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Preparing Modern Languages Students for 'Difference'

Going beyond Graduate Skills


Ruth Whittle and Sandra Salin

This book informs and encourages aspiring lecturers and teaching staff in Modern Languages who prepare students for using their language skills in and out of the classroom. Drawing on pedagogical, psychological and language-specific concepts of learning, the book illustrates how such concepts can enhance students’ experience of transitioning from school to university to residence abroad, and beyond.

A key feature of the study is an investigation of students’ fragility as they transition from school to university and, only two years later, from their home institution to their placements abroad. Interventions intended to «teach» transition are shown to be unsuccessful, as the learning through such interventions tends to remain superficial. First-year students are shown to benefit from trust-building between students and teachers and early networking among their peers to build self-confidence. In contrast, prior to studying abroad students benefit more from intercultural awareness training, including linguistic, cultural, social, academic and/or emotional aspects.

The book serves as a useful basis for discussion in Modern Languages departments about curriculum change and university policy with regard to resourcing the Humanities.

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2. Profile of a Modern Languages Student: A Story of Transitions (Ruth Whittle)


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2  Profile of a Modern Languages Student: A Story of Transitions

This chapter explores the themes and patterns we identified in the Reflective Learner Project and sets them in the context of where the students are coming from, educationally and politically, and where they are heading towards.

Imagine the following scenario: ‘If someone dropped you into unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar people, and asked you to take instructions from someone you had never met before, the chances are that you would struggle. Your usual confidence would be stifled, your friendly manner would falter and your ability to complete the simplest of tasks would be disrupted by your confusion about why this strange new person was talking to you in a way that you did not fully understand’ (Edgington, White and Barton 2014: 26). This is the situation in which pupils can find themselves, from their first (institutional) transition from pre-school to primary school onwards. It is no different for students transitioning through their GCSE and A-Level exams at school to the next step up.

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