Teaching Foreign Students English in Charleston

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¿Como estas?


מַה שְּׁלוֹמְךָ?

Jak się miewasz?

Whether you’re a native speaker of these languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Hebrew and Polish), or any of the 6,904 others believed to be in use around the globe, you’ll need to speak English fluently if you want to attend an American university or just get along in the United States today.

The Graduate School of the University of Charleston, S.C. recruits students from around the world to attend the College and its graduate schools, as does MUSC and other area schools. There are roughly 1.1 million international college and graduate school students in the U.S. today, according to the Institute of International Education, more than half of them from China and India. These students add to the rich mosaic of cultures that increasingly comprise the Lowcountry, but some may be in need of extra English instruction before matriculating.

The English Language Institute
To help them succeed, CofC’s English Language Institute provides six ESL courses per year for F1 Visa students, each with an intensive eight-week curriculum. Instruction combines a concentration on conversation, writing and grammar, reading and vocabulary, and cultural activities.

For example, says Penny Aber-Kahn, the institute’s academic coordinator, students at the intermediate level might spend one class learning the past perfect tense (e.g., She had given away all her money) and practicing how to use it, then reading about the Lost Boys of Sudan and writing their own personal reflection on their experiences using the past perfect grammar they just studied. Then, they might learn how to use the words that appear in their reading, like “significant” or “widespread”, and all their forms.

 More advanced students might spend a class learning how to use a library database and citing sources in an academic paper, then read about Alexander Hamilton and discuss how the structure of American government differs from the government in their native countries. Ultimately, the students would write a research paper that compares their country’s governments with that of the U.S.

Learning About America
Aber-Kahn says many of the students are young and alone in the States, so they develop strong bonds with each other and with instructors. They socialize together and learn about their host country by doing quintessentially American things like attending baseball games and going bowling. During a recent outing, students visited various houses of worship around downtown Charleston, went to the movies and ate dinner together at a local restaurant.

Pronunciation is also a part of the course, which was brought home to Aber-Kahn during a recent class. A student complained that when asking for directions, he was commonly oriented to satellites.  After much discussion about GPS, it became clear that the student was being directed to turn at a “set of lights.”

Highly Motivated Students
Because they usually pay full tuition, and because they have ventured across the seas to attend an American university, foreign students tend to be highly motivated. “They’re here because they have a path and they’re moving on it,” says Aber-Kahn. “They have to overcome so much, so they work really hard to do so.”

The program has had great success since its inception in 2013. The Center for International Education issues a report each semester on students who are struggling in their academic programs. Aber-Kahn says that “not a single one of the graduates of the English Language Institute has ever been on the list. We prepare them to be successful and they always make us proud.”