Journaltalk - Hemma bast

Hemma bast

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  • Eva Forslund
  • Magnus Henriksson
Volume Number 19
Issue Number 2
Pages 258-282
Publication year 2022

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Grouping social sciences
Categories social work

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  1. This is an interesting article, and though I certainly understand the arguments and the existence of a trade-off between using English and the local majority language in higher education, I think there are additional benefits associated with using English other than the ability to disseminate one’s research to an international audience and preparing a small minority of students for a globalized labor market.
    My practical experience of this is as a professor who uses English to teach students in a Taiwanese MBA program. As the authors note, the obvious benefit of using English is greater opportunities for international collaborations and interactions. Now, obviously, it would be easier (in one sense) for the domestic students (about 50% of the total) to interact in Chinese than in English. And it would also make it easier to do research on local conditions, and the difference is arguably greater when the languages are from different language families. But there are also some other factors to consider that seem as important as the ones mentioned in the paper:
    1 The effects on teacher-student interaction depend on the cultural context. While Taiwanese students as a rule speak better Chinese than English, they tend to be more reluctant to have informal discussions in Chinese. This is related to more “hierarchical” traditions in which students are not supposed to ask questions. Thus in certain contexts, English may encourage more interactivity (this is generally true in most parts of Asia).
    2 There is also the hypothesis – and there is empirical research that supports this – that the experience of cognitive dissonance stimulates creativity. Using a foreign language may increase cognitive dissonance and thus make them more open to new ways of thinking about various problems.
    3 As a teacher, I have found that classroom discussions become much more interesting and insightful if there are students with dissimilar cultural backgrounds in the same class. Using Chinese instead of English would (almost) eliminate participation by students from other backgrounds (our international students take classes in Chinese, but their Chinese is with few exceptions at a much lower level of proficiency than the English spoken by our domestic students). Indeed, one of the main reasons that we promote English and recruit foreign students is that we want more classroom interactivity.
    4 Exposing domestic students to foreign professors may be desirable in itself. It is obviously in my self-interest to claim this, but there is a growing realization here that it is easier to break out of the local preference for learning-by-memorization if the teacher is from a cultural background where rote learning is less common than here (again, this is a common problem in many Asian contexts). Note that most of the internationally recruited professors would not be here if they had to interact with students or at meetings in another language than English.

    In some ways, I think the authors assume that the education system should adjust to the state of the environment as it is. But what if the aim is to contribute to a transformation of society? For example, one aim could be to make it more probable that students embark on an international career than otherwise, while simultaneously increasing the attractiveness of the locality of the educational institution as a destination for skilled workers from elsewhere.

    posted 08 Oct 2022 by David Emanuel Andersson

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