While colleges focus on the quality of resources and education, they do not provide adequate skills for the many students whose first language is not English. It has been said that learning something in another language is difficult. According to a recent policy brief by the National Council of Teachers of English (2), those whose native language is not English often struggle academically. This struggle is not the result of their skills or knowledge: simply of the restricted vocabulary and limited language competency. While in America the “No Child Left Behind” program focuses on elementary and middle school college students are left disadvantaged. The below essay is created to reflect on the tools and methods available for colleges to support ESL students. (English as a second language)
Learning a language’s vocabulary is one step ahead, however, using the logic of the language and thinking the same way native speakers do is an advanced use of skills, required for learning academic subjects. Indeed, comparing the academic performance of students with different level of English skills, the American Educational Research Association (7) found that there is a close relationship between the two variables. This calls for a reconsideration of college policies and programs provided to ensure equal opportunities are given to those whose first language is not English. Colleges require written projects and while one’s EFL courses offer a general language skill, they do not teach students how to complete academic writing projects or think in English.
Looking at some striking differences in grammar, expressions, logic and sentence order of several languages, it is evident that learning the meaning of individual words is not enough. For example, the concept of time is expressed in a completely different way in Chinese than English, making it easy to make a mistake. Apart from the writing, there are several differences in sentence structures, as well, according to Chang (315). Idiomatic expressions, conjunctions and the proper use of propositions are some of the most common difficulties students whose first language is Chinese face. Idiomatic translation from Chinese to English does not make any logical sense, as Chang demonstrates (324), therefore, students will have limited skills to learn and think in English.
Bista (114) confirms that the example of learning-centered community colleges are offering adequate solutions for students with English as a second language. Learner-based programs would not only help students become proficient in grammar and use the correct punctuation (while these are all important in higher education) but also improve their research, learning and reading skills by focusing on understanding the logic of the language. Still, there is a need for implementing cultural thought patterns in language teaching in order to achieve the best results. Kaplan (11) writes about the connection between language and logic. Looking at a language as an “interpretation of the world”, the main aim of the course should be to enable students to interpret the world and academic subjects in an English way.
The cultural thought patterns, according to Kaplan (21) are different in English, Semitic, Oriental, Romance and Russian systems. Even when a student does understand the meaning of a word or sentence, their usage of the language will be different. Perfecting the skills is only possible through learner-focused education that empowers the individual.
While some claim that non-native speakers should not enter higher education, or they should achieve a level of English proficiency before they do, it is important to note that most students do still struggle with learning in English after passing their advanced EFL course. This is due to the different use of language in college than in everyday life, therefore, extra support is needed. This argument is pointing out the need of improving language study skills, rather than basic language proficiency, which, of course, would be expected at the point of enrollment.
The benefits of the above proposed program implemented in college education would provide English learners with equal opportunities, and as a result they would be able to comprehend the material more independently. Less support would be needed in preparing for written assignments and research, saving time and costs for the college. While the courses would be offered at a minimal cost, they would encourage highly motivated students whose first language is not English to “help themselves” and start thinking in English. Eventually, the power of language proficiency would result in a higher level of academic achievement, therefore, would in long term benefit the college securing further funding for programs and research.
Bista, K. (2011) Learning-Centered Community College and English as a Second Language Programme. The Southeast Asian Journal of English Language Studies, Vol. 17, No. 1, pp. 113–121, 2011
Chang, J. (2001) Chinese Speakers. In: Cambridge Handbooks for Language Teachers. Cambridge University Press. pp. 310-324.
Kaplan, R. (1966) Cultural Thought Patterns in Inter‐cultural Education. Language Learning. Vol. 16. Issue 1-2. pp.1-20. Wiley Online.
The National Council of Teachers of English (2011) English Language Learners. A Policy Brief. Web.
Zinsser, W. (2009) Writing English as a Second Language. The American Scholar.