New ILPS CU Director: We want not only to maintain high quality, but to develop further
Jiří Novák • photo: Vladimír Šigut • https://iforum.cuni.cz/IFORUM-16677.html
She has held various positions at the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies of Charles University (ILPS) in recent years, including Deputy Director. Therefore, she knows her institution from A to Z, and so success in the selection procedure and the subsequent appointment of Dana Hůlková Nývltová as Director at the end of January 2020 was not a surprise. In an interview for iForum.cz, she outlined, among other things, how she sees the future direction of ILPS.
One of the main activities of ILPS is teaching Czech for foreigners. Does it differ much from the teaching that native Czechs go through?
It differs considerably. First of all, Czechs already know Czech, they are native speakers, so they speak Czech. Those who come to us usually do not speak Czech at all or at a very low level. So, they take it from the other end, learn to communicate in Czech and make themselves understood. And even those who come to us with some initial knowledge have a journey full of challenges ahead. Once you have reached level B1 (threshold level according to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages), you can communicate in everyday situations, such as when travelling or working, and if you continue in your education, you can also study some subjects. However, the level of knowledge of Czech required to study at a university in Czech without any problems is at least B2, i.e. one level higher. And this level is the goal of most applicants who apply for our preparatory programmes.
Applicants from which countries are most interested in preparatory programmes?
Most of them are from countries of the former Soviet Union – Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and others. There are more people from the Arab world in the preparatory programmes in English, which are aimed at studying foreign language programmes at universities. As far as Czech is concerned, they most often come with zero knowledge, and in English a certain entry level is required.
Do people from Slavic countries find it easier to learn Czech?
Slavic speakers certainly have a much easier time. They have at least a similar language system in their heads. However, this may not always be an advantage. On the other hand, they may struggle with the similarity of some language phenomena, which express something different in their mother tongue than in Czech, and it is then difficult to break down.
Apart from courses, ILPS offers foreign students accommodation. How difficult is it to take care of young people who find themselves in a foreign country?
In general, it is quite difficult to come alone, even at the age of 17, to a foreign country. The mentality of students coming from more distant countries is different. We employ curators to help students. We pay attention to quality facilities so that separation from the family is not so difficult. They can also benefit from psychological counselling at Charles University. ILPS is like their second family, where they like to return even during their further university studies.
Participants in ILPS programmes do not have student status, so what is their affiliation to Charles University?
Our students are participants of lifelong learning, so they are part of the university community. They can use an Alive-licensed university card, engage in student activities at the university, and live a student's life just like their colleagues in other study programmes. And I am happy about that.
You have been working at ILPS since 2001. Which of the positions did you enjoy most?
Methodology is closest to my heart. While working as a teacher, I started to deal with methodological issues, first with the methodology of summer schools and the methodology of American exchange programmes. Gradually I cooperated with methodologists from preparatory programmes in Prague. I was also part of a team that started organizing methodological courses for teachers. These currently form an important part of our offer. In 2015, I also initiated the establishment of the Methodological and Professional Centre (MPC) at ILPS. The extensive team of experienced methodologists of Czech language and specialized subjects is our advantage over other institutions. Before I became Deputy Director of the Institute for teaching and education, I led the methodological centre for two years.
You were Deputy Director for the last three years, so there was probably nothing to surprise you when you started to work as Director.
As Deputy Director, I was involved in the management of the Institute, so I cannot say that anything surprised me. Only the incredible amount of signing papers (laughs). Of course, the job description is different, because as a representative for teaching and education, i.e. professional matters, I was mainly in charge of issues from the academic sphere. The economic-operational part has now been added to this and, as the Director of the institution, I also started communicating with the Rector's office and various external entities.
You are now in a position to change things. What are your main goals as the new ILPS Director?
It is absolutely essential not only to maintain a high level of quality, but to develop constantly. I do not mind the competition when it is good quality, but poor competition ultimately harms us and our work. Therefore, we need to constantly build our brand to make it clear to everyone that we give our students a high level of knowledge of Czech. For this reason, we have a Research and Test Centre (RTC), which guarantees the quality and standardization of all our outputs, and we are full members of the Association of Language Testers in Europe (ALTE). It is also important that our graduates are prepared not only linguistically but also professionally. Thanks to this, they can handle not only the admission procedure very well, but also the beginning of their studies in both bachelor's and master's programmes.
To maintain the quality of teaching, it is necessary to have quality teachers. How can you motivate them?
As in other fields, it is difficult to recruit quality employees. Motivation need not be just financial. In our case, it is primarily a job in a prestigious workplace. In addition, we invest in our employees, support their further self-education, and provide opportunities for personal and professional growth, which is obviously reflected not only in their motivation but also in the quality of their teaching.
In addition, we do not just teach – our employees are academic staff, which means they also do creative activities. It is not usually scientific, but it is highly professional. International projects, creation and realization of Czech Language Certificate Exam (CCE), exclusive creation and realization of Czech exam for the purpose of granting Czech citizenship, creation of a phonetic support in teaching programme, the possibility to become a methodological trainer, course guarantor, leader of a methodological group, these are the options we can offer.
As you can see, this is an interesting job, not just a routine activity. Our employees see that they can participate in something that leads to improvement or development of themselves and the institution, and that is certainly motivating.
ILPS has several buildings, how difficult is it to take care of them?
ILPS operates not only within Prague, but also in Poděbrady, Mariánské Lázně, and Liberec. This is a relatively large property portfolio, including historical buildings, such as Poděbrady Castle, which must be cared for. For example, we recently opened renovated accommodation in Veleslavín, in the study centre Prague-Krystal, so future students have something to look forward to.
But it is not just buildings we look after: we are improving database systems for registration of applicants and students, accommodation software, new website, etc. These things may seem secondary, but they are an important part of the whole service for our participants and this is a very important thing – the communication with them, support, health insurance, accommodation, etc. All this plays a role in making them feel satisfied and spread the good name of ILPS further. A happy graduate is our best advertisement.
And we can manage it all thanks to our technical-economic staff, who take care of everything and are an indispensable part of our team.
Ph.Dr. Dana Hůlková Nývltová, Ph.D.
She studied Czech Language and Literature and History at the Faculty of Education in Hradec Králové and Philology at the Faculty of Arts, Charles University. She has been working at the Institute for Language and Preparatory Studies since 2001, and from 2017 she was Deputy Director for Education and Training. In February 2020 she was appointed Director.