Piloting experiences

The experiences of INTERMAR from the Åland Islands are encouraging, although there is room for improvements of course. The students welcomed the INTERMAR philosophy (SYLLABUS HERE) and about 30 percent of them had studied a fourth foreign language, in addition to English and Finnish (not foreign but very different from their native language). Here is a part of the student group (having played paintball):

Here is a PREZI presentation of the outline of the course at the ÅMA. As can be seen, the students had selected the Germanic, Romance and Russian/Baltic modules to work with. They also have taken the tests of those modules. The Germanic test proved to be the easiest (75% score).

The timetable was split up into five intensive periods of 6 – 8 hours and four intermissions (intended for individual work online) (see the Prezi).

INTENSIVE PERIOD 1

Students worked in groups of 2-3 in the computer lab with the Icebreaker Module, mainly tasks 1 (Plan the Route) and 2 (Buying Provisions). There was a lot of enthusiasm and many chose Portuguese, a few Spanish, and two groups Bulgarian and Italian as their destinations. It was quite easy for them to decode text in combination with pictures as in the Buying Provisions and Image Search parts.

The work performed by the students was presented in class and followed up. Ideas of Interproduction (IP) projects were brainstormed. Students gathered materials for their IP work at home and brought to school, mainly pictures of themselves at work onboard ships. Many students composed PowerPoint presentations and recorded sound with very simple phrases in Swedish. One student made a film with drawings and narration of his own.

INTENSIVE PERIOD 2

This second intensive period started with a session where students showed what they had been working with. Some had loaded up materials in their individual hand-in folders at the Fronter web platform. This was mainly work on the Icebreaker and Interproduction.

The CEFR levels A1 – B1 receptive competences were introduced and discussed. The intention was to concretise what goals are within reach, relative to linguistic similarity to our Germanic base of Swedish and English.

A session with songs was integrated in the syllabus. The student union Wednesday pub was partly transformed into a sing-along in many languages. The lyrics had been distributed beforehand, so as to allow for a bit of analysing. In particular the German and Dutch songs were highlighted. Obviously it was possible – but not easy – for most students to make sense of these songs, which had been chosen because of their simplistic content.

This was because the date for the Germanic assessment test had been set to the 5th of February, so the Germanic module was in focus, both during the in-class sessions and in the computer lab small group work. By now everybody had their login names and passwords.

A follow-up session was included where students explained how they had deduced the meaning of the German and Dutch texts. It was completed with more spoken materials in German, such as Langsam gespochene nachrichen from Deutsche Welle.

 

INTENSIVE PERIOD 3

This intensive period started with follow-up again of the work within the Germanic module. Many students had not done anything at home. This is due to the same situation as in many other maritime academies, where the timetable is solidly booked from 8 to 4 every day and since there had been a few tests in maths and physics which were considered to be difficult.

In addition to the follow-up of the tasks the Romance module was introduced, the test of which is set to the 28th of February, see the timeline above! A collection of links to European Intercomprehension projects is available in the Fronter course room (some of them are in THIS LIST). The intention is to provide a bridge onto the somewhat higher levels of the Romance materials of Intermar.

Next the students sat the Germanic assessment test. It proved to be well suited for my students. They liked to work with the tasks and I think a few of them analysed texts quite deeply, some of them for the first time it seemed. The last tasks where students were asked to list prepositions and adjectives didn’t go so well, since many of them had very vague ideas of parts of speech.

The average result of the test was 72% and 24 students participated. The two Spanish exchange students scored 50% on average. The relative success of the students is encouraging since the time they had spent preparing was very short. I think a valid conclusion is that Intermar has managed mobilise latent linguistic competence very efficiently.

The last session was in the computer lab and students worked with Romance language materials, such as Erasmus planning, Roundabout of Languages, etc.

INTENSIVE PERIOD 4

The students had focussed on the Romance languages during the intermission period. They showed their work report sheets. Many had found great pleasure in media products in Romance languages and some had sung songs in those languages.

We did an activity from the Maritime English section involving Spanish accents in English – matching photographs of equipment on board to sound files and texts. The idea was to identify a few phonetic features of Spaninsh pronunciation that influence the English pronunciation.

On to the Roundabout of Languages which is part of the Romance module. Students decode one language of the five departing from the English text (funny and immature!). They pointed out the distinguishing features of each of the five languages. As reference the massive comparative word list at http://www.eurocom.uni-frankfurt.de/english/compact/kurs/panrom.htm was used (see a section of it here to the left). It was shown also to encourage students to use English word competence when trying to understand Romance languages. I also advertised how the Minilexes produced by the EuroComRom team in Frankfurt can be useful in the event that somebody needs to use a language her/himself. (See also the book “English as a Bridge Language”, intended for speakers of Gefrmsnic

We watched Itinerarios Romances “The Puss in Boots” in Italian and realised that it was really difficult to pick up more than a few words for my students – but they knew the story. The question is what really happens in the heads of people who focus on listening to a quite unknown language, trying to understand, recognising a word here and there. It is up to anyone to answer that but I believe that there is a lot of learning going on as long as there is focus. But we can’t say what is learnt really. And if it is an unrepeated activity it won’t be fruitful, I think.

The Test in Romance languages was not well suited for students outside of the language family. The reason is that the activity is search-reading, and it is a very tiresome activity. My students would have preferred a test like the one in Germanic languages, where SPECIFIED pieces of information was asked for. The average turned out to be about 50%, which is not bad, but the feeling was that it wasn’t inspiring for further efforts.

INTENSIVE PERIOD 5

The last part of the course was devoted to Russian, and to making sure nothing important had been forgotten. The exercises in Russian were taken from the webpage where the Word versions can be downloaded (at http://www.ha.ax/erik/IC/Intermar.htm) and students worked with them independently in small groups in class and outside class. The test is not difficult and as a result the feeling was that all students had the feeling that they had a grip of the Cyrillic alphabet and the fact that the many loanwords are possible to decode.

CONCLUSIONS

It is perhaps premature to draw conclusions of the outcome of the course, before the portfolios have been handed in. It is a feeling I have that the enthusiasm went down over time, but the attendance was always near 100%, so that indicates determination to fulfil the obligations of the course by the students. One thing that many mentioned was that there is a lot of attractive materials already for those who’d like to get to know a foreign language in their spare time. In comparison, the Intermar materials are very text-based and grey.

I think that we need to revise our materials – perhaps with more assistance as to layout and design – and by adding a lot more pictures and sound. I know that students up here in the North are very spoilt by modern media. Probably the same goes for all European students today.

The 30 contact hours proved to be too little. As everywhere else it is very hard to get more hours. This is due the fact that the timetable is full from 8 to 16 virtually every day on the Navigation Degree Programme. So there is little or no hope for more.

 



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