TESOL: Bronwen Fetters assists Mike Zhou, an international student learning English. (The student requested not to publish a photo of his face.) (Photo by Clarissa Hunter)
TESOL: Bronwen Fetters assists Mike Zhou, an international student learning English. (The student requested not to publish a photo of his face.) (Photo by Clarissa Hunter)

Imagine coming to a school and not knowing how to speak the language. You are smart. You have achieved all of the entry requirements. You simply cannot speak English—or you just cannot speak it well. That is a reality for several students on campus, and the reason why the Intensive English Program (IEP) has resurfaced in the TESOL (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) department this year.

In the 1990s, there was an intensive English program that worked with students who were not quite fluent in English, but who met the requirements of the university. According to Shoshannah McKinney, associate director of the Institute for TESOL Studies, and international admissions counselor, this program was a result of a connection between a professor here and a Japanese university.

“That professor left and that relationship kind of ended and so that stream of students stopped,” McKinney said. “And there really weren’t enough students to keep the program going.”

Now, with strong ties to schools in China and McKinney’s role as international admissions counselor, the University has put more effort toward recruiting and assisting students who do not have sufficient English proficiency.

This year, there are four students in the program.

“We really wanted at least six students to launch this year, but when we only had four, we decided it was worth going ahead and starting because we had students ready to go and here,” McKinney said.

There are two levels to the current IEP: academic and advanced.  Students are placed depending on their Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) internet-based test (iBT) or international English language testing system (IELTS) scores.

The academic level consists of full-time IEP courses. To be placed in this level, students must have a score between 35 and 50 on the TOEFL iBT or a 4.5 or 5.0 on the IELTS. These courses are all zero-level—meaning the student does not earn any credits toward their degree while taking these classes.

Mike Zhou, a student from China, is the only one in the academic level this year. Some of the classes at this level are taught by members of the community who have gone through the TESOL program and received their certification. Both of these community-based teachers also have Masters Degrees and teaching experience in China.

“They’re professionals that we hire,” McKinney said. “They’re teaching the bulk of the lower level.”

Bronwen Fetters, a senior English major, also teaches one of these classes.

McKinney explained that Bronwen Fetters and Kaileen Dashner, both senior education majors, were chosen to tech some of the advanced English classes based on their performance in the TESOL program and experience teaching in China.

“Mike and I meet for two hours a week,” Fetters said. “I’m teaching him pronunciation.”

She and one of the teachers from the community both work on pronunciation with Zhou.

“Even though it is tutoring, it’s a little more than that too,” Fetters said. “I’m not just helping him with his homework. I’m providing instruction and I have to be prepared with my lesson and make sure that I’m not wasting Mike’s time.”

She emphasized the fact that teaching this class would be good experience for her goals later on.

“It just seemed like a really cool opportunity to me,” she said. “I’m kind of teaching him a course. And especially since I’m interested in going into teaching and higher education, I just thought, ‘This is going to look excellent on a resume.’”

The advanced level consists of part-time IEP courses. Students placed in the advanced level must have a score between 51 and 74 on the TOEFL iBT or a 5.5 on the IELTS. These courses are 100-level, allowing students to earn elective credits toward their majors. Depending on their scores, students in the advanced level can also take about six to eight credit hours of core classes or classes in their major along with the English courses. There are three students in this level currently, Jing Deng (China), Sophia Thluai (Burma), and Guilherme Lins Souza (Brazil).

The advanced level classes are taught by Dashner and Julie Hui, a graduate student in the TESOL program. Deng takes two of the advanced English classes in addition to his core and major classes.

“The one is about speaking and listening,” Deng said. “Another is about reading and writing.”

Deng came to Huntington because he had a connection with a previous Chinese student at the university. He saw that connection as a good opportunity to see the United States.

“I live in China for about 19 years and I want to go outside to see other cultures,” Deng said.

He explained that his teachers, Dashner and Hui, give a lot of attention to each of the students and really try to help them understand and improve their English skills.

Deng lives in one of the residence halls on campus, surrounded by English speakers. He said living in a dorm setting gives him more courage to speak to others in his non-native language.

“They try their best to use the simple sentence to make me understand what they say,” Deng said. “But sometimes when they speak more quickly to others, I may not catch their words and understand what they say.”

Deng hopes to be done with the program by next semester and take more regular courses. However, his placement depends on how his English skills progress.

“Shoshannah told me I should take the course because my English might not adapt to this campus,” Deng said.

With this program, the university will be able to accept more students who meet the academic requirements, even if they are not yet fully proficient in English. This offers opportunities to those students and students in the TESOL program who would like experience in teaching what they have learned.