Mary Hunter, ELLI program coordinator working with international students. Photo by Danny Meyer
Вы говорите по-англиский?
Do you speak English?
When students complete the curriculum in the ASU Center for International Studies’ (CIS) English Language Learners’ Institute (ELLI), they can answer those questions with a resounding, “Yes!” whether they started out speaking only Spanish, Korean, French, Russian or another foreign language.
Since it opened in 2009, the ELLI has progressed from one instructor running randomly scheduled eight- and 14-week courses for special international student groups to a full-time coordinator, two full-time instructors and three adjunct instructors teaching an annual schedule of five sessions, each lasting seven weeks. One of their first tasks is to get the students accustomed to what for many of them is a completely new way of learning.
“Our students are largely study-abroad and exchange students. But, we also have students who are more open-ended, who just want to improve their English and see where it goes from there.”
“For most international students, coming into the American education system is a major culture shock,” said Mary Hunter, ELLI program coordinator. “Our system is unique, especially in its focus on experiential education and cooperative learning. Most other systems in the world are based off the European style, where that final exam is the entire grade for a course. A lot of international students struggle with the concept that assignments and participation are part of their grade. So we do as much with culture as we do with language.”
For the fall 2013 semester, ASU had its largest-ever contingent of 195 international students on campus from 27 countries, including 33 students in the ELLI. The ELLI curriculum consists of six competency levels, and students are placed based on their scores on one of three internationally recognized English proficiency exams (TOEFL, IELTS or TOEIC) or an in-house assessment. Students scoring above a 79 on the TOEFL or above a 6 on the IELTS are exempt from having to complete the ELLI curriculum before enrolling in regular courses.
“Our students are largely study-abroad and exchange students,” Hunter said. “But, we also have students who are more open-ended, who just want to improve their English and see where it goes from there. However, if they score high enough on one of the exams, they are home free and can go on into regular undergraduate study.”
International students can also enroll in the ELLI as a way of bypassing the English proficiency exams.
“We have an agreement with all the academic colleges on campus,” Hunter said, “that if students come through the ELLI and pass the highest level, they will be deemed English proficient and they don’t have to take one of those exams.”
“I’ve seen students really fight to get a high exam score to avoid taking English proficiency classes,” she added. “But, I’ve also seen other students that want to do a semester of English to get their feet on the ground, and those are normally the students who are far more successful, especially for Asian students.”
A 13-year instructor of English as second language (ESL), including seven years in China, Hunter teaches during two to three ELLI sessions each year and oversees the other five instructors, Dennis Lynn, Mihaela Lynn, Ella Osorio, Marie-Clare Prisco and Brandy Ramirez. She is also beginning to play a larger role in recruiting students for both the ELLI and CIS so they can continue to grow and prosper.
“After living in China, it is hard for me to not be around internationals,” Hunter said. “There is a connection I have with them. I love helping students adjust to culture, talking with them and watching them grow. I thrive on those ‘a-ha’ moments when something clicks for them, and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”