This paper focuses on the challenges posed by the disparity of student competence in advanced-level foreign language courses in general and describes in particular the pedagogical innovations that are being implemented to bring all students to the level of independent language learners in an ESAP course for a BA in Speech and Language Therapy (SLT).
Foreign language courses designed for special academic purposes (LSAP) have an intrinsic interest in getting students to a level of competence that will allow them to function as independent language learners. This is especially so when the special purpose is directly related to professional training, as is the case with our students in the SLT programme.
Based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR 2011), learners only begin to have sufficient competence to independently continue their acquisition of a foreign language from the B1 level. To fully reach independent learner status, they in fact have to attain a level of competence at the B2 level. Yet in our course, as is generally the case in most advanced-level LSAP courses, the competence level of incoming students is anything but homogeneous. In fact, based on the diagnostic test that is administered to our first-year SLT students (Authors 2016), the competency of only about a third of the cohort is at the B2 level, with about half at B1 and just under 10% below this level.
The overall objective of our year-long ESAP in SLT course is to ensure that all students verifiably attain independent language learner competence based on explicit CEFR “can-do” criteria. The guiding principle in attaining this goal is that students need to become consciously aware of, and practice, what they actually have to be able to do to function at the level of an independent learner.
To realize this objective, course content is organized around a series of individual and group-based oral and written tasks that derive from lectures on rehabilitation subjects given in English by Health Science faculty. Over the year, the conditions that must be met to successfully accomplish these tasks progresses from A2 to B2. In the process, students explicitly learn what the CEFR “can-do” descriptors are for these levels and what they are expected to do to realize these in their task assignments. Course evaluation, including a final examination, is similarly based on CEFR “can-do” criteria.