International students improve English speaking skills

The English as a Second Language program provides non-native students an opportunity to enhance their communication skills with native English speakers. Courtesy of Danielle Perez de Corcho

The English as a Second Language program provides non-native students an opportunity to enhance their communication skills with native English speakers. Courtesy of Danielle Perez de Corcho

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Foreign students who do not speak English as their primary language may face challenges with understanding others and adapting to an American college experience.

In order to assist those students, the Department of World Languages and Cultures provides resources through the English as a Second Language program.

Resources provided by the ESL program are designed to address some of the most common struggles that non-native English speakers face when trying to assimilate into a college environment.   

Danielle Perez de Corcho, instructor of the ESL program, shared that many non-native students initially struggle with speaking and understanding English in a casual context.

“A lot of students who come here have studied English at school in their countries,” said Perez de Corcho. “Learning it from a book and actually being thrown into an environment where everyone is speaking English quickly and with a lot of slang can be hard to adjust to.”

Foreign students also have a hard time getting students who are native English speakers to understand them.

“They may have a very high level of vocabulary or grammar but in English, if you pronounce just one letter wrong, it changes the whole meaning of a word,” shared Perez de Corcho. “So sometimes, speaking with people in public spaces who are not used to speaking to people with accents can be frustrating because a lot of confusion can arise.”

Students enrolled in the program meet in the ESL Computer Lab at least twice a week for a course in which they learn aspects of English grammar, reading, writing and comprehension. The program also utilizes computer-based English programs to further the students’ understanding of the language skills taught in the lab.

Students who are native English speakers can volunteer to assist ESL students with one-on-one conversation practice.

The program is also non-credited, meaning most students in the program do not declare a major. 

The primary focus of the program is helping the students communicate in a way that other people can understand to assist them with everyday life.

“We practice pronunciation, but most importantly, we give a space to these students to practice and listen to English as much as possible with native speakers and other students so they can feel comfortable,” explained Perez de Corcho. “A lot of students struggle with feeling confident in the language, so just giving a space where everyone can practice together in a low-pressure environment gives them more confidence in their speaking abilities.”

Jo Jo Penton, a native of Brazil, speaks Portuguese as her primary language and started the program this semester. She feels that the program has helped her improve her English skills.

“I have improved a lot,” said Penton. “I am married, and my husband is American. I decided to live here in the United States, and English is the language here. I felt the necessity to improve my English and my understanding too. I have expectations to get major here and one day, have a good job here too. I know for all of those things, you need good English.”

Penton also shared that she is very satisfied with the program.

“We have a very good professor,” explained Penton. “She has a lot of patience and is always encouraging us to go further and try our best in whatever we are doing. She’s very open to comments or suggestions as well.”

Paul Hoang, a native of Vietnam, speaks Vietnamese as his primary language and shared what difficulties he encounters while trying to communicate with native English speakers.

“It is not easy for me to listen,” said Hoang. “I have learned a lot. I need to keep working hard and improve. My professor encourages me to keep strong and patient.”

Hoang’s mission is always to keep pushing and learning the language.

“For me, I always keep pushing and keep learning,” explained Hoang. “I have grown a lot and have a lot of support here.”