flag of Vilnius University signifies the beginning of a new academic year. After the flag raising ceremony, students and academics participate in the traditional parade of the University’s community, and after the parade Renovatio studiorum festivities take place in the Great Courtyard of the Old Campus of Vilnius University. 

Renovatio studiorum, just like Finis anni academici, the closing of the academic year, the academic togas worn by the Rector, Deans and the Members of the University’s Senate, and the Rector’s sceptre, is an inseparable part of the traditions of many Central European Universities. These attributes are meant to convey to citizens that a university is an independent institution whose community fosters the freedom of thought.

Yet one of Vilnius University’s traditions is older than the University itself. At the beginning of each academic year, the Faculty of Philology of Vilnius University (VU FLF) invites all new students to attend the mysteriously named immatriculation ceremony. During the ceremony at the Church of St Johns, the Faculty’s Dean reads aloud the names of all students newly included in the University’s Register (in Latin, matricula).

This is an official proclamation that a young man or woman became a member of the academic community. The only other occasion when a student’s name is uttered aloud in the Church of St Johns is when the student receives his or her Vilnius University Diploma. The tradition of immatriculation goes as far back as the Vilnius Jesuit College, which was established in 1569. The Church of St Johns—back then, the Church of St John—was, however, transferred to the Jesuits only in 1571. This is when the tradition of celebrating the most important events in the Church or in the square in front of it began.

The Jesuit ceremony to inscribe the names of new students is not unique to Vilnius University. A solemn inclusion of the new members of the academic community into a university’s official register was probably already practiced in the 11thcentury, when the oldest university in Western Europe was established in Bologna. Similar or equivalent traditions are still practiced by most prestigious universities in the United Kingdom, including Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh and St Andrews, where each new academic year is celebrated by the inscription of the names of the new members of the academic community into the university’s or college’s register and by welcoming them.

In some universities in the UK, the students themselves have to write their name into the university’s register, or a representative of all new students is elected to do so. In the oldest universities of Scotland, students even have to sign an academic oath (in Latin, sponsio academica), by which they promise to abide by the university’s statute and contribute to the wellbeing of the university’s community.

As the accessibility of higher education and the number of students increases, it has become difficult for universities to maintain such an archaic tradition. Just imagine if the Rector of Vilnius University had to read the names of five thousand first-year students in the Great Courtyard! Most European universities have abandoned immatriculation for very practical reasons. It so happens that the Faculty of Philology is the only faculty of Vilnius University to have preserved this tradition.

The Faculty welcomed a delegation of the Polish Parliament

A delegation from the Polish Parliament visited the Faculty of Philology on May 30th. Rafał Grupiński, the head of the Education, Science, and Youth Committee at the Polish Parliament, Krystyna Szumilas, Mirosława Stachowiak-Różecka, Tomasz Zieliński, Elżbieta Wojciechowska, as well as Urszula Doroszewska, the Ambassador of Poland to Lithuania and Marcin Zieniewicz, the Consul of Poland to Lithuania met the Dean of the Faculty, and the Head of the Center of Polish Studies, and its professors.

The guests acquainted themselves with the Polish Studies and research at Vilnius University and visited the University Library.

Baltic Studies Conference in Pisa Strengthens Cooperation Between Universities

In May, an international Baltic studies conference “PRA17 / IV Incontro di Baltistica” took place at the Philology, Literature, and Linguistic Department of the University of Pisa. Scholars from Lithuania, Germany, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, and the Universities of Bergamo, Florence, Naples, Milan, Trento, and Pisa in Italy participated in the conference.

The conference was also attended by Algirdas Monkevičius, the Minister of Education, Science and Sport of the Republic of Lithuania, Eugenijus Jovaiša, the Chairman of the Education and Science Committee of the Lithuanian Parliament, and Laura Gabrielaitytė-Kazulėnienė, the Cultural Attaché of the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania to the Italian Republic. 

Members of the Faculty of Philology, including Dean Professor Inesa Šeškauskienė, Professor Bonifacas Stundžia, Professor Vytautas Kardelis, Associate Professor Gintarė Judžentytė-Šinkūnienė, Associate Professor Diego Ardoino, Doctor Gina Kavaliūnaitė-Holvoet, and doctoral student Julija Šabasevičiūtė delivered presentations at the conference.

“We are few, but we are hardworking and cooperative. Your scientific support and friendship are very important to us”, said Pietro Umberto Dini, Professor at Pisa University and the founder and Head of the Department of Baltic Studies. 

Professor Dini, who organised the conference, claimed that this conference is especially significant for strengthening Baltic studies and research in Italy and for ensuring their continuity in Pisa. The Minister of Education, Science, and Sport met with Paolo Mancarella, the Rector of the University of Pisa, to discuss these matters.

The conference is also an important contribution to strengthening the cooperation between the Universities of Pisa and Vilnius. The University of Pisa promotes Baltic studies in Italy and cooperates in strengthening Italian studies at Vilnius University, which is the main centre of Baltic and Lithuanian research and studies in Lithuania.

Currently, Pisa University is the main centre for Baltic studies in Italy. The University offers a Masters course in Baltic Philology and a Bachelors course in Lithuanian Language and Culture. Baltic studies have been taught at the University of Pisa since 1998.

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