Fostering multilingualism is one of the key elements of the mission of the Transform4Europe European University. Students and employees of particular universities in the Alliance speak German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Lithuanian, Estonian, Bulgarian, and – of course – Polish; however, they are united by English. They are facing the difficult task of designing a common language strategy thanks to which they will speak various languages. Paweł Zakrajewski, PhD, the leader of the Polish team responsible for promoting multilingualism in the Transform4Europe Alliance, tells us about different initiatives to bring us closer to that goal.
Małgorzata Kłoskowicz, PhD: Numerous tasks are carried out at our European University. One of them is working towards multilingualism, with the University of Silesia acting as the leader. Work on developing a common linguistic strategy for the entire Alliance is currently underway. What does this task mean for each of us?
Paweł Zakrajewski, PhD: Our partner in this task is the St. Kliment Ohridski Sofia University. We want to approach the idea of developing a common linguistic strategy that would follow from a broader language policy adopted for the entire Alliance. It seems complicated, but what it means in practice is that we need to develop an action plan thanks to which students, PhD students, graduates, and employees of the European University will speak English at least at B1 level, and the second language of choice from the eight languages of the Alliance at least at the basic level.
M.K.: It is an intriguing prospect. However, universities differ regarding their educational offer. In our case, a foreign language course is compulsory during studies, and students can choose between five languages. At some of the universities, a language course is part of the curriculum only for two semesters. I was amazed by the extremely rich offer of the Vytautas Magnus University in Kaunas. Students of the Lithuanian university can choose between over 30 languages, including Hebrew, Old Norse, Japanese, and Yiddish. How to develop a common action plan?
P.Z.: This is exactly what our job is about. As we are getting to know each other, we consider which model will work out best for the Alliance. We will also test various original solutions to check whether these methods are effective. We want to create opportunities for our students, PhD students, and employees to move around the Alliance universities without any language barriers to their mobility. On the one hand, we improve their language competencies; on the other, the appropriate level of language courses is to guarantee that a student or an employee who visits another university does not have to additionally prove that they have the required level of language proficiency. In this case, we talk about the language level recognised by the partner universities, of course.
M.K.: One of such original ideas is called Languages for Lunch. What is it about, and who can benefit from it?
P.Z.: Languages for Lunch is one of the three forms of foreign language learning we want to offer to students, PhD students, and all employees of the partner universities, including the University of Silesia in Katowice. We hope that, finally, we will be able to travel safely to the countries of the Alliance. We would like to invite people leaving and arriving to take part in a simple language event. Let’s imagine that a student or an employee plans to stay at the University of Trieste for one semester. During the stay in Italy, he or she can decide to teach the interested Italians some Polish. However, the teaching will not take the form of classes or a language course, but social meetings at lunchtime, so that they can simply get to know one another and talk in Polish, in this case. We are also considering open access to such meetings for people from outside the university. The other two forms of foreign language learning are Transform4Europe summer (or winter) language schools and intensive language courses for students, PhD students, and employees preparing for their trips to partner universities.
M.K.: Participation in certain initiatives, such as foreign language courses, will be compulsory, while in others, optional. How to convince our community members to perceive the offer of the Alliance as an opportunity for developing their language competencies?
P.Z.: I think, or even firmly believe, that today there is no need to convince anyone of the need to learn foreign languages. People seeking a job know that speaking English is a must. A second foreign language becomes a new norm. This is what the labour market is like… and the European Union recommendations. Corporations, international organisations, and prestigious institutions, including universities, sometimes have several “official languages” and seek employees with appropriate qualifications, among which the knowledge of foreign languages is an absolute necessity. Moreover, our University cooperates with a number of foreign research and economy centres. How can you do that if you don’t speak foreign languages? Therefore, we should provide education in at least two foreign languages. Thanks to the Alliance, we can establish cooperation with qualified native speakers more easily. As a result, we can provide courses on a very high level with an interesting and diverse offer of the languages of the Alliance. Our University with its excellent School of Polish Language and Culture is a good example. We can invite students, PhD students, and employees of the partner universities to make use of our experts’ knowledge and try to learn Polish. I would also like to refer to a relatively new term that is becoming trendy in the European labour market: micro-qualifications. More and more often, our graduates will be required to have additional qualifications beyond the scope of knowledge, skills, and competencies acquired during mandatory university classes. The Alliance provides such possibilities: the Transform4Europe Week, summer language schools, and festivals of culture, to mention only a few. I strongly recommend everyone to participate in and to get involved in the organisation of these initiatives, which also develop our language competencies.
M.K.: I suppose that German, Italian, and Spanish might be very attractive for us. However, the Alliance’s language array also includes Estonian, Bulgarian, Lithuanian, and obviously Polish. The multilingualism of the Alliance means that all the languages are equally important. How to make sure that the less popular yet equally interesting languages are promoted as well?
P.Z.: Within the Alliance, we will have the opportunity to learn popular languages, such as the already mentioned Spanish, but also the one-of-a-kind chance to learn languages spoken by relatively small populations around the world. In this way, we increase our advantage in the labour market. Lithuania might be a prime example. Only 4 million people speak Lithuanian. This is a developed country, an EU member, and one we have already cooperated with in terms of education and economy. Thanks to the Alliance, we can travel there, meet the natives, see their living conditions, and, obviously, learn the language. I think that the idea of multilingualism is an extraordinary opportunity for universities to promote their own culture. We will be very happy to see our friends from Italy, Germany, Spain, Bulgaria, Lithuania, and Estonia learning Polish.
M.K.: It should be emphasised that the offer will be available not only for students or PhD students, but for all of us, whether we are scientists, teachers, or administrative staff. My last question is which language are you planning to learn?
P.Z.: As a linguist, I specialise in English, and I absolutely adore French; however, within the Transform4Europe Alliance, I am considering taking up Italian or Bulgarian. To be honest, I would be happy to learn a little of each of the languages. You might ask why, and my answer is: because I am given the chance, because the Alliance offers such opportunities, and because learning through one’s entire life is the basis for functioning in the contemporary world.
M.K.: Thank you for the interview.
Paweł Zakrajewski, PhD | Photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala