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The Language Expert

She knows how languages are taught efficiently and well and how learning successes are made visible: Claudia Harsch is the head of the Languages Centre of the Universities in the Land of Bremen (SZHB). She is also a professor of language teaching and learning research at the University of Bremen.

The more interesting CVs often do not describe a straight path, but are rather those where there are interesting diversions. Life is a work in progress - as is a career. That is something that certainly applies to Claudia Harsch, who is a professor of language teaching and learning research and director of the Languages Centre of the Universities in the Land of Bremen (SZHB), which is one of the largest of its kind in Germany. In fact, her interest in school had disappeared by the time she finished the tenth grade in Augsburg. “My English teacher stated that my basic vocabulary was lacking.”

If only she knew. Today, Claudia Harsch’s English is fantastic. After all, it is no wonder with a career in the field of languages, which also included a stay in Great Britain for several years. As the head of the SZHB, she organizes the language classes for all four universities in Bremen State together with her team. As a professor, she is an expert on language teaching and learning and the assessment of learning development.

Beginnings as an Apprentice

If you were to have told a young Claudia Harsch after she had left school that she would one day be in her position, she would have simply laughed. After all, she decided to start working straight away - at the tax office. “I had to do something, so I spent three years gaining solid vocational training for intermediate service with the tax authorities.” She quickly realized that it would not do for the rest of her life. That is why she subsequently went on to complete her high school graduation qualification for university entrance.

She, much like many other young people, then took off into the “wide world,” which included France, and at a later point, Asia and New Zealand. “That radically broadened my view of the world,” she reminisces today. Ultimately, traveling is a type of education. Afterwards, she was sure: “I want to study something that gives people something straight away.” Thus, she chose to read German as a foreign language, English didactics, and applied linguistics at the university in Augsburg.

Getting to Know and Learning to Love Research

Some people do not just study but also get to know and learn to love research. Claudia Harsch was one of those people. She worked on the DESI Project (“Deutsch-Englisch-Schülerleistungen-International”), in which one study that had been commissioned by the state ministries of education focused on teaching and skill acquisition in German and English. She wrote her doctoral dissertation on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which describes the skills of language learners in terms of six successive competence levels: A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, and C2. “One of the aims is to make learning successes transparent, make different language certificates comparable, and create joint understanding for language acquisition,” she explains. “The reference framework is not a straitjacket, but an important tool.”

After several “stops in temporary positions,” as she calls them - for example a job at the Berlin Institute for Educational Quality Improvement - she received two job offers from England in 2009. “I then decided to go to the University of Warwick and spent six years there. It was a great time with a focus on language assessment, language teaching and learning, and many international contacts. It was there that I slowly grew to be a part of the international language testing community.”

Climate in Brexit-England Became More Uncomfortable

However, it was in Great Britain that Claudia Harsch also experienced first-hand how the atmosphere in a society can quickly change. All thanks to Brexit. “It’s not only the case in academia. The climate became more unfriendly in general.” For the first time, she experienced resentment at her doctor’s practice or when dealing with insurance issues. “I slowly started to realize that I didn’t want to stay there forever. I was even asked what I was doing there - I didn’t have an English passport.”

As she had worked hard during that time on publishing many scientific papers, she decided to use her work for a so-called cumulative habilitation. In this way, the teaching qualification is not only acquired by means of a single research paper, but rather by means of several thematically related specialist articles. She completed her habilitation successfully. Thus, the advertisement for a professorship in language teaching and learning research at the University of Bremen in 2015 suited the “migration-willing” expert perfectly. The connected task, namely as head of the language centre, was unknown territory for her.

They Called Her “Columbo”...

She has successfully fulfilled the role of director for over six years now. Claudia Harsch underscores that she has an extremely dedicated team: “I may be the director but we discuss and decide many things together.” Naturally, she had to get to grips with the additional role at the beginning, “but amongst others, our recently retired head of administration, Hartmut Hachmann, truly helped me at the start.” His wife once revealed that Hachmann jokingly called his new boss “Columbo” at the start: “Because another question always popped into my mind when I was on my way out,” she explains and grins.

Alongside this role, Claudia Harsch established a new research group within the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies and is now internationally renowned when it comes to matters concerning language teaching and learning research, as well as language assessment. She holds leading positions on important European and global scientific boards that research language tests and their effects or accompany test development institutes in an advisory role. The related travel and contact to people from other cultures is a pleasant side effect of her often strenuous work: “It gives me the chance to have a break from day-to-day life.”

Up, Up, And Away - In the Climbing Gym

Because that aspect of her work completely disappeared during the phase where corona travel restrictions were in place, she decided to acquire an allotment in Bremen. Now, said allotment is taking shape: “There were only brambles at the beginning but we’re getting there slowly.” She also enjoy motorcycling. And she has another hobby: climbing. When she is not “scaling a rock wall,” she goes climbing at the DAV Climbing Centre in Bremen, which is right next to the university. Claudia Harsch - the woman who wants to get to the top yet still keeps both feet firmly on the ground.

 

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Claudia Harsch
Director - Languages Centre of the Universities in the Land of Bremen
Email: harschprotect me ?!uni-bremenprotect me ?!.de
Phone: +49 421 218-61967

Claudia Harsch
Today, she is one of the leading experts in language teaching and learning research, as well as director of Bremen’s language centre: Professor Claudia Harsch. Photo: Matej Meza / Universität Bremen