Fiona Clare Dalziel & Francesca Helm

From prohibition to choice: Exploring language practices in an Italian university

With the ever increasing drive towards internationalisation in European Higher Education, universities without a history of multilingualism are having to cope with new and often extremely challenging language practices. This paper explores the attitudes to changes in language use and the strategies adopted by lecturers at an Italian university teaching their subjects through English. We begin by briefly describing the learning ecology of this study: a large state university in the north of Italy where English Taught Programs (ETPs) are a recent, thus limited phenomenon, but currently a fast growing trend (Helm & Guarda 2015: 358). As reported in Costa and Coleman (2012: 15) at an administrative level, many Italian universities promoting ETPs are still focusing more on content than on the language; however, at the university described here, exploratory studies have found evidence of the fact that the practitioners are very much aware of the complex language issues involved. Drawing on a range of data sources: questionnaire data, semi-structured interviews, lesson observation and narrative accounts written by the professors themselves, we then explore the wide variety of positions and practices found as regards language use, ranging from the prohibition of any languages other than English, to great flexibility not only in the classroom but also in examinations. The findings of the study have raised issues that need to be addressed such as language policy, accountability, language awareness and support for lecturers.

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