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New insights into English language, Swedish education


Published Sep 23, 2013

A new course for international students offers a combination of English language training and education in study techniques. They also get insights into the Swedish approach to study – one that is radically different from the way studies are conducted in their native countries.

This year the international students have been able to study a wholly new preparatory course combining English language training and study techniques. (Photo: Håkan Lindgren)

Jiangnan Xi and Cao Weiran from Beijing have come all the way to KTH in order to study a Master’s programme in Electric Power Engineering. They chose to arrive three weeks before the start of the semester so they could take a preparatory course in English and study techniques.

“I think it a good opportunity to practise my English,” Jiangnan says. “We have learned English in the Chinese way, you see, and here we are able to hear different types of English.”

Cao adds: “And it’s a really good idea to come here slightly before the course start in order to get used to the way of life.”

The course covers everything, from academic writing and the right to quote (as opposed to plagiarism) to presentational and debating techniques. The lessons are divided up into two 75-minute sessions each morning, plus written assignments and exercises that the students do on their own.

The students are divided up into eight different groups. One session has Jiangnan’s group doing exercises with debate expressions.

Their teacher, Elisabeth Keller, asks what difference it makes when emphasis is placed on either of the words, ‘didn’t’ or ‘idea’, in the sentence: “I didn’t say she stole my idea”.

Everyone seems to understand how emphasizing either word changes the message. The next task, to link up the right preposition with the right debate phrase, doesn’t appear to present any greater difficulty.

Good knowledge of grammar

Most students here already possess a good grammatical base, Keller says.

“Most people are not at all familiar with the Swedish, interactive educational style, says Jamie Rinder

“If you were to give them a written test they would make a very good job of it. But when it comes to communicating, that is where there are shortcomings,” she says.

A more direct debate exercise follows. In three smaller groups, the students must reach agreement on which six persons out of a total of 10 can board the last rescue aircraft flying out of a nuclear power disaster zone.

Discussions are intense in the small groups; but once in the full session, the exchange cools down. It turns out that the groups have come to roughly the same decision. First to board the plane will be an expectant mother and a doctor.

The teaching session concludes with each group choosing a subject for the forthcoming debate. For his group, Jiangnan chooses “The Internet is making us stupid” while another group proposes “Facebook: help or hindrance to personal relationships?”

The language instruction focuses on academic English, both spoken and written. The latter is cited by many students as being especially valuable. Maliheh Khademipour, an Iranian from Dubai, believes that the course has helped her find the right level in language usage.

“It’s a question of finding appropriate and inappropriate words and expressions when writing academic texts, so that one doesn’t mix up everyday language and academic language,” says Maliheh, who is enrolled in the Masters programme in Architectural Lighting Design at the School of Architecture. 

English and Study techniques in one course – a novelty

This is the first year that English and Study Techniques is offered as a course open to all paying students and scholarship holders. A similar course was given last year, but then only for a smaller group of 28 Chinese students.

“Beijing Jiaotong University wished to have a preparatory course in English for its students. It was so successful that we wanted to make the course accessible to more nationalities this year,” says course director, Jamie Rinder, university lecturer at the Unit for Language

It’s not about speaking like an English-speaking person but understanding and making oneself understood.

and Communication.

The majority of the students this year come from China, but there are also several students from Nepal, Vietnam and Brazil, as well as other countries.

International students who study at KTH must have an internationally recognised qualification in English. Consequently, those that follow the preparatory course already have good knowledge of the language, in terms of both grammar and vocabulary. On the other hand, they sometimes encounter problems when communicating to students and teachers from countries other than their own.

“This is the first time that many of these students have heard English spoken with an accent other than their own,” Rinder says.

Swedish approach to study – a valuable experience

The preparatory course gives the students a valuable English language immersion; it also enables them to correct defects at an earlier stage.

“It may be a simple thing like speaking too fast. It’s not about speaking like an English-speaking person but understanding and making oneself understood.”

But the most valuable thing about the course is this: it offers an insight into, and experience with, the approach to learning and associated study techniques that have been developed in Sweden, Rinder says.

“Most people are not at all familiar with the Swedish, interactive educational style. Seminars, group work, the students themselves giving feedback, all this is completely novel for many foreign students – so that’s what we focus on,” he says.

For Anjali Amatya from Nepal, who is investing in a Masters in Energy Engineering, the insight into the differences was one of the reasons that she chose to take the preparatory course.

“I thought I needed to acquire an idea of how the education at KTH takes place. In my country it is only written tests that count. The system here is really different.”

Ursula Stigzelius