Why Chinese Students Have Bad English

International students: Without words

Universities want to become more international at all costs. Unfortunately, the foreign students hardly speak any German. It can not go on like this.


Read on one side

As a lecturer at a German university you are constantly confronted with amazing things. When examining term papers in the master’s degree in architecture, we recently got to read the following text. "This essay deals first of all with the historical role of the trivial form from canon and the corresponding incomprehension. Citizens have always seen the form but never perceived it. The connection with morality makes a significant contribution to this. that popular architecture, which is not to be taken very seriously, with all its overly serious antics, has discovered a moment of sensuality. "

the authors

Philipp Oswalt is Professor of Architectural Theory and Design at the University of Kassel. Marina Adams is a Germanist and teaches at the International Study Center of the University of Kassel.

When we asked the author of these lines, a Chinese student who had been studying at our university for over a year, in a personal conversation what she actually wanted to say with this text passage, which was obviously created with the help of a Google translator, she did not even understand our questions. As with almost half of our foreign students, their knowledge of German is so poor that they cannot achieve the required academic performance. Your fellow students know the situation. When another foreign student recently started his lecture in the seminar, two students left the room because they knew that an incomprehensible lecture awaited them for the next half an hour, which would never come together to form a comprehensible argumentation. The idea is to suggest that foreign students give their presentations in English. But many do not speak this language either.

How is it that in teaching we are increasingly confronted with people who are actually not capable of studying?

A foreign-language applicant can only get a place on the course if he has successfully passed a German language test at level C1 and has thus been able to demonstrate that he can understand demanding, longer texts with implicit meanings and be able to express himself in a clear, structured and detailed manner on complex issues. But that is often not the case. We used an official test procedure to test 20 students with language problems in a random sample. 14 of them only achieved language level B1. This means that the main points are understood if clear standard language is used, and the examinee can express himself easily on familiar topics. This is completely insufficient for a university degree. At least 300 hours of German lessons would be required to achieve the required language level C1.



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But how could the students show a certificate of language level C1 when applying, which is two levels above B1? Either the test institutes issued certificates to their examinees for skills that they did not actually have. Or those affected have lost their knowledge of German to a considerable extent after starting their studies.

There are indications for both explanations: prospective students who fail a language test often turn to other test institutions afterwards, sometimes with success. Some of these are known in specialist circles for the fact that their certificates are not really reliable. In fact, it is also the case that the language skills of many students deteriorate again during their studies. Because there are far too few opportunities for direct communication with the lecturers in the mass university environment. And because they hardly have any contact with the locals. "German students are not interested in their international fellow students. This is why integration cannot work," was an assessment at a conference in Hanover, which was about foreign students. What is also missing is knowledge of the respective technical and scientific language. These can only be partially acquired in the interdisciplinary preparation for the course.

The language difficulties are exacerbated by a lack of knowledge of the cultural context and the different nature of the local teaching and learning cultures. All in all, the deficits are ultimately too great to be overcome by measures such as language courses provided by the university management.

Students from all over the world

How many are coming?

According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 340,000 foreign students sat in German lecture halls in the 2015/16 winter semester. 20,000 more than in the previous year.

Which countries do they come from?

Most of them came from Turkey and China. Students from Russia, India and Italy also make up a large proportion.

Where do you study?

The five most popular universities were the Technical University of Munich, the University of Duisburg-Essen, the RWTH Aachen, the LMU Munich and the FU Berlin.

Which subjects are popular?

Foreign students most often choose business administration, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, computer science and medicine.

When asked about these problems, the person in charge of a university administration replies: "The student secretariat can only check the submission of a language certificate, but not the language skills. Therefore, it will probably remain with this dilemma." However, she does not advocate a higher requirement for language skills, "since going it alone would lead to disadvantages for the university in a national comparison. This would have contradicted the strategic goal of internationalization to increase the number of foreign students." At her university one failed with a corresponding attempt in a course of study. After two years, the requirements were reduced to the usual level because the hoped-for number of foreign students was not nearly reached. The strategic goals of internationalization were each set in a five-year plan by the university management - in close coordination with the requirements of the state. If the agreed target number of first-year students is not achieved, there is a risk of funds being cut, according to the administrative employee.