Helping International Students Improve English Proficiency Outside the Language Classroom

International college students learning English outside the classroomAs the recently released 2013 Open Doors Report on student mobility reveals, the number of international students attending US colleges reached a record high last year. As a result of this influx, universities are facing growing demands to ensure that international students have the English language skills needed to successfully integrate into English-taught courses as well as into local student communities.

Here are a few of the tools and services that campuses are using to help international students develop English proficiency, in addition to regular ESL language course offerings:

Student language exchange/buddy programs: Studies have shown that social interaction plays a key role in international student satisfaction as well as in their language improvement. Universities take a proactive role by facilitating buddy programs and social activities that attract both international and domestic students.

Social media: While new domestic students often join Facebook groups prior to arrival, their international counterparts may be unaware of how useful these online communities are (or may not have access to Facebook, as is the case with many students coming from mainland China). Letting international students know where and how to engage with future classmates or setting up dedicated social networks are options that universities are exploring to help more incoming international students connect with other students, while gaining practice communicating in English.

Peer-to-peer mentoring: Mentor programs can help build language skills while improving both social integration and academic performance. In these programs, upperclassmen or second-year students work with new international students as part of a student ambassador or career mentoring initiatives. The purpose of these programs can focus on a number of topics such as developing international career plans, networking in English, and/or developing leadership skills.

Supplemental resources: A comprehensive online learning solution such as one from Rosetta Stone can be used as a supplementary tool for intensive English programs or as a resource for degree students to brush up on their language skills before or during their college experience. Students can use these resources independently to build confidence in their English-language abilities in a safe learning environment that is free from the possibility of any public embarrassment.

How does your institution help international students develop language skills for academic and social integration?

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