English has come to be used as a vehicular language all over the world, i.e. the language used when speakers of different native languages need to understand one another. Its influence is nowadays patently clear in all areas of society, and the publication of scientific and technical papers is no exception.
Its importance has been enhanced largely due to the spectacular process of globalisation that has taken place in recent years, and it has consolidated itself as a second language in much of the world.

That same process of globalisation has changed the links between professionals and between businesses and extended traditional networks of contacts to a practically world-wide level. As a result, English has ceased to be an added virtue on a CV and become a practical need for future employment.
The challenge is to align the lecture hall as closely as possible with the world of work, or in other words to provide students with their first contact with the environment in which they will probably be working in the future.
Accordingly, there is a broad consensus in the world of education as to the advisability of setting longitudinal learning objectives that are potentially relevant to employment. One of these objectives or “cross-cutting competences” is for students to acquire skills in a second language.

As a result, the Thermal Machinery & Motors (TMM) Area of the University of La Rioja selected the subject of Thermodynamics in Year 1 of the degree in Mechanical Engineering to be taught in a second language (L2, in this case English) as part of its programme of teaching innovations, and drew up the tools and material required.
The main drawback encountered in the implementation of this cross-cutting competence was the great disparity in the standards of students’ prior knowledge of English.
Students can come to university via various paths. In the case of technical degrees there are two main paths: upper secondary schooling and vocational training.

The students on the Engineering degree were found to have widely differing levels of English that varied according to the education received by each individual. This was without doubt the thorniest problem encountered in our attempts to adapt Year 1 Thermodynamics in the Mechanical Engineering degree at the University of La Rioja.
We decided to attack the problem at its root, and drew up surveys to determine the standard of English of our students. Questions were included to gather additional information on how useful the students believed that learning a second language was for technical applications.

The experience was positive, and provided us with a number of guidelines for future action to give more prominence to English in the teaching of technical subjects in Spain in a gradual, non-traumatic way.