The Foreign Language Centre of Warsaw University of Technology

1. Latest Updates

In the academic year 2013/2014, the Foreign Language Centre became a certified examination centre for Mondiale Testing GmbH (technical language) and PTE (Pearson Test of English). The examinations are recommended to students who would like to take up studies in English both at Polish and at other European universities.

In 2007, the Foreign Language Centre was awarded the European Language Label for new initiatives in foreign language teaching for its project on “The System of Quality Assurance in Language Teaching in Higher Education as Exemplified by Warsaw University of Technology”. The competition is organized by the Foundation for the Development of the Education System, an organization which is involved in various European initiatives undertaken in Poland, including coordination of such educational programmes as Comenius, Erasmus or Leonardo da Vinci, among others. The competition is held under the patronage of Leonard Orban, member of the European Commission responsible for multilingualism, and the Polish Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The Foreign Language Centre is a member of the Polish Association of Academic Foreign Language Centres (SERMO) and of the European Confederation of Language Centres in Higher Education (CercleS).

In 2012 the Centre unveiled its new logo designed by Joanna Koziej.

2. Historical Note

In 2012, we celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of the Foreign Language Centre of Warsaw University of Technology, but its true origins can be traced back to the years preceding World War II. There is some evidence of foreign language instruction in the curricula dating from the period immediately following the recovery of independence by Poland.

“The Programme of Warsaw University of Technology” for the academic year 1921/22 already included courses of French, and “The Schedule of Lectures and List of Academic Staff” for the academic year 1924/1925 was further enriched with courses of English, German and Russian.

October 1945 marks the beginning of our present history. Immediately after the war, language classes were run according to “The Schedule of Lectures” designed for the academic year prior to the outbreak of World War II. Courses of Russian, English, French and German were offered at 2 levels (lower and advanced) on a two-hour-a-week basis. Attendance was optional and the courses were identical for the whole University with no differentiation between faculties or years of study. However, with the growing needs of the University and increasing interest observed among students in learning foreign languages , this modest organisational framework soon proved ineffective .

In the academic year 1950/1951, following the regulation of the Minister, all the faculties started to provide compulsory tuition of two foreign languages: Russian and a western European language of choice (German, French or English). An acute shortage of staff, limited allocation of hours for languages, overcrowded classrooms and, in general, a heavy academic workload contributed to the fact that the first year of mainstream foreign language teaching at Warsaw University of Technology did not altogether bring satisfactory results. In addition, the lack of solid organizational structures made work even more difficult.

At the time, teachers were appointed directly by the Rector and language classes were entrusted to the care of Prof. S. Straszewicz, the then vice-rector. There was no networking between teachers; they neither shared their experience nor had any joint guidelines. Those who had never before taught languages at a higher technical school found the job both demanding and challenging in terms of the subject areas and highly specialized terminology typical of all the major disciplines.

On September 1st, 1951, following the regulation of the Minister of Higher Education, the Section of Foreign Languages was established with Władysław Głuchowski appointed as its head . Since tutorials are a more suitable organizational form for language learning than lectures, the first priority was to reduce the number of students in language classes, which were now to have between 25 and 30 participants. In consequence, the number of hours for language teaching significantly increased. Another change aimed at establishing stronger ties between teachers and university came with the academic year 1951/1952, when language teachers were offered employment on a full-time basis involving a teaching load of 18 hours a week. In effect, the number of teachers constantly increased. Also, in spite of the severe space shortage the university experienced at that time, the management succeeded in acquiring several rooms for the Section in the Main Building, at first on the second floor and then on the fourth floor. Some of these rooms are still occupied by the Centre. Although too few in their number to accommodate the entire Section even then, the rooms provided just enough space for regular administrative purposes and in time became a meeting venue for the staff.

It was also at that time that a new provisional programme for teaching Russian to university students was developed by the Ministry and that uniform textbooks were introduced. A provisional programme of study for the western European languages taught at the University was also drawn up by a group of teachers working under the gratuitous supervision of Janina Smólska.

In 1952, the first teachers’ union group was set up in the Section. Headed by Mikołaj Czyrko, the group had a highly positive impact on the activities of the whole academic community. Not only did the union group foster professional integration, but it also generated greater interest in teaching-related issues. With a view to enhancing methods of teaching foreign languages, topic-oriented discussion reports were presented at general meetings and many teachers upgraded their qualifications by joining training sessions organised by the Ministry.

The historical moment came with the decision of the Ministry of Higher Education of February 27, 1953, to open the Centre for Practical Teaching of Foreign Languages. Foundations were thus laid down for further development of the Section, which eventually was renamed the Foreign Language Centre. Within the framework of the Centre, language sections were set up to form key units for the organization of foreign language instruction. The directors of these sections, M.Czyrko for the Russian section and J. Smólska for the western European section, set down to work that demanded much energy and dedication, and involved drawing up work schedules for both sections and implementing programmes prepared by the Ministry in cooperation with language teachers from across Poland.

Being granted its official status, the Foreign Language Centre of Warsaw University of Technology could now receive more substantial funds to fuel its development and equip its teachers with aids that facilitate teaching and learning processes. Soon, acquisition of new books and periodicals supplemented the reference library of the Section, which initially offered only a small number of English, French and German books donated by the University Main Library and Russian books from the teachers’ private collections. Bilingual dictionaries, manuals on methods of foreign language teaching, grammar textbooks as well as the Great Soviet Encyclopaedia were a valuable resource both to teachers and students. Also very helpful were Soviet magazines subscribed in large quantities for student use which, many a time, replaced course manuals. Soviet dailies were subscribed and a larger number of books were purchased for student loan.

The Centre focused primarily on achieving better results in teaching practice by developing innovative methods tailored to teaching foreign languages to university students, on professional excellence of its staff and on providing additional teacher development programmes. Accordingly, respective sections promoted continuing self-education by drawing up reports on foreign language teaching methodology and organizing demonstration lessons. Teacher duty hours were also made available to students, special groups for absolute beginners were offered and support was given both to lower-level students and to those who fell behind with their academic work. Furthermore, at the initiative of the Teachers’ Council, teacher development meetings were held to raise teaching standards through stimulating discussions. Much attention was also put to the promotion of the Russian language among students.

One of the problems faced by the FLC then was the lack of pocket dictionaries suited to the needs of technical university students. Therefore, in 1954, to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Polish People’s Republic, both language sections, in a joint effort, decided to compile a practical mini-dictionary containing commonly used words and expressions to help students to understand better technical publications in Russian, German and English.

The FLC employees have always been required to be highly qualified educators with the 2nd or 3rd academic degrees. The teaching staff included authors of popular coursebooks who were later appointed by the Ministry of Higher Education to co-operate with the Polish Scientific Publishers (PWN).

The list below includes some of the best-known authors of language coursebooks who were among the FLC staff :

Prof. Jan Rusiecki
PhD Stanisław Kaczmarski
MA Janina Smólska
MA Leon Leszek Szkutnik
MA Jerzy Godziszewski
MA Mikołaj Czyrko

In the past, some of our teachers were also the authors of academic textbooks which, at the time, were the only teaching aid available for use during language classes. Recently, the situation has changed and we can choose from a wide range of coursebooks and teaching materials offered by different publishing houses.

Apart from curriculum-based courses and extra duty hours available to students, the FLC has always provided special courses for the University academic staff. On January 1, 1989, Warsaw University of Technology entered into an agreement with the British Council. As a result, the English Language Section was established. Initially, it was to run language courses for the academic staff , and, on October 1, 1989, classes commenced. The staff of this section consisted of only a few teachers employed by the FLC and assigned to work for the ELS. In 1991, the English Language Section evolved into the English Language Centre and became a separate unit. It still exists and provides courses not only for the academic staff, but also for students as well as for other people from outside the University who are interested to participate by paying a modest fee. One of the courses offered by the ELC that is worthy of special note is its preparatory course for international students planning to take up studies in English at Polish universities. The fact that a great number of those who participate in these courses later choose to study at Warsaw University of Technology indicates the growing importance of the Centre within the University structure.

In September 1990, a new bill on higher education was passed. As a result, the organisation of the University had to undergo a substantial change. Individual faculties and even institutes were given more autonomy, along with the opportunity to decide on the faculty curriculum and examination requirements, including those relating to foreign languages. However, at the same time, the change of policy did not favour effective organisation of language courses.

Currently, the FLC employs over 130 teachers and operates as an inter-faculty teaching unit. The courses run by the Centre are available in nine foreign languages: English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese and Chinese. There are also courses of Polish for international students. Every semester language classes are attended by approximately 11,000 students allocated to about 500 groups.

The Centre’s main facilities and offices are still located on the fourth floor of the University Main Building, but the space it occupies is much smaller now than in the past. This is why classes are held in different faculties and teachers have to change buildings even several times a day.

During the past 50 years the position of FLC Director was held by:

Władysław Głuchowski MA (1951-1964)
Olgierd Spirydowicz MA (1964-1966)
Jerzy Rzewuski MA (1966-1969)
Stanisław Karczmarski PhD (1969-1975)
Maria Czupratowska-Semczuk MA (1975-1981)
Witold Chromcewicz MA (1981-1987)
Krzysztof Starczyński MA (1987-1991)
Danuta Sołtyska MA (1991-2012)
Lucyna Skwarko MA (01.09.2012 till now)

Two members of the secretarial staff deserve special mention:
Ms Danuta Łojakowa, who worked at the FLC Secretariat for 40 years between 1958 and 2001), and Ms Henryka Duda, who worked at the FLC between 1967 and 1992, known to many of the former and present employees of the FLC as Ms Halina Dudzina.

There are many other employees who deserve special mention for their active and important role not only in the history of the FLC, but also of Warsaw University of Technology as a whole. Teachers such as Ms Mieczysława Krystosiakowa or Ms Celeste Zawadzka, to name but these two, always strove for a better understanding of the role foreign languages play in our students’ future careers and stressed their relevance to the University curricula.

Some parts of the text were based on the notes left by the first Director of the FLC, Mr Mieczysław Głuchowski, MA and on memories handed down by Ms Danuta Łojakowa.