Teaching for language acquisition and intercultural competency

École nationale des ponts et chaussées

master of engineering
Marne la Vallée, France

Practice categories

Assessment level - Programme:
  • International and intercultural learning :

Short description

The École des Ponts ParisTech pays attention to giving its master of engineering students high skills in foreign languages and intercultural abilities, in order to prepare them for the international job market (27% of the 2013 class work outside France -6% in European union, 21% outside European union- , 31% of the 2013 class have mission outside their country of usual employment) and to face intercultural challenges in big scale projects.

To face this pedagogic challenge, École des Ponts ParisTech haves:
- a dedicated language department (20% of course time is dedicated to language learning, a score of 785 at TOEIC is compulsory to get the degree "diplôme d'ingénieur", dedicated pedagogic plans and devices are available);
- a humanities & social sciences department where students pick up at least one compulsory course per semester;
- a minimum period of 8 weeks abroad;
- 25% of international students in the institution.

  • Long description

    - Language department:
    10% of compulsory credits are dedicated to foreign languages skills, it represents 20% of course time. Two compulsory languages have to be chosen among English, French as a foreign language, Spanish, Italian, German, Arabic, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian and Japanese.
    The course « speaking near & far »: 15 students of the École des Ponts ParisTech build a long term exchange (one year) with students of the university of South Carolina (US). Those exchanges are based on social networks use (Skype, facebook, Instagram) during the first six months of the course. The objective is to learn to the other its own culture and language. After 6 months, a physical exchange is organized through a bilateral one week trip: students from École des Ponts ParisTech go in south Carolina for one week. Right after, students of university of south Carolina travel to France. During these weeks abroad, several activities, allowing personal exchanges and cultural experiences are organized: cultural visits, economic and industrial exchanges (Michelin factory visit). Stacey Benoit, the teacher in charge of this course, noticed that the network created continues to grow after the students left our institution.
    Tandem is a pedagogic experience concerning 40 students each year. Those students, working by pair, one teaching and accompanying the other to discover his culture through a human and linguistic exchange experience. Each team is expected to produce: a self-evaluation report, a logbook, an experience report. The team’s work is also presented in front of a jury.

    - Humanities & social sciences department:
    Each semester, students have to complete a course in humanities chosen in a list (law, sociology of organizations, debates on sciences, political philosophy, history of sciences, discourse and social modeling, technology & democracy). Most courses require debating, so these courses are a privileged place for intercultural exchanges between students.

    - Projects and training:
    The learning by doing is implemented through academic or industrial projects, with a specific command from a company.
    Several professional internships are compulsory during the program, the longest one (one year) is not compulsory but chosen by 80% of students. Around 30% of those students do this long internship abroad.

    - International mobility:
    French students spend an average of one year abroad.

  • Why is this a good practice?

    Outstanding intercultural goal. Modern environment. Extensive double-degree program.
    Human experience report for academic exchange & internship.
    Careful selection of international students.
    International students noticed the specificity of a “European way of teaching”.
    Students associations.
    Great openness of mind of French students.
    Extra-year really important for the training.
    Impressed during the panel's visit by how our students are stimulated.
    Tandem course.

  • Challenges & limitations

    Intern opposition:
    We are an old institution and we consider ourselves as an elitist and prestigious one. Our history is based on high level in mathematics and mechanics engineers and scientists. So when you want to consider langauges and intercultural skills as a major outcome for our best program, you discover the true meaning of the word: « convince ». Of course, professors of scientific disciplines, but more conservative: the students themselves.

    Probably the first challenge in fact = logistical realities against the educational ideals.

    Marketing approach:
    Rankings and image became a major issue for educational institutions. To display a slogan is a risk. We are forcing us to constantly re-examine the need for these skills to translate them into teaching method.

    Outcomes definition:
    we enrich our internal reflection with benchmarking, working groups with other insitutions, seminars including personal. Especially on these subjects, we are not self-sufficient for a professional approach of the qualifications required on the labor market.