Most European Universities draw benefits from the Erasmus+ programme (4452 hosting HEIs in the 2014). These mobility activities allow the student to spend a part of their studies in a university or in a company that is located in the EC. This model is fundamental in order to enhance the scientific competences, to stimulate life experience that are very important for young adults (20+ years old), to share knowledge and practices by exploring different places and socio-cultural contexts, to learn soft skills, and finally, to increase the feeling of being European citizen, through such horizon-widening experiences. Multilingualism is one of the great assets of the European Union and the expression of our valuable cultural heritage.
Yet, the European linguistic diversity could be a barrier rather than an opportunity, if students are not provided with adequate linguistic tools, in particular in the first phase of their stay. Indeed, though English usually works as shared language, students on mobility must attend the university courses in the national language of the hosting University, which is also the language of the final exams. This aspect represents a hurdle for the curricular path of a large number of Erasmus students. Nevertheless, the advantages of the high educational value of the period spent abroad far outweigh the disadvantages of the entailed linguistic constraints. Yet, the academic impact could increase positively in particular as regards the number of exams passed.
Furthermore, during the first phase of the stay, students often have poor knowledge of the hosting country. 94% of the Erasmus students think they have acquired a deeper knowledge of the hosting place at the end of their stay, ranging from the city topology and sights, to the arts and landmarks, or the food traditions; such elements are strongly connected to the learning of the new language and to the experiencing of its ‘lingua-cultural’ context.
Instead, the EU Commission studies have demonstrated that, as regards their ICT skills, half of the Erasmus students do not evaluate positively the benefits drawn from their study period abroad, considering their improvement lower than expected, or even non-existing. Only the 51% of the students appraise their ICT competences as improved or consistently improved.
The Universities are aware of such issues, which they addressed mainly by making available linguistic centres that offer the teaching of the national language (77% of the HEIs offer these courses http://ec.europa.eu/assets/eac/education/library/study/2014/erasmus-impact_en.pdf ). These courses are essential for the Erasmus students, but an important goal would be to teach these language competences using new tools and technologies, which are closer to the students’ needs and more aligned to the contemporary cognitive/learning styles. In particular, since students constantly use smartphones and tablets, i.e. potential tools for improving the learning curve during the language learning engagement, both before and during the period abroad, these new learning modalities could be advantageously adopted in the HEIs linguistic learning centres procedures.