Collaboration increases the diversity of language and communication studies

The Language Centre uses a wide range of collaborative activities in teaching. This article presents various forms of collaboration used to incorporate the voice of students and the culture of the target language into teaching, and to provide students with opportunities to delve into diverse, international work cultures.

Towards the job market  

The Language Centre’s course Deutsch im Berufsleben – Professional German (CEFR B1, 3 cr) prepares students for practical situations in which they can use their German skills and explore other international professional cultures. Because practical experience is highly important for enhancing professional language and communication skills, the course involves close cooperation with international companies. Students have the opportunity to engage in authentic discussions with course assistants who speak German as their native language. In addition, a Helsinki-based network of German-speaking cultural mediators acquaints students with companies in the area. Cooperation with those responsible for similar courses at Aalto University and Hanken School of Economics also includes regular meetings with representatives of the German-Finnish Chamber of Commerce. Moreover, the students have visited the Finnish head office of Siemens in Espoo.

For the past few years, the course participants have also had the opportunity to complete part of the course (1 cr) in a German-language work environment. The project is called Suuntana työelämä (‘Towards the job market’). The companies participating in the project benefit from having young, committed, German-speaking students join their teams, while the students gain genuine work experience and complete a short traineeship in a German-language company. The project was developed together with representatives of the German-Finnish Chamber of Commerce, who also helped in finding the first cooperation partners.

The purpose is to develop the project further, for example, by expanding cooperation with companies. One of the partners that will join the project is the German Library Helsinki. The project shows students that language and communication skills play an important and concrete role in the job market and that the Language Centre’s courses are based on a practical and applied approach. The project is a successful example of cooperation with employers and demonstrates what our Language Centre has to offer.

Text: Christian Niedling
The writer is a university lecturer of German at the Language Centre.

Collaboration through the course assistant scheme 

Since the autumn term of 2013, the University of Helsinki’s international students have been able to apply for work as course assistants at the Language Centre. The purpose of this scheme is to provide local students with the opportunity for internationalisation at home and international students with the opportunity to take part in teaching language and communication skills and to get to know local students. In connection with the course assistant activities, international students have the unique opportunity to take a peek behind the scenes of language teaching and to work with teachers.

Cooperation in Japanese teaching with the Faculty of Arts started at the outset of the scheme, inspired by the Language Centre’s Japanese courses. The course assistant scheme became an important part of the Faculty’s teaching in Japanese, and cooperation across faculty boundaries is now a natural part of the scheme. Practical arrangements are handled by the Language Centre, and international students can work as course assistants not only in the Language Centre’s Japanese courses, but also more broadly in the courses offered by the Faculty of Arts. In 2017 the Chinese courses offered to University of Helsinki students by the Confucius Institute were added to the scheme, as were the Korean courses offered by the Faculty of Arts soon after.

Cooperation based on the scheme has proved to be an excellent solution for course participants, course assistants and teachers alike. The course assistants are involved in teaching in various ways. Japanese, Chinese and Korean are popular course assistant languages, attracting dozens of international students each academic year.

Text: Nina Sulonen
The writer is a specialist in internationalisation and guidance at the Language Centre.

Bringing youth culture into the classroom

There are course assistants in all Japanese courses from beginners’ to more advanced levels. In basic-level Japanese courses with a Finnish teacher (a non-native speaker of Japanese), the course assistants are a most welcome addition as real-life native speakers and residents of the distant country. Assistants help students with various tasks in the classroom, such as pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar exercises, as well as conversation in small groups. Group work becomes more diverse and fun for the local students when a native Japanese peer is involved. Assistants also provide insight on more complex vocabulary and grammatical structures and sometimes give small introductions or presentations on various topics (e.g. history, culture, everyday life and customs and manners), bringing authentic Japanese voice and culture into the classroom. 

Many local students at the advanced level, in the MA Programme in Languages, have spent time in Japan as exchange students and speak Japanese fluently. It is therefore possible to discuss grammar and other exercises in Japanese with these students, and such discussions often turn into simultaneous conversation practice where the course assistants’ involvement is very valuable.  

Assistants bring current topics into the classroom and provide teacher and students with information on youth language, dialectal features, and various aspects of social media. Since written Japanese uses hundreds or even thousands of Chinese characters, native-speaking course assistants in more advanced courses often realise that even they need to refresh their manual writing skills. 

It is also important for the local students to meet native Japanese speakers other than the course instructor(s). Japanese course assistants are more familiar with youth culture and can be in contact with local students through social media outside the classroom. While assistants are not expected to function as teachers and explain grammar or language-specific details, they can introduce local students to language expressions and elements of Japanese culture that would not otherwise be covered in class.

Course assistants and local students often become friends and meet frequently even outside the classroom. Making it possible for the native Japanese students to be involved in language teaching benefits all involved: local students, teachers and Japanese students as well. All in all, the course assistant programme is well integrated into the Japanese teaching. Many enthusiastic, hard-working and committed Japanese students apply to the programme every semester.

Text: Pia Matilainen, Riikka Länsisalmi, Rie Fuse and Sachiko Sosa
Pia Matilainen is a university instructor of Japanese at the Language Centre. University Instructor Rie Fuse, University Lecturer Riikka Länsisalmi and University Lecturer Sachiko Sosa teach Japanese in the Bachelor’s Programme in Languages and the Master’s Programme in Languages at the Faculty of Arts. Länsisalmi is the discipline coordinator of Asian languages.

Teaching Korean with Korean speaking students 

The primary purpose of language education is to help students communicate effectively and appropriately. Therefore, the communicative method is primarily employed to teach Korean in my courses. Language learning is similar to exercising one’s muscles: it takes sufficient exposure and practice to become proficient. So it is important to offer students both a primary teacher and native-speaking peers, the course assistants, who can help students with additional exposure and practice. 

Course assistants who are native speakers of the target language play a crucial role in providing students with more opportunities to practice the language with more natural expressions. In addition, course assistants allow students to learn more about the language’s culture. As I asked my students about their motivations for learning Korean, most of them answered that they want to speak Korean fluently and understand Korean culture. Therefore, the approach of having course assistants in my courses is well suited to students’ desires.  

There are seven Korean course assistants in Korean courses this semester. They are active and have improved the students’ fluency in Korean. The assistants have participated in class activities approximately 2-3 times per semester. These activities give students more opportunities to speak Korean. To facilitate learning Korean using authentic expressions and to provide students with a deeper understanding of Korean culture, the course assistants work with the students in three ways: 

1. Course assistants help students during classes

Native-speaking peers help students with speaking activities based on grammar and expressions in small groups of three to four students. For instance, when students talked about their hometowns in small groups, the course assistants supported the conversation and asked follow-up questions. By communicating with native Korean speakers and receiving feedback from them, students were able to learn Korean more effectively and properly.

2. Korean speaking club, extra speaking activities

There is not enough time in the courses to allow for adequate oral practice. To make more room for practising speaking, I arranged a weekly online activity hosted by the course assistants every Friday during the third period. The Korean-speaking club met outside course hours, and beginners and intermediate groups alternated each week. I provide course assistants with materials such as topics and textbooks so they can help students practice their Korean.

3. Korean language buddy

When the university reopened in the fourth period, I realized that many students were eager to meet Korean friends in person to practice their language and learn more about the culture. As of now, 13 Finnish students work toward these ends together in pairs with Korean course assistants. In addition, this programme represents a great opportunity for Korean exchange students to have Finnish friends and encounter Finnish culture, as it is challenging to meet new people during their limited stay in Finland. 

The course assistant activity is an integral part of teaching. It incorporates communicative methods, as it provides students with more opportunities to be exposed to authentic Korean expressions and practice them. Students also gain a better understanding of Korean culture through the native-speaking course assistants. 

Text: Bokyung Kim
The writer is a visiting professor of the Korea Foundation at the University of Helsinki and teaches Korean in the Bachelor’s Programme in Languages and the Master’s Programme in Languages at the Faculty of Arts.