Studying in the U.S. can be really challenging for international students, especially when English is not their first language.
Dr. Neil Anderson, Program Coordinator of the English Language Center (ELC) said that at BYU most of the homework comes from writing essays and reading assignments. He said that BYU’s ELC helps international students face those challenges.
“We focus specifically on the reading and writing challenges because we recognize that those two areas, academically, have to be very strong in order for an international student to be successful,” Anderson said.
At BYU, students receive lots of reading. If they lack the right skills, they will take a long time to finish an assignment.
“Reading is one of the most demanding tasks, academically, for international students,” Anderson said. “If an international student doesn’t have really strong, fluent reading skills, then they are going to have to spend twice as long on doing homework assignments.”
In this situation, international students could feel overwhelmed by the tasks they need to fulfill.
Thang Nguyen, a senior from Vietnam, said that he used to struggle with writing papers, coming up with ideas, the vocabulary and the organization. He overcame this problem by reading more books in English.
“It is good for international students to read books because that helps them improve their vocabulary and their writing skills,” Nguyen said.
Anderson said that having a clear idea of what students need to do when reading a textbook, helps them better understand the topic and to better perform in classes.
“The most important questions an international student needs to keep in mind when reading is why I am reading this, why it is important to me to read this and what I need to do with this information,” Anderson said.
Giselle Molina, a sophomore from Honduras majoring in recreation management said that when feeling overwhelmed or at a disadvantage, international students should go to the writing center to get ideas for essays and whenever they have problems to write papers.
“Going to the writing center makes the task much easier for international students,” Molina said.
Anderson believes that international students should focus on four tactics that will help them develop their language skills. These strategies are developing a vocabulary learning strategy, understanding the structure of the lectures, understanding the expectations of the professor for the lecture and being willing to invest the time to get accustomed to the process of learning.
Alex Cruz from Mexico, a senior in political science, believes that success is to know the basic study tools and use them when doing homework.
“These tools are knowing key terms, main topics and ideas,” Cruz said. “If you miss them, you’ll struggle a lot.”
Yisong Guo, from Fiji, who just finished his master’s degree in computer science, feels that international students should socialize more with American students.
“I think a lot of international students are not improving their skills because they mingle and hang out with people from their own country all the time,” Guo said.
Anderson mentioned that by asking more questions, participating more in class and using learning tools, international students can make incredible progress in their language skills. He also said that international students need to eliminate negativity and to keep themselves motivated throughout their education.
BYU offers classes that target international students that are in any credit level, from freshman to senior, that will refine their English skills in the four basic areas. This classes are ESL 301 through 304 and 404.
“One of the things that our department is doing is carefully examining those ESL classes and ELang 105 to determine if those courses meet the current needs of international students,” Anderson said, “and what changes we can make to those courses, and how we can attract those students to those courses.”
However, Anderson said there is a contrast between a student who has a natural talent for languages, and a student who might not have those talents. The outcome can be the same, but the latter might take more time and effort to develop skills.
“Some students are naturally gifted. They do have to study hard, but they have a gift for studying languages and understanding how to put everything together,” Anderson said. “Others can be equally successful but they have to study how to do it because it doesn’t come naturally. That doesn’t mean that another student who doesn’t have that natural gift cannot just be as successful.”
Anderson believes that BYU professors really show interest and want international students to improve their language skills as well as their knowledge of the topic they are learning.
“BYU is a unique institution because a vast majority of the faculty members served missions in foreign countries,” Anderson said. “Professors are more sensitive and understanding of the learning process of an international student.”
Cristel Lopez, a sophomore from Guatemala, majoring in dietetics feels that professors really help international students to do better in their classes.
“Professors start explaining things in a much easier way when they know there is an international student in class,” she said. “That makes things easier.”