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Summer language program builds skills and confidence

LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT: Students say that the English Language Development program offered in summer helps them prepare better for university. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

by Kwok Wong

A unique summer program at the University of Toronto Scarborough is giving new students from diverse backgrounds a head start on their university careers.

The English Language Development (ELD) program is a non-credit offering that started this week. It zeroes in on high school students who have English as a second language as well as other students who need to learn how to cope with university-level expectations. The challenge of the transition from high school to university is magnified for these students who might have no idea what to expect — due to anything from problems integrating outside of their ethnic groups to simply being new to academic English language, said Dr. Elaine Khoo, the ELD coordinator at U of T Scarborough's Writing Centre.

“Knowing the problems that some students have when they enter university, we structured a program to develop their academic communication skills while helping them with the transition from high school,” said Khoo. “Rather than waiting for students to get into trouble before we help them, we’re giving them an opportunity to be well-prepared and engaged right from the start.”

“Academic English is something that has to be learned,” she said. “Even native speakers don't talk in academic English, but at least they have a stronger vocabulary, whereas second language learners don’t.”

“Without the help of such programs, these students may not have the opportunities to build up their confidence or abilities, or learn what to expect in a Canadian university.”

And confidence is exactly what students need to succeed in class, says Khoo. Giving students the courage to answer questions during class and talk to professors, despite language difficulties, is one of the hallmarks of the successful program. Just ask the students who have taken the ELD Summer Learning Institute in the four years that it has been running.

“I became more confident in my abilities to complete the transition from high school because of what I’ve learned and experienced in the program,” said Tianming Shi, 19, a management co-op student who took the two-week program last year.

“With this confidence, along with a portfolio of new learned skills which I could apply immediately, I became frequently involved in extracurricular activities and was able to communicate effectively with professors, faculty members and other students,” Shi added.

The twice-a-week sessions, one-on-one tutoring, and a 24-hour email connection to instructors, have provided added benefits as well.

“Everything in the program confirmed my view that university should not be just more years of schooling,” he said. “It is instead the beginning of a new phase of your life and the opportunity to grow within,” added Shi, who is applying his new skills and experiences through working as a facilitator for the Communication Café, a series of language workshops conducted by the Writing Centre.

Although the ELD program accepts students with a variety of English skills, the result is always impressive, according to participants.

Sangeetha Sriganesha, a second-year management student, also described a positive experience with the program. “As a new immigrant, I faced a lot of challenges, including language barriers. However, I now have my confidence back and have developed myself through the Writing Centre and Communication Café,” said Sriganesha. “Now I have achieved my goals academically and I got the identity back which I had in my home country.”

Priced at $80, the program aims to encourage students to use “strategies that enhance interactions with professors and teaching assistants, evaluate personal progress and set more challenging achievable goals, and enable students to learn how to write university-level assignments as well as cope with handling multiple deadlines and pressures at university,” mainly through an experiential approach — learning by doing, according to Khoo.

The goal is to help the students to learn to help themselves.

It’s like the old proverb, Khoo said. “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”

In this case, instead of giving students a vocabulary list and teaching them some must-know words, Khoo’s team of ELD instructors teaches the nuances of academic writing and communication in a way that gives them a stepping stone into their university lives.

Kwok Wong is a fourth-year student in the journalism program offered jointly by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College.

© University of Toronto Scarborough