ESL helps create smoother transitions for Kent State international students

Taylor Meade

For some international students, transitioning to the educational and cultural differences in the U.S. may be difficult. The English as a Second Language (ESL) Center provides services for students who arrive to Kent State without English language proficiency requirements.

Mariah Abdullah is a sophomore ESL major from Saudi Arabia who came to Kent State for study purposes with hopes to obtain her masters and eventually a doctorate.

She said that she was shocked by the English language when she came to the U.S because the language is spoken much faster than she thought it would be, as she has a hard time understanding the accent.

“The ESL Center helped me improve my language a lot,” Abdullah said. “The ESL Center offered different classes to work on skills such as reading, writing and simply listening to others speaking.”

The center offers the services of ESL professors who are eager to teach and make sure that the students understand the information given, Abdullah said.

ESL lecturer Dolores Elder said the idea behind the program is to better prepare international students for the general population and for their majors after ESL, whether it is undergraduate or graduate.

 “We (Elder and students) went to a few different restaurants, or we’ll have menus and do restaurant themed activities where they’re building their vocabulary or learning how to order,” Elder said.

The center offers 10 different levels, with level one being basic elementary and level 10 being advanced. An initial entry exam is given and those who are closer to the higher levels tend to typically have been there for six months to one year, Elder said.

The students’ initial level depends on their score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTA) — tests taken by students who wish to enroll at an American university. A student must complete one of the two tests.

“Each of our colleges require a certain number from TOEFL or IELTA to be able to be accepted right away into an undergraduate or graduate program,” Elder said.

ESL director Jeffrey Judge said he wants to provide international students with more direct information to create a smoother transition into their undergraduate or graduate programs. He plans to create a resource center for ESL students that will start in the summer.

Along with the resource center, ESL is planning more collaboration with other colleges so that ESL participates in more communication with the other colleges’ advisors, Judge said. ESL’s ultimate goal is to try to make the campus a team, so when the students leave ESL and go onto their undergraduate or graduate paths they aren’t as overwhelmed.  

“Our culture is individualistic in the U.S., and a lot of international students come from cultures that are very communitarian,” Judge said.

International students often depend on other people to pass information, Judge said, but he’s trying to encourage students to grab knowledge instead of having others handing it to them.

“The first difficulty is understanding the basic expectations of the educational system in the U.S.,” he said. “Our students are coming from educational systems that just have very different expectations from what a student should and shouldn’t do in the classroom, what a student needs to do to pass a class.”

It’s common for the first semester after ESL to be the international students’ most difficult, Judge said. It’s a big transition for the students who go from a majority to a minority.

“When they (international students) leave ESL and go into a normal undergraduate class like business, potentially only 10 percent or fewer are international students,” Judge said. “Then they don’t have that camaraderie that they had in ESL.”

ESL is developing bridge courses that work with different colleges on campus, Judge said. These courses will allow international students to get exposure to undergraduate or graduate classes while still in ESL.

Contact Taylor Meade at [email protected].