ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

Die tägliche Web-Zeitung der ETH Zürich - in English

ETH Life - wissen was laeuft ETH Life - wissen was laeuft
ETH Life - wissen was laeuft

ETH - Eidgenoessische Technische Hochschule Zuerich - Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich
Rubrik: Mittwochs-Kolumnen
Print-Version Drucken
Publiziert: 14.06.2006 06:00

The language challenge

Anders Hagström

English as teaching language on Master’s, maybe even on Bachelor’s level, is among the themes that have been debated in the ETH 2020 web log. Some of the contributions have been very sceptical, voicing concern about faculty members not speaking the language fluently, students from other language areas being disadvantaged, etc.

It is not surprising that the topic has raised discussion. Having grown up as a member of a language minority (Swedish in Finland), I appreciate that language is an essential aspect of every person’s identity. Language is a fundamental, emotional issue. But in Finland, even the majority language (Finnish) isn’t exactly a major global tongue. So Finns wanting to communicate with 99.9% of the world have to use a foreign language. Maybe growing up in such a “double-minority” environment, helps to put the emotional into perspective and focus on the practical aspects of the language issue.

Firstly, language is a tool for communication. In a multilingual environment, a rational language choice is based on the audience. You speak or write the language in which you can reach the largest group of people. As ETH Zurich wants to internationalize its graduate programmes, there is no question that this language is English.

Also another aspect seems obvious: when English is the language of instruction it becomes part of the educational experience. Students spending their young years at ETH Zurich are here to learn, to prepare for a profession. They should reasonably expect that they will acquire whatever knowledge and skills they will need in their future careers. And in today’s interconnected world, intercultural skills and proficiency in English are basic skills, key factors of any engineer’s or scientist’s employability.

Of course, Swiss students who have learnt two, maybe even three national languages at secondary school, and English on top of that, can’t be expected to be fluent in all of them. But if they haven’t mastered English by the stage they reach graduate study, it is high time that they do. It will certainly not become any easier later on.

I do not mean to suggest that all ETH graduates should expect to work exclusively in English. Some may even spend their whole professional life in a protected national setting. And some may find themselves later wishing that they had learnt, for example, Spanish. Or Chinese.


Anders Hagström

When talking about introducing English as a working language, I have more sympathy for the concern of ETH staff members. Becoming a bilingual institution has a direct impact not only on teaching staff but in all areas of activity. Most departments and labs at ETH Zurich have already made this transition. Now the central services, IT, administration and support functions face the same challenge. Which really shows that English has become a key factor of employability.

Zum Autor

Anders Hagström ist seit 2005 Leiter des Hochschulmarketings der ETH Zürich. Er stammt aus Finnland und hat an der TU Helsinki Elektrotechnik und Betriebswirtschaft studiert. Studierenden zu ermöglichen, ihren universitären Horizont im Ausland zu erweitern, war Hagström bereits als Student ein Anliegen. So hat er als Präsident der Studierendenschaft seiner Uni in den 80-er Jahren das erste internationale Austauschprogramm für Studierende auf die Beine gestellt.

Später hat Hagström lange in der Weiterbildung gearbeitet, unter anderem an der University of Cambridge. 1999 kam er an die ETH, zunächst ins Prorektorat für internationale Beziehungen. „Mit der Bologna-Reform befindet sich die ETH Zürich ist einem tiefgreifenden Prozess des Wandels“, sagt er. „Nicht zuletzt durch die Internationalisierung der Masterstufe.“ Dies betreffe nicht nur die Departemente, sondern insbesondere auchdie „Verwaltung“. „Es ist schon spannend, wie viel Internationalisierung eine bereits sehr internationale Hochschule wie die ETH Zürich noch vor sich hat.

Sie können zu diesem Artikel ein Feedback schreiben oder die bisherigen lesen.

!!! Dieses Dokument stammt aus dem ETH Web-Archiv und wird nicht mehr gepflegt !!!
!!! This document is stored in the ETH Web archive and is no longer maintained !!!