It turns out that English Learning Support takes on many forms at the FernUniversität in Hagen. Two initiatives outside of the studyFIT domain cater to employees and postgrads who are in search of a venue to practise speaking English.
Straight talking with staff in mind
Daniel Löhlein of the FernUni International Office runs an English Conversation Club aimed primarily at technical and administrative staff, though faculty members are hardly turned away. Launched in January 2021, the project sees the FernUniversität in Hagen collaborating with two other distance learning institutions, namely, the Open University of Catalonia in Spain and the University of Jyväskylä in Finland. “Whether we’re talking about our current bedside reading, our Christmas traditions or plans for the summer, our meetings are always exciting and invigorating,” says Löhlein. “We have two groups, each consisting of participants from all three universities, and our bi-monthly meetings – on every other Wednesday and Thursday – are always well-attended.”
The secret to maintaining a casual atmosphere where participants are not going to feel intimidated is being flexible about the topics and leaving it in the participants’ hands, Daniel explains. “The participants themselves decide how much personal information they wish to divulge. What we offer is a venue for people to meet who might otherwise not have the chance to speak in English. Sometimes in the course of one’s work one may read English texts or write the occasional email, but opportunities to engage in a sustained conversation are few and far between. So, our English Conversation Club offers that platform to our staff along with our Spanish and Finnish colleagues.”
Scholars speak their minds
If you are reading for a PhD or have already reached the hallowed ground of postdoc territory, you might want to join the English Club run by Christine Charon of the FernUniversität Graduate Service. Those preparing to take to the stage at a conference or some other international gathering will no doubt benefit from the carefully selected themes and the variety of formats – from casual conversations to engaging debates – which Christine uses in the English Club. “We typically start with a warm-up activity before making our way towards the debate of the day,” explains Christine. “These are not language lessons, and I’m there to spur on the conversation but not to barge in with corrections all the time. I reserve that for the egregious errors. The main aim is to get the participants talking, for them to develop a feel for the language and to practise accessing their otherwise latent vocabulary knowledge spontaneously.”
The English Club attracts around thirty members a semester, though around a third of this show up for any given session. “We meet on a Thursday afternoon, every three to four weeks, and there’s no pressure on participants to be there each time. The casual atmosphere is central to our endeavours,” Christine adds.
For more information on the tripartite English Club, visit the website here.
And if you are a doctoral candidate or postdoc in need of an English-language pick-me-up, or if you would like to see an overview of all upcoming meetings, do check out the Graduate Service website.