PhD Project Christine Ringwald

German High School Students’ Preparedness for English-Medium Bachelor’s Programs

supervised by Claudia Harsch at the University of Bremen

Due to the Bologna reform, the number of English-medium instructed study programs in Germany has risen from 65 in 2001 to currently 1,443 (Gürtler & Kronewald, 2015; www.hochschulkompass.de). This remarkable increase can be observed primarily with regard to Master’s programs; however, the trend towards English-medium instruction (EMI) is also gradually spreading to Bachelor’s programs (currently 227). The transition from German secondary school to higher education is regulated by an exam (Abitur), which encompasses one module on a foreign language. Although English language proficiency is one major factor influencing EMI success, there is little research on the relationship between high school English instruction and students’ preparedness for EMI (Dimova & Hultgren, 2015). Taking up this angle, the PhD project examines whether passing the English Abitur module implies students’ readiness to enter EMI courses in Germany.

In order to capture all salient perspectives, the study targets upper secondary English teachers, first-year students who entered an EMI program with the Abitur, and lecturers teaching in the first semester of EMI Bachelor programs. Each of them provides a different perspective on the transition. Employing an exploratory sequential mixed methods design, in the first phases of data collection, qualitative data is gathered from participant observations, document analyses, and interviews. The findings from these qualitative phases are then used to build questionnaires to conduct follow-up quantitative phases of data collection.

The study seeks to explore (1) how English teachers prepare their students for the use of academic language and (2) the limitations of the subject in terms of preparing for these skills; (3) the language requirements that are imposed on university entrants in EMI Bachelor’s programs; (4) what language skills first-year students of EMI Bachelor’s programs bring and what causes them difficulties; (5) how the competences of first-year students affect the design of the study program; (6) the challenges EMI courses in Germany face; (7) the expectations that English teachers have of lecturers in EMI Bachelor’s courses (and vice versa).

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