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Teaching methods

How do we teach?

We aim to develop the full potential of each student, extending the range of your skills and encouraging you to become critically aware and confident in your own thinking. We train you as professional linguists who are fluent and accurate in using your foreign languages. We also aim to develop the transferable skills which make our graduates attractive to a wide range of employers. You will be above all a communicator in the spoken and written language; you will have well-developed analytical skills (while you are with us you will be reading and interpreting data, evaluating information, writing summaries and reports, developing a critical perspective on material and your own performance); you will be able to organise your own time and workload effectively; you will be skilled at presenting papers to groups and at negotiating in team situations; and you will be culturally adaptable after your experience during the Year Abroad.

In order to achieve these various goals we use a combination of methods. Many courses use the model of one lecture hour per week supported by one seminar hour. Some courses offer a two-hour seminar instead. Lecture groups vary in size from 10-100 students, depending on the subject. Seminar groups can be anything from 6-20 students although we try to keep these groups as small as possible. Lectures deliver information and, although lecturing styles obviously vary, they do not normally invite much student participation. The seminar, in contrast, aims at encouraging you to try out your own ideas in discussion, to present papers and develop a sense of your own voice and authorship and generally to adopt a critical approach to your material.

Our language classes use a range of techniques. There is regular group work on the written language (grammar, analysis of contemporary press and media, critical commentary on a variety of target-language texts). Weekly sessions with a native speaker of the language focus on increasing your confidence in speaking and are integrated with the other components of the language course. We make use of Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL) and QM+ (our VLE) is well developed at Queen Mary - you will be able, for example, to download audio-visual material from foreign-language media and to work on it at home, in your own time. Further facilities include Language Laboratories, satellite T.V. and an extensive range of DVD material.

Our aims in language classes in the first two years are

  • (a) to consolidate and extend your competence in the language
  • (b) to ensure that you are ready for the Year Abroad both in terms of confidence in the spoken language and of cultural awareness. During the Year Abroad you will prepare a Year Abroad Assignment (its precise nature varies from department to department) in the target language on a topic of your choice related to their experience living abroad. This independent research project integrates your linguistic and analytical skills and counts as two course-units in your final degree profile. In the final year, language classes focus on more specialised translation skills.

What languages do we use for teaching?

Language classes are normally conducted in the relevant foreign language; otherwise, although we are moving towards using the foreign language in final-year options, the medium of instruction is predominantly English. It sometimes surprises schoolteachers and intending students that English is used to such an extent, but there are good reasons for this. The cultivation of a high level of oral and written expression in English is a desirable end in itself, and a most important transferable skill (given that many Modern Languages graduates do not immediately work in a foreign-language environment); we also have a substantial number of overseas students at Queen Mary who come to England specifically to be educated, at least in part, in the medium of English. A number of our courses are taught across the School to students from different foreign-language backgrounds, so English is the only common language. Also, we do not wish to impede the intellectual development of our many students who are taking a foreign language from scratch by making unrealistic linguistic expectations on them during their first two years.

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