Language Trends: Pragmatism Leads to German, Sympathy to Spanish
The Institute of Foreign Languages of Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) in Kaunas is called the cradle of languages for a good reason: students, the university community and society can choose from over 30 modern and classical languages. Director of the Institute Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vilma Bijeikienė says that although the second most popular business language in Kaunas is currently German, the popularity and choice of languages is determined by many things: from pragmatism to personal sympathy and even world political events.
Following the spirit of artes liberales
At Vytautas Magnus University, it is assumed that good knowledge of several foreign languages is an integral part of modern higher education.
“Focusing on multilingualism and encouraging language learning is an exceptional feature of VMU, following the spirit of artes liberales. Therefore, it is not by chance that the Institute of Foreign Languages is established here. It focuses on language learning for all: not only students, not only the university community but also the general public and business,” says the Head of the VMU Institute of Foreign Languages Assoc. Prof. Dr. Vilma Bijeikienė. “I would say that the entire university system is designed to encourage students to learn languages: the most productive morning time is dedicated to language lectures. University staff can join students. Our lectures are open and free to all members of the university community. Others may join the lectures for a fee. We receive visitors from a wide range of fields: from municipal employees to businessmen or seniors.
In the afternoon, the Institute organizes language lessons for the public. Interestingly, the most popular language (after English) among students is Spanish, but the groups which come in the evenings choose German.
“People choose it for very pragmatic reasons because German is currently an important business language in Kaunas. Other popular languages among Kaunas citizens are English and Spanish,” says the Head of the Institute.
From business to schools
The Institute helps companies in Kaunas region to grow by providing language training tailored to the needs of a particular organization.
Vilma Bijeikienė. Nuotrauka: VDU.
“While working with companies, every time we make a tailor-made product: we adapt our training program to the client’s needs. We treat every program very carefully, evaluating the competencies and needs of the employees, discussing with the client the things which are needed the most,” says V. Bijeikienė.
Another important area of activity of the Institute is working with schools whose teachers are provided with language training. As the Head of the Institute observes, there is a strong need for international schools in Kaunas: with the coming international companies, employees from abroad are moving to the city with their family, therefore there is a need for a system that could offer the children a quality education.
“So, we contribute to the growth of the education system by helping teachers in different subjects improve their knowledge of English and other languages. We have worked and are currently working with a number of schools in Kaunas,” says V. Bijeikienė.
Eye-opening simulations of job interviews
Providing a qualified language training service is very important, but the Institute’s partnership with business has a far wider range than that.
“We often get business inquiries about specialists of certain areas who know certain languages. To encourage and motivate students to learn languages, we organize events where companies have the opportunity to introduce themselves, get to know our students and demonstrate the practical benefits and the huge advantage of multilingualism in the labor market.
Last year, during the European Day of Languages celebration, together with the VšĮ Kaunas IN, we organized an exclusive event for students and business where simulations of job interviews were conducted in various languages. The companies gladly joined this event, their representatives came and conducted job interviews in 5 languages: English, Russian, German, Norwegian, and French. Synergy was fantastic, and the students had a lot of fun! We got to know each other: students had the opportunity to show their competencies to the business representatives and see the great advantage of knowing a language.”
The popularity of languages is determined by emotions and pragmatism
“Once I was asked if there are any foreign language learning trends. Without a doubt! I think that, to a large extent, the desire to learn a specific language is determined by two factors: pragmatic and emotional. People think about what will benefit them, and what is close to their heart,” says the Head of the Institute.
According to her, the popularity of Spanish among students is determined not so much by the fact that it is widely spread in the world (after Chinese, it is the second most widely spoken language in the world), but by emotional reasons: for many, it is the language of songs and popular culture.
Meanwhile, German and Scandinavian languages in the Lithuanian context are considered to be business languages.
The Head of Business Division and Acting Director of Kaunas IN Tadas Stankevičius notes that “According to the survey of service centers carried out by Invest Lithuania, it was observed that the knowledge of certain foreign languages has a positive impact on the employee’s salary and its future growth. For example, specialists who know French, Italian, and Spanish can expect to earn 10-15 percent more, and those who know Scandinavian languages (Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish) on average will earn 15-20 percent more.”
“An interesting situation is with the Russian language. On one hand, it is a very important language in business, but the number of people who want to learn it can change very drastically. By 2014, we had a rapidly growing number of the Russian language students, many of whom were foreigners, for example, from South Korea or Italy. But in 2014, the popularity of the Russian language decreased sharply. Thus, language learning is influenced even by politics,” says the Head of the Institute.
The language learning process never ends
When asked about the trends in language studies today, V. Bijeikienė first mentions one of the most striking and inevitable: technology penetration.
“For a decade, we’ve been using a virtual learning environment: something that seemed unnatural and unacceptable a decade ago, has become a reality today, and we can’t imagine our work without technology. For a few years now, we’ve been teaching languages remotely using video conference tools. So, the future of language learning – just like our future – goes hand in hand with technological progress. We can only guess how this will be affected by artificial intelligence and other high-tech tools which help to translate spoken or written text into any language here and now. We believe in technological progress and we need to think about how it can help us.”
However, the Associate Professor emphasizes that there is not yet a miraculous way to learn a new language in a few days. “Languages are labor-intensive. When I am asked how much time is required to learn a language, I always say: language learning is an endless process. At first, you have to learn the language, then practice it and continue learning. Otherwise, all the effort will be worthless”.