Two bilingual programs are available to foreign students in Russia – «immersion» and «transitional» ones. But their "weak spot" is the lack of progress in Russian proficiency that can have a negative effect on academic achievements. There was put forward a hypothesis, consisting of a set of assumptions that, the process of teaching international students will become more effective if the Russian language is taught not only in Russian classes, but also in other courses such as physics, chemistry, mathematics and others, without duplicating the work of the teacher of the Russian language, but complementing it. Thus, the aim of the work is to achieve good proficiency in Russian and improve academic performance of students in certain content courses. To achieve the goal, content teachers should introduce special bilingual methods and strategies and highlight the role of interactive methods of learning in their classes. The experiment was conducted at the Volgograd State Medical University. The findings suggest that students in focus groups score higher in the Russian language and certain courses than students in control ones. Moreover, the students became more active, increased their communicative skills, managed their stress and raised their self-esteem. Thus, the research allows the conclusion that implementation of bilingual teaching strategies and methods and complementing them with bilingual manuals promotes learning Russian and also enriches the professional culture of future specialists.
Keywords: Bilingual educationlanguage proficiencybilingual methods
In 2017, the Ministry of Education set up a new project with the eloquent title "Export of Education". The purpose of this mission is to attract as many international students as possible, simplifying the conditions for their entry into Russia, and introducing new innovative training programs. The number of international students is expected to grow more than three times. As the Minister of Education of the Russian Federation Vasilieva puts it, “instruction of international students brings considerable income to the economy of Russia as a whole” (Dobroe Utro TV program of September 4, 2017). Moreover, according to the figurative expression of the minister, training of international students is a kind of "soft power" for intellectual, cultural and informational influence on the world.
Two different kinds of bilingual programs are available to international students in Russia – immersion and transitional ones. These programs differ in the degree they use Russian and a well-mastered language (English or French) in the learning process. In our study the term well-mastered means that English or French are not mother tongues for most international students who come to Russia from India, China, Jordan, Malaysia, etc., but they are proficient in the language(s). Immersion programs involve instruction through a foreign language (Russian) after a short period of study at the preparatory course. Further in the work we will refer to the classes who receive training under such programs immersion ones. At a transitional bilingual program, students receive instruction in two languages –– English or French in the first three years, and in Russian in senior years, including the process of final state certification. Сlasses trained within the program will be referred to as transitional ones.
In spite of their difference, the bilingual programs are united by a common goal of acquiring expertise via studying in two languages. But their "weak spot" is lack of progress in Russian proficiency, which can negatively affect academic achievements as a whole. Students come to Russia without any knowledge of the Russian language; they exhibit problems not only in communicating at the university, but also in many other public places. Students do not master Russian rapidly, and this low progress has a negative effect on learning in particular, and the quality of their life in general. In immersion classes, as practice shows, students’ poor speaking and listening skills in the process of mastering first year subject courses, render them unable to express their ideas fully and understand the speech correctly, and finally result in low level of student’s academic performance. In transitional classes, despite the possibility of studying courses within a so-called “supportive learning environment” of the well-mastered language, students exhibit difficulties of a similar nature. These are difficulties in learning Russian as a foreign language, problems of adjusting to an unfamiliar culture, episodes of frustration caused by cultural and psychological isolation, etc. Moreover, by the time of students’ practical training in Russian clinics and hospitals, students are supposed to show readiness for effective communication in Russian to collect and analyze patient complaints and take a detailed case history, aimed at making a correct diagnosis. The fact supports the importance of rapid and productive learning of Russian as a foreign language.
Besides that, the practitioners and researchers state that the process of mastering a foreign language is associated with a number of challenges caused by specific features of the subject itself. Learning any foreign language requires an expenditure of enormous energy, as well as daily, systematic, motivated work. According to the opinion of Fomina, engaged in the study of socio-cultural adaptation of international medical students, the initial stage of studying any foreign language is always a frustration, because the process is associated with violation of age-long laws of ethnic life. For some people, she asserts, “the very need to speak a foreign language causes negative emotions and attitudes toward native speakers and their culture” (Fomina, Altukhova, & Ignatenko, 2016: 211). As she also states, the Russian language differs from those of the Romano-Germanic group both with its synthetic nature, and with a complex lexical configuration associated with stratification of various ethnic components in the course of evolution of the Russian ethnos.
Over the last decade, content and language integrated learning has been used as an “umbrella term” (cited by Marsh, 2012:28) referring to a number of situations dealing with experience of learning non-language courses in a foreign language. Our understanding and perception of the process is still evolving, and Nikula, Dafouz, Moore, Smit (2016) remind us of “the intricacy of the factors that influence the learning (institutional, pedagogical, personal) and need to be considered”. As Coyle, Hood and Marsh (2010) and Anderson McDougald, and Cuesta Medina (2015) say that content and language integrated learning means “good teaching”. To their mind, these programs are aimed at fostering the development of students’ communicative competences in a foreign language. Others claim that the very idea of integrating language and content in science classes comes alongside potential development of literacy in the classroom. Meyer, Coyle, Halbach, Schuck, and Ting (2015) point out that deep academic understanding is not possible without appropriate level of mastery of academic forms of communication and writing. Fang, Lame and Pringle (2010) and Whittaker & Acevedo (2016) suggest different teaching-learning strategies that may facilitate scientific literacy through language learning since students have to use a foreign language to communicate their findings and articulate their thinking. The implementation of content-based strategies in bilingual contexts has been approached by different studies (see Barranco, Sanz, Calderón, & Alario, 2016; Genesee & Hamayan 2016; Nargund-Joshi & Bautista, 2016). Edgar Garzon-Diaz (2018) in his study integrated content, culture and foreign language (English) in school lessons of Bogota, Colombia. His findings highlight the role of language integration in science lessons, considering the science as the key element for fostering cooperative and communicative work of students, motivating them to use English in content lessons and contributing to the development of scientific citizenship as a whole. It becomes obvious that many attempts have been made to reveal the connection between language structures and particular subject content, “to find the so-called language muscles of content disciplines at all language levels: lexicosemantic, morphosyntax and genre” (cited by Dalton-Puffer, Llinares, Lorenzo, Nikula, 2014: 216). Thus, to open doors to innovative teaching-learning strategies at the implementing stage of the pedagogical experiment, bilingual modules, tools and methods were introduced. Some grammatical exercises aimed at formation and development of Russian language proficiency, can be as follows.
Exercise 1. Read and write down words and phrases. Find the meaning of the new words in a dictionary.
Exercise 2. Make and write down phrases consisting of a verb and a noun:
Exercise 3. In word combinations you have written down, replace the verb with a noun ending in – -
Note: from the verbs
Exercise 4. Define the composition of single-root words: информация
Exercise 5. Repeat the term using the model:
Кто (что) это кто (что)/
Model: Мгновенная скорость –– это производная от радиуса вектора по времени (
Что состоит из чего/
Model: Молекула воды состоит из двух атомов водорода и одного атома кислорода (
Что отличается чем/
ЭВМ отличается высоким быстродействием и большим объемом памяти (
Exercise 6. Make sentences according to the models using your words and word combinations:
что – это что/
Скорость, быстроты, движения, степень
Память, опыт, способность сохранять и воспроизводить впечатления,
что состоит из чего …/
Группа, пятнадцать студентов (The class consists of fifteen students).
Exercise 7. Read the sentences. Tell in which cases the word "устройство/
1. Устройство диагностической установки очень сложное (
2. Это устройство для наблюдения интерференции волн
3. Устройство плотины продолжалось полгода
Exercise 8. Name the nouns from which the following adjectives are derived.
Exercise 9. Determine the composition of root words, that is, find the root, suffix, prefix, ending in them:
память – памятник
Exercise 10. Pay attention to lexical compatibility of the word "event". Compose phrases with the word "event", distributing them into two groups: mathematical terms or words from everyday life.
Model: несовместные события – термин (“exclusive events” is a term); знаменательные события – житейское значение (“significant events” is a word combination used in everyday life).
There were also introduced special bilingual methods of
The method of
Purpose of the Study
Therefore, it is quite obvious that bilingual training needs specific training strategies focusing on students’ rapid and effective progress in Russian language proficiency in order to gain expertise and enrich their professional culture. There was put forward a hypothesis involving a set of assumptions that, firstly, the process of training international students will become more effective if Russian is taught not only in Russian classes, but also in other subject courses figuring in the first year curriculum. Secondly, teaching Russian should not duplicate the work of a Russian language teacher, but should complement it with the use of special language-supportive methodologies. Thus, the main aim of the work is implementing this project to vocational training of international students to facilitate the learning of both subject content and language. To achieve the goal, teachers should highlight the role of different bilingual methods in their classes and solve the problem jointly by cooperation between teachers of Russian and content courses.
The experiment was conducted at the Volgograd State Medical University, at the faculty of General Medicine. Eighty first year students participated in the project. There were 40 students of immersion classes and 40 students of transitional ones. The pedagogical intervention consisted of the following stages: data acquisition, implementation of methods and tools, reflection upon the findings. At the first stage, there were developed diagnostic tools to assess language proficiency in four main aspects, determine students' academic performance in subject courses and elicit information about the difficulties they encounter, studying in Russian which do not allow them to switch with ease and adapt in the learning process. Then the teacher-researchers set the following tasks:
1. Compare language proficiency and academic performance in definite courses (Physics, Math, Medical Informatics, Chemistry in Medicine) in four focus and four control groups at the beginning and at the end of the experiment, taking into account the types of bilingual training programs the students enrolled in.
2. Implement a system of bilingual methods and strategies aimed at improving language proficiency via learning in science classes.
To diagnose the difficulties the students encounter studying in Russia, repertory grid technique was used (Fransella, Bell, & Bannister, 2004), where typical classroom situations were considered as evaluated elements, and bipolar constructs were used as reference axes: 1.
When analyzing the grids, significant differences were found between students of different bilingual programs. Most students in immersion classes (83%) noted it was difficult to work at lectures and practical classes in subject courses and (95%) that it requires good language proficiency. Many students (77%) assert that “work with literature” takes a lot of time. Students note that they cannot express and communicate their thoughts and ideas either orally or in written form. Their reports were as follows:
Students of transitional classes describe learning the Russian language with the construct "difficult". Many students (88%) experience difficulties of communicating in Russian in public places and complain about language isolation. Their expressions were as follows:
This reflects students’ language incompetency in Russian and, thus, highlights the role of special language-supportive methods to foster progressing both content and language simultaneously. To assess listening, speaking, reading and writing skills in Russian we used the International Program of the Council of Europe: “Learning languages by citizens of Europe” (Council of Europe, 2001: 221). According to the assessment scale, there exist three principal levels of current language ability: Elementary: А1 – beginning speaker, А2 – early intermediate speaker; Intermediate: В1 – intermediate speaker, В2 – early advanced speaker; Advanced: С1 – advanced speaker, С2 – proficient speaker. Diagnostics of students was conducted by teachers of the Russian language. In immersion classes, most students showed low language proficiency - A1 (see Table
To determine the levels of academic performance in certain courses, oral and written interviews, tests, questionnaires and observations were used. In the present study we will discuss learning outcomes only in one course, consisting of two modules – Math and Physics due to a limited volume of the article. Academic achievement in the courses was assessed as an ordered discrete measure of students’ oral and written learning outcomes, ranging from 2 (“
In other courses, the obtained indices in the focus and control transitional classes showed no fundamental differences as well. According to the data given, in both control and focus classes the largest number of students is at the low levels of academic performance (
The findings suggest (see Table
We suppose that is due to the opportunity of acquiring knowledge and solving certain learning problems with the means of a well-mastered language as well as the possibility to find information for academic purposes in two languages. Under the circumstances we can make an additional conclusion that transitional bilingual programs provide optimal difficulties and result in more effective development of expertise through supportive environment of a well-learned language. These findings also support the value of embracing bilingual methods in the learning process.
According to the data obtained, most students in the focus immersion and transitional classes, moved to a higher level of language proficiency compared to the control ones (see Table
Students wrote in their final reports that the project positively affected their desire to learn Russian and communicate. Their explanations were as follows:
The reflections indicate that the project motivated students to use Russian in their science classes as well as see the language as a good tool for getting deep knowledge. Besides, during the project the students perceived the teacher as a person they could trust, talk to whenever they needed and count upon. This confirms that teachers should become supportive facilitators and establish a rapport with students, providing reassurance and drawing students into exciting collaborative instruction.
The conducted research permits a conclusion that the process of training international students has become more effective due to higher Russian language proficiency and better academic performance. The study found that the project offered rich opportunities to integrate content and foreign language in science classes to contribute to the development of students’ expertise. Moreover, the students became more active and felt more motivated to use a new language; they managed their level of anxiety and showed a higher overall emotional satisfaction with the learning process as well. The study confirms that productive bilingual training requires a team of teachers who are ready to develop tasks, learning situations and manuals in two languages, and search for the best teaching strategies for each specific type of content. Teachers should arrange a supportive atmosphere in a class where students not only feel free to participate in the activities suggested but also feel they can create and propose new ideas and activities (cited by Garson-Diaz, 2018:10). The team should include leading specialists of the university who have sufficient experience in teaching and research in this content area, as well as specialists who are proficient both in English and Russian. It is necessary to make changes in the forms and methods of teachers’ work. The use of strategies focusing on mechanical memorizing of educational content is completely unsuccessful and irrelevant with these types of learners. To be more interesting, joyful and effective, the training process should meet not only cognitive, but also individual goals of the students, taking into account their age, moods, feelings and attitudes. As Oxford and Shearin (1994:3) asserts ‘any foreign language learner is not just a cognitive and meta-cognitive machine but rather, a whole person’. This means that active, interactive and problem-based teaching methods should be included in the training process, the proposed tasks should be selected in such a way that students should realize the importance of deep knowledge for the overall development of their expertise and personality.
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28 February 2019
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Khudobina*, O., Fedulov, I., Gerkushenko, S., & Gerkushenko, G. (2019). Language Proficiency Of International Students: Two Different Bilingual Educational Programs. In S. Ivanova, & I. Elkina (Eds.), Cognitive - Social, and Behavioural Sciences - icCSBs 2018, vol 56. European Proceedings of Social and Behavioural Sciences (pp. 78-89). Future Academy. https://doi.org/10.15405/epsbs.2019.02.02.10