California community colleges have very flexible entrance requirements. As a result, students who are still learning English can enroll in classes with native speakers. Even ESL classes may mix students who have great oral fluency with students whose spoken English is still developing. What’s it like for ESL students to take college-level classes with more fluent English speakers? Here’s what ESL students from Orange Coast Community College say:
Akemi Ota, an international student from Japan
I studied English for almost nine years in Japan, but when I arrived America I was surprised about how poor my English speaking ability was. I had studied English for so many years, but I didn’t take any special speaking lessons. So I was always feeling nervous about hearing and speaking English, and I was almost crying when I took the first ESL writing class.
There were so many fluent speakers while I couldn’t even understand what teacher was talking about. My grammar skill is quite good, and I always got first grade in that writing class. But once teacher asked me to mention my opinion, I felt very uncomfortable and I said to myself, “Oh, gosh! I am such a dropout here… please help me!! How come they mix students like this?”
Although I still feel uneasy about my listening and speaking, I no longer think the mixing of ESL students is wrong, rather it can be helpful to English learners. Getting used to it is the only one way we can learn the language. I made a lot of friends in ESL class, and I often talked to them about my country, life, future dreams and so on; also we sometimes share the same feelings about how English frustrates us or how hard it is to get used to the U.S. Especially when we talk about homework, I can help them in grammar things, meanwhile I can practice my speaking. We can encourage each other.
That was really my biggest help. Meeting people who have different abilities and values enriched my life, and mixing of students makes English study more fun!
Yukiko Yano, an international student from Japan
It is very difficult to say that is a good idea for the college to mix students. It is positive for students who have been here for a short time.
On the other hand, students who have been in the U.S. for a long time must have a more negative idea. The reason is most short-time students don’t have English experience as good as long-time students. Therefore, if the class mixes both kinds of students, short-time students might have a hard time understanding the lesson.
However, long-time students might be bored. The best possible chance to learn is that teachers give an interesting topic to students and have conversation. So long-time students teach English to short-time students and then they learn English together.
Federico Kryzpkouski, originally from Argentina
I just immigrated when the last millennium died. I barely could establish a communication with the U.S. immigration officer who probably thought I came from the caveman era.
I had never studied English in my original country Argentina. After a while trying to learn English by myself, I enrolled in a community adult English class. It wasn’t any good because levels were mixed up.
After a year of studying the basic grammar, I decided to study at O.C.C. The placement test showed that unfortunately my English wasn’t that good to be placed in a high class. So I started with a low group of students in the summer of 2001 after a year of already studying in 4 different adult schools with iniquitous result.
At O.C.C., my English improved really fast for many reasons. Students now were determined to go through this learning process as fast as they could. Many of them thought this process was a waste of time because they were so focused on their majors.
However, most of them after a short time changed their personal goal and wanted to be fluent in English. The class make up was not homogenous; however, we interacted with each other really well. I learned from my classmates about different cultures. Also it gave me opportunity to make really good friends.
The biggest change come in my second semester at college when I started taking normal classes with native speakers. Nobody ever told me anything about my broken English but I know I hurt many ears. When I am in my English classes now I feel the same with students who don’t speak that well. That is good because it makes me see the two sides of the matter. Also, it makes me reflect about tolerance and integration. How can we hope to be accepted if we don’t accept our peers?
Ngocanh Khuu, originally from Vietnam
There are many problems for ESL students to study English in ESL classes, but there are many more puzzles for them when they are in non-ESL classes.
In ESL classes, the students are at the same ESL level, so they can communicate confidently. The teachers know exactly how to teach them at that participate level, so they can receive or understand the lessons easily. They are not embarrassed when they need any detail explained from their teachers. They have the same goal: that is, learning a second language. Even though everything is new and different from their cultures, they always try their best.
Besides that, being in non-ESL classes, ESL students have to face many more things. Being in classes with other people who are native speakers or have been in U.S. for many years may make them worry.
Hui-Ying Chen from Taiwan
Taking ESL and non-ESL classes to study is very different for foreign students. When foreign students take ESL classes, they will feel more comfortable because all classmates are from same situation and teachers would know how to teach ESL students. Every one is in same level and there are more chances to practice English.
Sometimes I have struggled with my non-ESL classes. Non-ESL classes are regular classes. I have to study with native-speaker Americans. When we have group discussions, I feel shy to talk with people, but in the ESL class, I don’t care because I am here to learn. When I take non-ESL class, I really can learn more. It pushes me to study harder in order to follow non-ESL’s level. It is good to take non-ESL class because I can really learn the ways that native people learn in the class and improve my English skills.
Taking non-ESL class is a challenge for me. I have to pay more attention and spend extra hours in my homework, especially when I am working on my report. I need to read many books that are not ESL and write down my opinions. It is hard because I have to think how to make my paper as perfect as other students’. Therefore, I need more time to do it and sometimes I feel I am going crazy.
Teachers who teach in non-ESL class won’t tell you what’s wrong with your paper and correct it after we hand it in. The score is the only thing that tells you if you do it well or not, but ESL class will show you and improve your writing skills and push you to do better next time.
Linh Chi Do, a recent immigrant to the U.S. from Vietnam
I’m an ESL student at Orange Coast College and this is my second semester here. I’m taking an advanced writing class now. This class is the most interesting I have ever taken.
Most of my classmates came to the U.S. less than three years ago, but some students have been in the U.S. many years. They are really smart. They speak and write English fluently and always get good grades in their test. Because of that, I have to work really hard.
Whenever I have chances to express my thinking and feeling in English, I take it. I’m such a talkative person; I’ll die if I have no one to talk to. I have been here less than two years, but I can say I feel comfortable when I talk to my classmates, even native speakers. I don’t know, but in my opinion English is not difficult: one just needs practicing and a little confidence.
Many international students like Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean told me that they had trouble speaking and listening to English and they couldn’t understand their teachers’ lectures. I think I know the reason: they didn’t speak English much and especially, they just hang out with people who speak the same languages. It is such a bad way for learning languages.
I’m a Vietnamese, but I don’t have many Vietnamese friends and I don’t like to hang out with Vietnamese because my reason for coming here is not having fun or fooling around, but learning and studying. That’s why I feel comfortable when I speak English.
Fortunately, I have a Japanese roommate who has perfect English, so I can learn a lot from her. English is the only language which we can use to communicate, so each of us has to use our best English to talk and this is really helpful.