Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Lingua Franca

The Politecnico di Milano is switching to English--much like last year's post about German universities offering courses in English.  I'm not sure how I feel about this trend.  As someone who loves foreign languages, I think it's very sad to see English become the lingua franca in business and higher ed--but obviously, as a native English speaker, I benefit personally from it.  Why did I bother taking all of those foreign language classes in high school & uni?  (p.s. this is why foreign language education in the US is suffering...some Americans don't feel there's a point anymore!)

The interesting part about this trend, though, is the element of competition that it's created for UK & US universities to continue attracting foreign students.  If they can get an English-language degree abroad where it costs less, then foreign students may stop being a 'cash cow' for US/UK universities.
I wonder how much the concept will catch on, though.  Immersion is an important part of language learning, and I can imagine it would be difficult to speak English during classes, Italian at shops and restaurants, and your native language with friends and family.  I just wonder how their language acquisition will be affected by the experience--will these international students gain fluency in 'international English' and limited Italian skills?   How will potential employers view these degrees?

And of course, there's the native English speaker audience to consider, as well. With the fees in the UK rising to £9,000 this year, and US tuition being as high as ever (a state university like University of Washington charges around £8,000 for state residents, and over £18,000 for out-of-state and international students), it's no wonder that some native English speakers are drawn to these programmes.  This article featured anecdotes from UK students who went to the continent for cheaper degrees and loved their time abroad.  For native English speakers, there's really no downside--their future employers will be impressed by a foreign degree and will assume that the student picked up a second language outside of the classroom.  It's a bit unfair, really, when you compare it to the reaction that non-native English speakers might encounter.

I'm interested in seeing where this goes--whether it's a blip or the way of the future, whether it will be limited to Europe or if it will become truly global, etc.

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