Learning English through science

1 April 2009

Ten Japanese students from Tohoku University have taken part in an innovative new program to learn English through Physics and Mathematics lectures at the University of Sydney.

Organised by Professor Hideo Kozono, the Vice Dean in the Faculty of Science at Tohoku University, and the University of Sydney's Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific, the Centre for English Teaching, the School of Mathematics and Statistics, and the School of Physics, the program is the first of its kind for both universities.

Professor Hideo Kozono was inspired to organise the English language experience for his students after a visit from fellow mathematician Professor Gavin Brown while he was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney.

The program was coordinated by the University of Sydney's Research Institute for Asia and the Pacific, which organises many study tours for international students.

A series of mathematics and physics lectures were pre-recorded the week before the students arrived in Sydney, so they could learn the English used in the lectures with the University of Sydney's Centre for English Teaching.

Then, after learning the required English, the Tohoku University students joined University of Sydney students in the third year mathematics and physics lectures and labs during the week from 23rd until 27th March.

Dr Martin Wechselberger, from the School of Mathematics and Statistics, who gave the third year Differential Equations and Biomathematics (Advanced) lectures and computer lab, said, "This program is a new experience for me - recording maths lecturers to teach English to foreign students is a new concept.

"The three lectures and computer lab I delivered that the Tohoku University students attended were on the existence and uniqueness of solutions of differential equations. The main theorem we covered was the Picard-Lindelof Theorem, and I introduced mathematical tools such as the contraction mapping principle and Gronwall's inequality to master the corresponding proof. The Japanese students did well to follow all this in English!

"They particularly enjoyed the computer lab on the last day, because I asked the University of Sydney students to take a Japanese 'buddy' each and go through the lab exercises with them. That helped the Japanese students to interact with our local students - I just came up with that before the lab," said Dr Wechselberger.

Dr Zdenka Kuncic, from the School of Physics, delivered the third year physics lectures on electromagnetism that the Japanese students attended.

"The Tohoku University students attended four of my senior physics lectures. This is the first time I have been involved in this sort of program," said Dr Kuncic.

"I'd like to think that the students used the universality of the language of maths and the practicality of physics to help their English language skills. I hope the Japanese students found it a rewarding experience and that the program was successful."

At the end of their first year of their Bachelor of Science degrees, the ten students are part of a special program for gifted science students at Tohoku University which is supported by the Ministry of Education in Japan. The ten students who travelled to Sydney were selected from the program for their excellence in mathematics and physics.

"This is the first time we have done so,mething like this - using mathematics and physics material to improve our students' English," said Professor Kozono.

"The students enjoyed their two weeks in Sydney. It was the first trip to Australia for the whole group of students, so they really enjoyed it."

Asked as a group whether they had understood the lectures, the Tohoku University students said, "Yes, in the end!" When asked whether they enjoyed their University of Sydney experience, they responded a resounding "Yes!"

Contact: Katynna Gill

Phone: 02 9351 6997

Email: 24104136250a2d57352e093a231d182a066f023516010316