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The teachers describe the project

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Can students at very different levels help each other?

Is it frustrating being in a college class—an ESL class or a regular content course—with students whose English skills are very different from your own? These students all say no: students at very different levels can help each other in different ways.

Yuko Miyazaki, an international student from Japan

Yuko Miyazaki
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
We all may have different goal of English, but we all are studying the same language: English, which is the most common language in this world.

 

I came to the U.S. nine months ago to study English and business skills. When I came over here from Japan, I could not speak English well, and still I don’t feel comfortable to speak English in front of many people.

Currently, I am taking an advanced writing class with other ESL students who have different backgrounds. Someone has lived here for five years and speaks English very fluently.

On the other hand, another has less than one year experience in the U.S. and doesn’t speak English very well. We all took the same grammar placement test and the result caused this mixed situation because the placement test is all about grammar; it is not about vocabulary or speaking skill.

As I mentioned before, I don’t speak English very well. I, however, never feel uncomfortable with this mixed situation. When I listen to other student’s fluent English, I am always inspired and motivated. I always feel I really need to study English more and achieve my future goal.

All students may have different goals of English studies; however, we all can get inspired from other students because all of us have different backgrounds. For example when I took Business 100 at Orange Coast College, there were only two ESL students, one was I, and the other was a student from Norway. He could speak English very fluently, but he could not write any essay at all. He said my grammar gave stimulation to him and he decided to study grammar one more time after he read my paper for Business 100.

In short, from my point of view, mixing many kinds of students is not bad. It is, rather, a good system to study English to get inspired. We all may have different goal of English, but we all are studying the same language: English, which is the most common language in this world.

 

Kanako Fuji, an international student from Japan

Yuko Miyazaki
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
I think long timers can help short timers. And short timers can learn something about the U.S from long timers.

 

Students who have been in the U.S for a long time know a lot of things in the U.S. but students who have only recently come to the U.S do not. And they cannot speak English the same as long timers.

When I came to the U.S, my friend who came here before I came taught me a lot of things. For example, when we went to a restaurant, we have to pay tip for waiter or waitress. But at first I did not know that. Also, she taught me English. She often helped me when I was in trouble. She has a lot of friends, so I had many friends who came from different country and stay in the U.S long time. So I learned new things that I did not know about the U.S from her.

So, I think long timers can help short timers. And short timers can learn something about the U.S from long timers.

 

Son Huynh, a student originally from Vietnam

Son Huynh
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
If they are put together in the same English classes, they will help each other as best as they can while they are working in groups or doing projects with all skills which they have.

 

It is wonderful for recently immigrated or international students to study English in the same classes with students who have lived in the United States for many years, who may even have graduated from U.S high school because they all want to improve their English.

I have learned that the United States is an international country and many people want to come here to learn more English even though they have studied English in their country.

One thing I have learned is that many recently immigrated or international students have more skill on grammar than other things but students who have lived in the United States for many years, who may even have graduated from U.S high school, their pronunciation is better than grammar because they have played around with native American in high school.

If they are put together in the same English classes, they will help each other as best as they can while they are working in groups or doing projects with all skills which they have. They feel more confident because they have the same levels and already know they all come from different countries. There is no judgment against them and nothing makes them feel like an immigrant.

If they are mixed with native speakers, they will feel nervous, shy, and even scared when they give speeches, or read in front of class, or talk to native speakers because of their pronunciation. There will be more advantage than disadvantage to put students who have been here a long time and newly arrived students in the same class to study English.

 

Yoriko Sakurai, an international student from Japan

Yoriko Sakurai
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
Talking with [students who have been in the U.S. for a long time] is good for me because I try hard to speak English. They have a lot of good things I can learn. I think it is a good idea for the college to mix students like this.

 

I have been living in the U.S for almost one year. I think it is not a long time, but not a short time, so I can understand what people are saying, but my speaking skill is still poor, so I cannot respond clearly in a moment.

However, students who have been in the U.S for a long time, such as students who graduated from high school here, can do it. When I talk with friends just like them, I envy them and I am disappointed at my English skill. Also, they know a lot of swear words and always use those, so I am confused about that because these kinds of words are not taught by English or any dictionary. It is the hardest thing about being in classes with students who have lived in the U.S for a long time.

However, talking with this kind of friend is good for me because I try hard to speak English. They have a lot of good things I can learn. I think it is a good idea for the college to mix students like this.




Zahid Yener, an international student from Turkey

Zahid Yener
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
Most of my Asian friends are good at writing, but they are not good at speaking. On the other hand, most of my European friends are good at speaking, but they are not good at writing.


 

When I came to the U.S. two years ago from Turkey, I didn’t know how to speak and write English. Right now, I can speak fluently, but I can’t write as I speak. Speaking and writing are completely different from each other. One can speak, but can’t write.

Writing requires reading and understanding. If you read and understand what you read, you can write easily. Also, when you are writing and reading, you have to know more vocabulary than when you are speaking. That’s why many students have problems when it comes to writing even though some of them have been living in America for years.

Right now, I am taking an ESL writing class at OCC with students who are from other countries. Some of them have been here for ten years or more than that. Some of them have been here for only two months or less.

Some students in my class don’t speak but can write English; they are at the same level with me because speaking is entirely different from writing. ESL classes help students who don’t speak and can’t write. The students who just arrived and don’t speak English can try to talk to students who are here for years and speak English in ESL classes.

Also, students who can’t write learn from the students who can write. Because they are sharing the same problems and everybody is at the same level with them, they won’t care about making mistakes. People learn from their mistakes and students will learn from them.

ESL classes are environments that provide perfect practice for foreigners. When I took my first ESL class, I wasn’t fluent at all. I could barely speak English. I met with the other students in my class and made friends. I spoke with them. I made mistakes. They made mistakes, and we corrected each other. We still do correct each other.

For example, most of my Asian friends are good at writing, but they are not good at speaking. On the other hand, most of my European friends are good at speaking, but they are not good at writing. So, they study with each other and learn from each other. ESL classes are for students who don’t speak and can’t write. We should be cooperative.

 

Chandra Sutio, an international student from Indonesia

Chandra Sutio
Photo: Sarah Sarkissian
I realize that students who stay longer in the U.S. are more likely to break that barrier that I am still facing, because they are better than other classmates in listening, pronunciation, and vocabulary.

 

In my ESL class, students always have a lot of enjoyable times. As most of the classmates came from different countries, they like to share many uncommon things, cultures, and languages.

Language is the most popular thing that we like to share about. Besides learning English, we also enjoy each other’s languages. But besides that, we also have to face a few problems. Even though we are eager to learn, we face the big, huge barrier of language between my friends and me. Because we do not understand each other, we have to face the problem.

I realize that students who stay longer in the U.S. are more likely to break that barrier that I am still facing, because they are better than other classmates in listening, pronunciation, and vocabulary. I also notice there is a cultural change between the student who just came and students who have stayed for a long time: people in the U.S. tend to be more polite. For me, I always like to stay with the couple of friends who are fluent in speaking. Even though I can’t speak fluently, they don’t mind.


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The teachers, Sarah Sarkissian and Greg Conner, comment on this project.

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