Raph al Guul
Let me be critical for a second or two. And how about instead of getting offended, you use the comment feature and provide me with your take on the situation? Because as always: there will be no apologies.
If everything plays out right, I will put my fourth and final semester of Language Skills & Culture behind me this summer. While I certainly enjoyed some of it, I do not believe that a course like that should consume such a large portion of my studies. I obviously understand that in a country where the native language is not English, there have to be some regulations to ensure that the language of students conforms to academic standards. And I certainly won’t deny that my own linguistic skills and cultural knowledge have profited immensely from Language Skills & Culture. However, it disturbs me that instead of actual linguistics or literature seminars, I am spending my time in a course that is essentially an advanced high-school language class.
Now, I understand that a great many students at the University of Zurich need that course. Language skills among Swiss students obviously vary on a broad spectrum. Some may be bilingual since childhood, some may have spent time abroad acquiring improved linguistic competence, while others may only rely on mediocre high school English grades alone and be motivated more by their interests than actual language skills. And while there is nothing necessarily wrong with that and I believe that every student who is enthusiastic about it should get a chance to study the subject of their choice, it is self-evident that this particular group of Zurich’s English students has to improve on their skills if they want to be eligible for a Bachelor’s degree.
What I do not agree with, however, is that the department awards students with credit points for courses that are primarily aimed at improving students’ academic register and writing skills. If a student wants to study English, then it can be expected that said student either already has a sufficiently appropriate command of the English language, or that – with the student’s own time and effort, possibly with the support of academic resources – the deficit is eliminated before or during those studies. This does not mean that the Language Skills & Culture courses should be entirely dismissed. Instead, I would prefer it to no longer be compulsory and to no longer reward students with credit points. I understand that the University of Zurich states that studying English “ensures improved proficiency in the English language, especially with regard to English as a scientific language, and facilitates an understanding of cultural and regional issues, particularly in Great Britain and the USA.” But I was led to believe that this would be a side-effect of my studies, not part of its focus.
Linguistic competence can and should also be developed in seminars, particularly those discussing literature, and it should become the instructors’ and professors’ responsibility to advise students with insufficient language skills to take part in Language Skills & Culture. Should those students choose not to do so and should that result in unacceptable papers, then those same instructors and professors should have the courage to fail those students. This seems like a harsh consequence, but let’s be honest: if we decide to study a language that we are not sufficiently competent in, then we made a capital mistake and there is no one else to blame but ourselves, especially if we are not committed enough to make the additional effort to take on Language Skills & Culture when we know we need it.
The way the system currently works, students that do not believe their lack of language skills to be grave enough to negatively influence their grades will still have to spend four entire semesters on Language Skills & Culture and they do not even have the option to substitute this module with a “real” English course. I believe that is unacceptable. And I am not being elitist here, either. As already mentioned, I have greatly profited from these courses and I am sure that my grades actually reflect that. What I am concerned about are my studies. Call me idealistic, but I still want to make the best of the few years that I spend at university. I want to take the courses that interest me. That is the sole reason why I am studying English. If I have to improve on my language skills, I like to think that I am committed enough to invest my own time in that, not the time that I am supposed to be studying the subject.
Now, I know that it has been like this for a while and that my feeble complaints will be unlikely to change the situation. And quite frankly, what do I care? In the summer, I will hand in my final assignment and be done with Language Skills & Culture, anyway. But I believe this feedback is important. I understand why the course exists, and I agree with those reasons, yet the execution disappoints me. And if I am the only one who has this problem, then let this be a minor stain on an otherwise perfect course record. But if other people voiced their complaints then hopefully there would be a slight chance that change could be effected. After all, it is about the students, not the university or department; we should be able to spend our studies the way we deserve: on topic.