Buffalo State’s first pre-academic, stand-alone English as a second language (ESL) program started on July 9.
"While some courses offered by the College Writing Program address ESL issues, this is the first ESL program," said William White, chair and associate professor of modern and classical languages. "It goes beyond language fluency by offering students an introduction to the communication skills necessary to succeed at an American university."
The six-week course requires 20 hours of in-class time weekly plus five to ten hours of co-curricular activities, such as sitting in on classes and working with a conversation partner. The course is taught by Jamie Morrison, adjunct instructor in modern and classical languages.
White was asked to help with the program because he coordinated an ESL program before coming to Buffalo State. "Students who study a foreign language, whether it’s English in other countries or foreign languages here, learn a certain variety of the language," he said. That variety, which usually features fairly formal vocabulary and strict grammatical constructions, often bears little resemblance to the vernacular variety of language used by most native speakers of a language.
White said that accent, speed, and enunciation are three of the main impediments to understanding spoken English. "When we speak our native tongue," he said, "we use our own accent, we talk fast, and we don’t enunciate as clearly as teachers and materials used in language courses."
Buffalo State requires international students to achieve a certain TOEFL score to be admitted as matriculated (degree-pursuing) students. However, as the college increases the number of its partnerships around the world, some administrators believe that a pre-academic ESL program will make it easier to attract more international students.
"Other institutions have ESL programs that prepare international students to be matriculated," said Mark Petrie, associate vice president of enrollment management. "I’m excited about ours, because I really do believe that all students get so much more out of their education if they learn with students from different backgrounds." Petrie said that developing a strong ESL program could help both students who need to raise their TOEFL scores to be admitted, and those who could improve their fluency by taking part in an ESL program.
"We also realize that people from Buffalo’s immigrant and refugee communities are beginning to apply to Buffalo State," said White. "We envision offering this program year-round, and creating multilevel sections to meet the needs of various students."