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University Students Need Better Preparation in English

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University Students Need Better Preparation in English

Icelandic and British flags.

Photo: Ministry for Foreign Affairs/Facebook.

About 90% of the curriculum taught in Icelandic universities is in English, even as a third of Icelandic university students have difficulty utilizing the language in a university environment, Vísir reports.

This was among the findings put forth in a new book based on a seven-year investigation into the influence of English as an international language in Iceland. The study focused on students at the upper-secondary and university levels, and the use of English in a professional environment. The authors concluded, among other things, that most Icelanders generally understand more English than they can make use of themselves, particularly in business and university settings.

“A very big part of the nation hears English constantly, every single day, and they read very well, but they seldom speak in English and they write in English even less,” says Hafdís Ingvarsdóttir, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iceland and one of the book’s editors.

The authors also conclude that public education in Iceland has not kept pace with the development of the language environment, particularly in regard to the huge leap that students must make linguistically when they reach university.

“83% of students have a serious problem when English is introduced, that is to say, that the reading is all in English, but the tests, the evaluations, those are in Icelandic,” says Birna Arnbjörnsdóttir, a professor at the university and another of the book’s editors. “There’s a big gap in between and people don’t realize that it isn’t at all the same English as is used on Facebook.”

Hafdís and Birna emphasize that they aren’t advocating for less Icelandic to be used because of the increasing prominence of English. They do hope, however, that the study will lead to a revision of syllabi and curricula, such that English is used in both a social and professional context within the educational system, just as it is in Icelandic society at large.

“[English] is a tool with very important utility. We have sometimes joked that it’s for kids, just like every other app...but that doesn't change that they’re Icelandic and want to be Icelandic,” says Hafdís.

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