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Guide for language choice in the university and university college sector

Universities and university colleges are part of an international environment, at the same time, they are to reflect the priorities of Norwegian society at large. They have a legally mandated responsibility to use, develop and strengthen Norwegian as a technical and academic language. This poses certain dilemmas relating to language choice.


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Below are concrete recommendations on what universities and university colleges can do to balance their use of English versus Norwegian in order to ensure optimum quality in instruction, research, dissemination and administrative services. You will also find recommended measures that these institutions can implement as part of the effort to preserve and maintain Norwegian as a technical and academic language.

The recommendations presented here are the result of a cooperation between The Language Council and institutions in the higher education sector. Recommendations must be adapted to the individual institution. Please note that some of the documents linked to under “Read more” may not be available in English.

1 Language policy guidelines

Purpose: To promote sound, systematic language choices in the higher education sector.

Universities and university colleges should draw up language policy guidelines with principles for language choice at all levels. These guidelines should be reflected in the institution’s internal strategies.

In order to increase awareness of the importance of good language quality and appropriate language choice, the institutions should include academic as well as administrative staff and students when designing the language policy guidelines.

An action plan should be drawn up, at the faculty or department level, for instance, to ensure that the language policy guidelines are implemented.

The responsibility for following up the institution’s guidelines and action plan should be assigned to a language policy board, a committee or a department within the organisation.

2 Language of instruction

Purpose: To ensure that students are proficient in the use of Norwegian and English in their academic or professional areas of expertise after completing their education.

Students should encounter both Norwegian and English (or other foreign languages) as part of their course instruction.

For Bachelor’s level programmes, most of the syllabus and instruction should be in Norwegian unless the subject matter itself is a foreign language. If there is an academic reason to choose an English language textbook during the course, it should be supplemented with supporting material in Norwegian (see Section 3).

For Master’s and Ph.D. programmes, there should be room for both Norwegian and English in the syllabus and instruction to enable the student to communicate professionally in both languages in his or her future workplace.

The language of instruction within a programme of study may vary, but the institution should set objectives relating to the language skills that students should possess when they are finished with their programme. These objectives should be specified in the study programme and in the description of learning outcomes for the individual courses.

Individual subjects should be offered in English to accommodate Bachelor’s and Master’s degree students who are in Norway for one semester or more. International Ph.D. fellows with longer stays in Norway should be offered Norwegian language training courses (see Section 4).

If the institution incorporates video recordings as part of the instruction, then they should consider providing subtitles of the content in Norwegian and English.

It is essential for the quality of instruction and the learning outcome that both the lecturers and the students have good command of the language of instruction (see Section 4 and Section 5).

3 Term lists and other supporting materials

Purpose: To ensure that students and academic staff are able to acquire Norwegian and English as technical and academic languages.

English language textbooks should be supplemented with auxiliary materials in Norwegian. As an example, Norwegian language fact sheets can be produced for a lecture if the associated literature on the curriculum is in English (or any other foreign language).

Bilingual term lists should be devised for the various subjects/courses.

Lists of this type serve as bilingual glossaries for students. At the same time, they help to ensure that the Norwegian terminology used remains consistent and precise.

4 Increasing bilingual competence among students

Purpose: To ensure that students develop bilingual proficiency in their subject fields in keeping with the described learning outcome for the programme/discipline. (See Section 2)

Institutions should, for example, offer courses in academic reading and writing, subject-specific writing, and training in presentation technique – in both Norwegian and English (or other foreign language).

Students’ reading, writing, listening and speaking skills should be evaluated, and academic personnel should decide which skills should be mastered in which language.

Subject-specific language courses should be an integral part of instruction.

5 Increasing bilingual competence among academic personnel

Purpose: To ensure that academic personnel are able to provide instruction in both Norwegian and English.

All academic personnel should be able to read scientific literature, teach, provide supervision, conduct examinations and carry out administrative tasks in Norwegian and English.

It is important to map out the need to raise Norwegian and English language proficiency among academic personnel in order to offer appropriate language courses and pedagogical training that will enhance the quality of instruction.

Internationally recruited academic personnel that does not already know Norwegian should have access to language courses during work hours. Institutions can stipulate that these personnel must have obtained a certain level of proficiency in Norwegian (such as B2 in the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) within a specified period (such as three years after their appointment), so that they as a minimum can read written Norwegian and understand spoken Norwegian. This level of competence will enable them to participate in meetings held in Norwegian and answer questions in Norwegian from students, although they may themselves use spoken English in these contexts.

The need to increase bilingual competence should be incorporated into the template for performance assessment reviews.

6 Language in research activities

Purpose: To ensure that Norwegian academic and technical language is further developed in the context of research activity.

As a rule, English is the language of international research. Research articles and monographs in English or another foreign language should have a summary in Norwegian, and similarly, Norwegian texts should have a summary in English. Norwegian keywords and summaries should always be registered in Cristin (Current Research Information System in Norway).

Institutions must establish a framework that enables academic staff to publish research articles in Norwegian, for example using Open Access journals.

7 Language in dissemination activities

Purpose: To ensure that research findings are disseminated in good Norwegian in order to fulfil the institution’s social mission in the relevant field.

Dissemination to the general public generally takes place in Norwegian. Researchers and students at the Master’s degree level and upwards should be provided with courses in dissemination to the public and encouraged to write articles for the Norwegian encyclopaedia Store norske leksikon and the forskning.no website, as well as for Norwegian newspapers and textbooks, etc.

Academic dissemination is a means of further developing Norwegian terminology and scientific language. Participation in expert commissions that deliver official reports and similar documents is also important in this context.  

International academic personnel should be offered translation assistance or other kinds of language help to enable them to communicate research findings in Norwegian.

8 Administrative language

Purpose: To ensure that Norwegian is generally used as the administrative language.

It is important to have some common guidelines for choice of language in emails, announcements, meeting documents, webpages and other administrative information.

A wide range of administrative personnel need to be proficient in both Norwegian and English, and should be provided with relevant courses.

Certain standard texts and texts that apply to the institution as a whole should be available in both Norwegian and English. Webpages with important information for personnel should also be available in Norwegian and English versions.

Important emails to multiple recipients can include a short summary in English or Norwegian (depending on the original language used).

The UHR’s Termbase for Norwegian higher education institutions should be made easily available via the institution’s website.

9 Language use in meetings and at social events

Purpose: To ensure that international students and academic personnel become integrated and have the opportunity to practice using Norwegian.

The institution should establish a set of common rules for language use in meetings and at social events.

In some contexts, it may be expedient to use two languages simultaneously during meetings. International personnel who are still in the process of learning Norwegian can speak in English, but hear Norwegian speakers use Norwegian during the meeting.  

Remember that meetings and social events represent a good opportunity to practice language skills!

10 Coordination of language services

Purpose: To ensure effective coordination of language services at the institutions.

Institutions should consider establishing a dedicated resource centre or office to develop and coordinate language courses, translation and language revision services.

Such resource centres may be utilised even more optimally if two or more institutions collaborate on them, for example at the regional level.

Many of the proposals put forth in this document could be administered from an entity of this type.

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