Bremen’s Tutorial Language Program – A mixture of autonomous and collaborative learning

M.A. Christine Rodewald
Fremdsprachenzentrum, Universität Bremen, Germany



The tutorial program of the Foreign Language Centre of the University of Bremen provides special support for independent learners. The students can choose the language they want to learn autonomously over the course of one semester. Using self-assessment tools, the students check their levels and decide which aims should be reached. Advice is given by skilled tutors. The students work on a project and present their project results at the end of the semester, and it is also possible to obtain credit points for this program. Moreover, the program gives the students a new insight into learning processes and supports their learning autonomy.

Program of the Language Centre

Often, students come to the advisory service hour of the Language Centre at the University of Bremen (FZHB) for help, but do not know what kinds of skills they need in the foreign lan-guage or how to achieve a special goal in language learning. The language course cannot sup-port each individual goal but the student does not know how to work autonomously. Autonomous learning means learning alone for many students and this is challenging. Therefore, the Language Centre implemented a special program that helps students to reach individual learn-ing goals and avoid or reduce the frustration during the learning process.

This program has broadened the offerings of the Language Centre, which also runs general language courses and courses for special purposes, and offers working places in a modern self-access centre. Students and colleagues can also book special coaching hours. Enrolment in the tutorial program can be done for any language for which the self-access centre has material. That means that there is a choice of 40 languages from the level A0 up to C1.2.

Aspects of the tutorial program

The tutorial program is based on Holec’ definition of autonomous learning as the “ability to take charge of one’s own learning” (Holec 1981:3), and encourages the students to take the responsibility for their own learning and to recognize the challenge of this. After registering for the tutorial program, the student is assigned a tutor. The first task for the student consists of writing his or her learning biography. This process means that the student thinks about his or her positive and negative experiences in learning languages, and this can cause him or her to realize why the learning processes have been more or less successful. He or she takes a self-assessment and can subsequently set the learning goals. Regarding these goals the tutor helps to find materials that fit the student’s level and learning style. During the whole semester the tutor encourages the student to comment in his or her learning diary, which should be written each week. David Little explains the coherence of learning and autonomy: “But as long as learners remain involved in their learning, and thus fundamentally committed to its success, lack of motivation will be temporary and short-lived.” (Little 2004: 106) Usually the tutor and the student meet once a week. The tutors encourage the motivated students to develop a pro-ject, either individually or as part of a group. Various ideas are welcomed and range from PowerPoint presentations to short films. Often, there are peer groups working on a project, which also means team work for the students. Finally, having fun should not be forgotten in a successful learning process. The project results are presented at a kind of fair in the self-access centre at the end of the semester. A language expert evaluates the presentations and gives feedback to the students. The students can receive credit points for their workload during the semester and at the successful completion of the course.

The tutors are students themselves. They attend a special training given by the FZHB staff. The training as learning facilitators has been evaluated especially as a very successful element of this program. The tutors learn to talk about learning processes in a non-directive way. This does not mean that the tutors do not give any hints, but they do not present the so-called solutions to the students. The students do not meet their tutors for just advice, but reflect on their way of learning as they talk with their tutors. These techniques refer to Roger’s talking therapy which plays an important role in the advisory service of the Language Centre. (Rogers 2007)

Framework of the European Portfolio

The framework of this learning process is given by the Electronic European Portfolio of Lan-guages. This platform consists of different parts which support the way of learning. The stu-dents can check their language knowledge of the target language by using the self-assessment tools. The tools are based on the European Language Framework of References (CEFR; Council of Europe 2001: 26-27). In addition, the students can also formulate their goals. The differentiation in the skills speaking, reading, listening, and writing helps to set goals which reflect the individual’s needs. The platform also enables the student and the tutor to exchange messages (Du Bois/ Fehse/ Jaisli 2008: 209).

Extension of the way of learning

The tutorial program has filled a gap in the study program. On the one hand, there are tight schedules, and on the other hand, the students should be able to decide what kind of learning they really need. In learning the language in the tutorial program they have a kind of training in autonomous learning. With the combination of autonomous learning, tutorial support, and peer learning, the process of foreign language learning can be extended.


Council of Europe (2001), Common European Framework of Reference for Languages: Learning, teaching, assesment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Du Bois, I., Fehse, R., Jaisli, W. (2008), “epos – das elektronische Sprachenportfolio zur Un-terstützung autonomen Sprachenlernens. In: Arntz; R., Kühn, B. (eds), Autonomes Fremd-sprachenlernen in Hochschule und Erwachsenenbildung. Erträge des 1. Bremer Symposios zum autonomen Sprachenlernen (pp. 202 – 210) Bochum: AKS.

Holec, H. (1981), Autonomy in Foreign Language Learning. Oxford: Pergamon.

Little, D. (2004), Democracy, Discourse and Learner Autonomy in the Foreign Language Classroom, Utbildning & Demokrati 13 (3), pp. 105–126.

Rogers, Carl R. (2007), Die nicht-direktive Beratung (12th ed.), Frankfurt/M.: Fischer.