At the Language Workshop, students hone their texts

9 October 2020

Kristina Asker sits at a table talking to a student.

Kristina Asker in a meeting with a student. An individual student is permitted a maximum of three appointments at the Language Workshop per semester, although for many two is sufficient.

The experienced student looking to finetune their texts, those who have been out of education for a good while and doctoral students writing their dissertations; regardless of their basic situation, many people find it difficult to write academic texts. The Language Workshop helps students to develop their skills in Swedish and English.

“We are part of the Department of Scandinavian Languages and are here for all students and doctoral students at Uppsala University. Our consultants are lecturers and senior lecturers who also teach at the department,” explains Kristina Asker, director of the Language Workshop.

Many higher education institutions in Sweden and abroad offer their students assistance in developing their language skills. Established in 2003, Uppsala University’s Language Workshop is one of the oldest in Sweden.

Portrait of Kristina Asker.
Kristina Asker, director of the Language Workshop.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

While most of those seeking support do so in conjunction with degree projects or dissertations, a large number of new students with shorter assignments also attend. The Language Workshop is not in the business of helping students to write papers or correcting them; rather, it helps them to help themselves. An individual student is permitted a maximum of three appointments at the Language Workshop per semester, although for many two is sufficient. Any student with dyslexia or other reading or writing difficulties can obtain increased support.

“We don’t just offer advice on writing, we can also help with oral presentations. Students can practice presenting to one of our consultants at the Language Workshop. The same applies to written work – having an outsider read your text can provide a fresh perspective,” says Kristina Asker.

Available to everyone

Although assistance is available to everyone, she believes that it is primarily those who do not feel at ease expressing themselves in writing who contact the Language Workshop. This may be students whose first language is not Swedish or English, those from backgrounds that leave them unfamiliar with study or those with disabilities. Interest in obtaining help is increasing steadily.

“The University is attracting far more students than previously, including some who are unprepared for further education. They are not always aware of the demands. So, it is good if students have the courage to ask for and accept advice, if they have somewhere to turn. We usually say to teachers that they should encourage their students to contact the Language Workshop to develop their writing,” says Kristina Asker.

Previous reports have suggested that today’s young people are less proficient at writing than previous generations. Having worked at the Language Workshop since 2011, Kristina Asker does not share this impression.

“Someone is always saying that things were better before. But was it? There were also people who couldn’t write when I attended upper-secondary school. Computers have made life easier in this respect but, of course, your spellchecker may play tricks on you and if you don’t proofread your assignment before you hand it in, the error will still be there. You can’t concentrate on a screen indefinitely but students seldom print out their texts,” she says.

Stress and poor planning

In Kristina Asker’s opinion, some linguistic mishaps can be attributed to stress and poor planning on the part of students. Many of them need to develop self-discipline and take responsibility. The ability, or inability, to express oneself in writing also tends to be more conspicuous when work is uploaded to platforms such as DIVA.

One thing that causes problems for many students is when a large part of the course literature is in English and work must then be submitted in Swedish. Without examples in Swedish, it is easy to descend into Swenglish.

One student who has been helped by the Language Workshop is Sascha Lucht, who last semester wrote his Bachelor’s essay in History C for prospective upper-secondary teachers. He speaks in glowing terms of the support he received and feels that he now writes much better Swedish.

“I received help with a great many things, including spelling, sentence construction, subordinate clauses and other grammatical points,” says Sascha Lucht.

Help on grammar and structuring

Portrait of Tünde Mitták.
Tünde Mitták, a graduate of the Master’s
programme in Human Rights. Photo: Private

Tünde Mitták, a graduate of the Master’s Programme in Human Rights who wrote her thesis in English, is equally positive regarding the Language Workshop’s guidance.  Tünde received help on issues such as grammar, finding links to academic writing, honing her main heading and guidance in structuring her essay and conveying its message.

“I learned a great deal through this writing service and received confirmation that the essay was linguistically up to scratch. I feel that my study technique and ability to express myself in English has improved,” says Tünde Mitták.

The language workshop

The Language Workshop is free of charge and available to all students on the undergraduate and Master’s levels, as well as to PhD students. They offer consultations about written and oral presentations on an individual basis in both Swedish and English. Presently, they only offer online consultations via Zoom, due to the Corona Pandemic.

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