Universities to put more focus on languages

Students at Roskilde University will have the option of taking French or German to supplement their degrees starting this autumn; Copenhagen University looking to follow suit

While fewer students are choosing to study French and German at university, all humanites and social science bachelor’s degree students at Roskilde University will be offered French and German language supplement diplomas after the summer holidays.

Hanne Leth Andersen, the university’s prorector, maintains that it is imperative to open students’ eyes to other languages as it gives a broader insight into vocational material that are available in other languages.

“If you only use English and Danish sources, then you only have access to the part of the world that someone has decided to translate, and the tendency is to focus primarily on English in the Danish education system,” Andersen told Politiken newspaper.

The students will receive a language indicator in their diplomas indicating that they are proficient in German or French culture or are proficient to use either language in business situations, something that is not a coincidence.

Germany is Denmark’s most important export market and, along with French and English, German is one of the three working languages of the European Union. In an effort build on language skills, students learn in secondary school, RUC has dedicated 1.3 million kroner to the new language endeavour.

“We don’t offer language proficiency courses, but if 90 percent of the students want that then we’ll have to plan for it,” Heidi Bojsen, international coordinator at RUC, told Politiken.” The starting point is that they are strong enough in German or French, and then we take it from there.”

A lack of funding and declining student enrolment has led several universities to scrap some of their foreign language programmes. The problem was addressed in 2011 by the Education Ministry in its “Language is the key to the world” (Sprog er nøglen til verden) report, which featured recommendations for how to promote languages to students, something that Copenhagen University has also embraced.

“If students have to go to South America then it is useful for them to learn some Spanish, even if they haven’t had it at the secondary school level,” Anne Holmen, professor languages in Copenhagen University, told Politiken. “In theology, they have been requesting German text reading and political science students want improved French skills before they do their internships in Brussels.

The report recommends that post-secondary programmes should offer foreign languages as elective courses for all students, that Denmark should have a higher level of language proficiency, that the level of English should be improved and that people should know two foreign languages.