Bringing the world to Münster: 30th anniversary of Münster University Language Centre

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Since 1991, the hallmark of the Language Centre (SPZ) at the University of Münster has been high-quality foreign language training designed for specific target groups. Today, students can choose between 14 foreign languages - Arabic, Russian or Spanish, to name just three; for University staff there are individual offers. The SPZ is a central administrative unit at the University of Münster and as such has been supporting the University’s internationalization strategy for 30 years now. Five guest authors describe their memories of the SPZ.

Eva Dammers, German teacher

Students from Poland, Spain, China or Namibia - there is hardly a nationality I have not come into contact with in the course of my job as a teacher of German at the SPZ. What I especially like about my work is having contact with young people from all over the world. I’ve always liked travelling to other countries, but daily duties and the current corona pandemic mean that travel isn’t always possible. So what I really like is that I can bring the world to myself here, through my job. From the stories my students tell me, I learn something about the lives of people from all over the world and then repeatedly find myself reflecting on my own life and my own culture. That’s really fascinating!

Amanda Wurzel Rodríguez, former student assistant

When I started as a student assistant at the SPZ in my second semester, in the spring of 2014, I didn’t for a moment think that I’d be working there for almost the whole time I was studying. For six years I had several duties simultaneously: invigilating, answering questions, organizing, setting examination questions and sorting files. I learnt a lot during this time - including the fact that every exam phase throws up new challenges; that invigilating in exams is nowhere near as “cool? as examinees think; that, in addition to the straightforward “mi nombre es Amanda y soy ayudante estudiantil’, I sometimes need the English equivalent, “my name is Amanda and I am a student assistant’, when I need to help someone. Above all, though, I have come to appreciate the SPZ team: supervisors, lecturers, assistants and students were always very respectful to one another. Over the years, I made many friendships which still exist today, after my time as a student, and which I hope will continue for many years to come.

Óscar Enrique Guerrero Penagos, Spanish teacher

My original plan was to learn German in Münster, do my master’s and then return to my home country, Columbia. But things turned out differently. In the “German as a Foreign Language? department I met my wife and the mother of my daughter, and I’ve now been working as a teacher of Spanish at the SPZ for eight years. I can still remember quite clearly the first lesson I gave as a teacher at the SPZ. In the seminar room there were glass partitions between the PCs. I was nervous, and as I rather energetically moved a chair, it and I collided with one of these partitions - which then shattered. Very embarrassing! Today I have much more routine and I really enjoy teaching. The SPZ has had a positive influence on my plans in Germany - and I look forward to being able to work here for many more years to come.

Theresa Viefhaus, student

From my bachelor course to my PhD - the SPZ is a constant companion during my time here at Münster University. I can still remember the first time we came together as if it were yesterday. As a fresher studying Spanish, I tramped up what seemed to be a never-ending number of stairs to the 4th floor in Bispinghof to take the C Test feared by all freshers - which fortunately turned out to be harmless in the end. In the following years I took part in several French courses, in the tandem project and, as part of the Certificate for German as a Foreign Language/Second Language, I also took a course in Japanese. So, for me, the SPZ represents not only diversity and intercultural exchange but also the fantastic opportunities to get to know students from other disciplines and look beyond the borders of your own subject.

Jessica Sanfilippo-Schulz, former staff member responsible for C-Tests

During my studies I took part in several courses at the SPZ, and shortly after completing my master’s degree, I started work there as a research associate. At that time, the SPZ had to be transferred to Corrensstraße for two years because of renovation work at Bispinghof. Because my office was so small, I liked to keep my door open while working. In the mornings I could hear Japanese syllables being taught next door, and in the afternoon I heard the trainer teaching medical terms in English. In the three years in which I worked as coordinator for placement tests and English language certificates, I also came to appreciate the interdisciplinarity and the very wide range of biographies which the teachers at SPZ had.

A short interview: Dr. Andrea Schilling, Director of the Münster University Language Centre

What role does the SPZ play at Münster University?

Up to 2012, the SPZ was an academic institute. Today it is a central administrative unit with several subsections: the ’German as a Foreign Language’ department, with its German courses preparing people for their studies, as well as the English Support Service. The SPZ has grown continually and expanded its offers. Currently, there are 35 staff and 70 teachers looking after almost 7,000 participants in 400 language courses per year.

What are the aims which foreign language teaching has?

We support mobility for students and researchers by offering courses tailored to their field of study. As a result, the SPZ strengthens multilingualism and intercultural skills. In addition, we prepare students for a career in an international environment. Another aim we have is to continue developing quality standards and implement them - for example, the implementation of innovative forms of teaching and learning, as well as qualification measures for teachers.

What are the outstanding events at the SPZ?

One highlight is always when we host a conference or a workshop and can welcome colleagues in Münster for a professional exchange of views. The annual certificates awards ceremony with the lawyers, for people who have completed a specialist language training course, are also something special with the students.

But the SPZ too is no doubt “suffering? in the corona pandemic?

We have for some time now been working with digital teaching and learning formats - so, to that extent, we were well-positioned from the start. Nevertheless, we had to reorganize a lot of things. But new opportunities have opened up too. For example, we did a seminar with French students from Chambéry. Our tandem programme - in which two people with different mother tongues meet so that each can learn the other’s language - has been working well during the corona pandemic, but only online. Being face to face with another person is essential, though, for learning a language. Facial expressions and gestures often get lost in online conversations.

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