Language a barrier for foreign students

Making friends, making the grade and making it to class are hard enough when starting college. Try doing those things in a new country while learning a new language.

It’s a challenge some incoming international students are facing.

Klaus Gommlich, director of the English as a Second Language Center, said during the past two years, foreign countries have increased the number of scholarships offered to students studying in the United States. Consequently, Gommlich said, the scholarships are being given to students who aren’t as linguistically prepared.

At the same time, students are required to pass a language test within a given time frame to keep their scholarships.

“The embassy will pay for a limited amount of time,” said Evie Papacosma, coordinator of the ESL Center. “They can’t stay in ESL forever.”

All international students are required to pass a standardized test called the Test of English as a Foreign Language, before they can be admitted as an undergraduate student. Students who don’t initially pass the test are enrolled in an intensive ESL program.

Papacosma said the TOEFL offers different passing requirements for students who may have failed because they were not familiar with standardized tests. If they maintain a B+ average in the English as a Second Language program, they can be admitted as an undergraduate student.

“Some students are not good test takers so they can take advantage of (the alternative GPA requirement),” Gommlich said. “Usually if you do good in class, you’ll do good on the test.”

“You have it on top of you that you have to pass (the TOEFL),” said Papacosma, adding that aside from passing the exam, students have difficulty dealing with immersion in a new culture.

“It happens with everybody that comes from a different culture,” Papacosma said. “They need time to adjust to the new culture.”

Gommlich agreed.

“It’s not only a problem of linguistics. It’s a much wider issue,” he said. “It’s primarily how students fit into our university culture.

“Our teaching style is primarily interactive. It requires learners to contribute and participate.”

Adjusting to a new teaching style is just one more barrier international students face. Gommlich said in some cultures interacting with a professor is unheard of.

“Of course a second language will always slow down the process (of classroom learning),” Gommlich said. “Reading and writing will take much longer.”

Gommlich said studies show it takes a person reading in a foreign language 10 times longer than a person reading in his native language.

International students aren’t the only ones affected by or responsible for improving the situation.

“There needs to be learning on both sides,” Gommlich said. “American students need the international students to open their minds to the rest of the world.”

Contact honors and international affairs reporter Denise Wright at [email protected]. Contact student affairs reporter Kristine Gill at [email protected].