Student suggests improved ESL services

Published: September 25, 2015

Commentary by
KATHLEEN HESLIN

As a consultant in The University’s Writing Center, I generally help students with writing assignments. These assignments range in complexity from brief analyses of newspaper articles to first drafts of grant proposals, and each piece presents students with particular challenges.

However, in recent weeks, I have found myself facing a challenge of my own. Several students have visited the Writing Center in search of a tutoring program that will help them improve their English-speaking skills. As a writing consultant, I have found myself unprepared to give advice.

The students who expressed interest come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are exchange students, still adjusting to life in the United States, while others have been in the country for longer periods of time but learned English as a second or third language. Although all the students I meet are conversational, each has experienced frustration with a certain aspect of American English. Some individuals would like to better comprehend colloquialisms and idioms, while others struggle to be understood by students at The University who are unfamiliar with heavy accents.

When I set out to research the resources available to non-native English speakers, I discovered that The University lacks a comprehensive tutoring program for students who wish to improve their speaking skills. Generally, students who want to improve their English are referred to consultants at the CTLE Writing Center where, as proven by my own experiences, the consultants are not necessarily prepared to help.

The University would benefit from an expanded support system for non-native speakers and a thorough English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Unfortunately, no university can develop a department overnight. Planning and development take time, and so even if the administration were to begin an expansion of its resources, changes might not be evident for several semesters.
Until a plan for an improved ESL program becomes more concrete, consultants in the CTLE can respond to the demand for a program by broadening their focus. Devising a specific approach to tutoring ESL students would better equip Writing Center consultants to assess the needs of non-native speakers. Meanwhile, collaboration between the CTLE and departments such as the Office of International Student and Scholar Services could create a temporary system that provides these students with the tutoring they need until The University can offer more specific resources.

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