Nov. 30-Dec. 6, 2001
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Board: Rework ailing budget
Faculty to design new Campbell Hall spaces
Anthrax is now a weapon

Economics adjusts to a global influx

New center helps international students polish their English skills
Correction -- CVC and TJ Area Chapter of United Way
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New center helps international students polish their English skills

By Charlotte Crystal

The University has long helped international students pursue academic success by offering courses to strengthen their English skills. This summer, the program expanded its reach.

Spurred by the recommendations of the Virginia 2020 Commission on International Activities, the University created the Center for American English Language and Culture, which absorbed the 20-year-old English as a Second Language program and broadened its offerings. Growing numbers of international graduate students, many of whom serve as teaching assistants, boosted demand for English classes for non-native speakers over the past few years.

“International students who come to U.Va. generally have very high [Test of English as a Foreign Language] scores, but many of them have strong accents that hinder communication,” said Dudley Doane, referring to a standard exam administered to foreign students as part of the application process. Doane recently took over as director of the new institute, while Marion Ross, who ran the ESL program for years, continues as the new program’s academic director.

Particularly when international students enter at the graduate level, where they are expected to teach — whether small discussion groups, science labs or one-on-one tutoring — their ability to make themselves understood in spoken English matters, Doane said.

“The demand for our programs has increased with the growth of U.Va.’s student body, both undergraduate and graduate,” he said.

The new Center for American English Language and Culture will take over responsibility for the “Speak” test, which the Teaching Resource Center has administered to about 100 international students from across Grounds each year, Doane said. Based on their scores on this test of spoken English, prospective TAs are assigned to appropriate classes in oral English proficiency and teaching skills. Those deemed fluent in English are excused from language classes.

The Teaching Resource Center will continue to offer a selection of workshops and courses in oral English and classroom skills to native and foreign-born instructors, Doane said.

Many foreign students speak fluent English. Of the 15 percent — 868 — of graduate and first-professional students who are international, just over 100 are currently enrolled in English language classes through the new center, University officials said. Those taking ESL classes come from all disciplines, Doane said.

Concern over the impact of the spoken English abilities of foreign-born teaching assistants on undergraduate education seems to be particularly acute in engineering and the sciences. This fall, half of the entering graduate students in physics were not native English speakers, said Peter Arnold, assistant professor in physics and graduate adviser for the department.

“We pay close attention to the spoken English of our foreign graduate student TAs who have a wide range of competence, from perfectly fluent to very much in need of improvement,” Arnold said. “Based on the results of the ‘Speak’ test, our foreign graduate students take whatever courses, if any, the Teaching Resource Center’s International TA program recommends. That seems to work pretty well for us.”

Likewise, nearly half of the 600 graduate students in the School of Engineering and Applied Science are international, according to Kathryn Thornton, assistant dean for graduate programs, and J. Milton Adams, associate dean for academics. With a 30 percent increase in the Engineering School’s undergraduate population in recent years, the demand for skilled graduate teaching assistants has surged.

The Engineering School teamed with the Teaching Resource Center and the Center for American English Language and Culture to create new classes this fall to meet its burgeoning needs. With the Teaching Resource Center, the Engineering School has designed a semester-long class — Engineering 897 (for M.S. students) and 997 (for Ph.D. students) — coordinated by William McAllister and taught by award-winning teachers on the Engineering School faculty. The course helps prepare graduate teaching assistants for classroom teaching, with emphasis on the demands of engineering classes.

With the Center for American English Language and Culture, the school created Linguistics 107, Oral Communications for Engineers, a non-credit course that helps graduate engineering students develop the oral communication skills they need to succeed academically.

Other new E.S.L. classes this fall include:

English Writing 107 — aids international undergraduates in the College of Arts & Sciences in meeting their English writing requirement for graduation.

Commerce 307 — offers students at the McIntire School of Commerce opportunities to develop their skills in oral communication, especially for business.

• Linguistics 110 — concentrates on accent modification for international graduate students slated to be teaching assistants whose foreign accents are so strong they interfere with communication.

“These new classes, which we’re launching in cooperation with the Engineering School, could be expanded and tailored to other departments as we move forward,” Doane said.


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