American Language Program guides international students to success

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One of the American Language Program’s English Second Language lecturers, Esther Lee, is playing Kahoot with her critical thinking class. Kahoot is a questionnaire website where Lee can create her own challenges that the international students answer with their mobile devices.
(Elizabeth Hummer / Daily Titan)

Since 1986, the American Language Program (ALP) at Cal State Fullerton has helped international students get acclimated to the American language and culture.

“I have met people from most of the countries in the world,” said Bruce Rubin, interim director of ALP. “The world comes here, and it’s fun to have all the different cultures in class. It’s fun when they succeed.”

Serving students from more than 60 countries in the world, ALP provides an intensive English program that prepares international students to enter the global workforce.

“What we find, even today, is that students who don’t come through the ALP sometimes struggle with getting accustomed to how we do things at the American university,” Rubin said. “So the ALP really serves a double function: helping them improve their language but also getting them ready to succeed as an American university student.”

Many international students come from countries where universities work differently. Esther Lee, one of ALP’s English Second Language (ESL) lecturers, even said that at some of these foreign universities, it does not matter if the students go to class or even if they plagiarize.

ALP offers courses in all the major skill areas, such as writing, reading, speaking, listening, grammar, vocabulary and more. One required course is called University Success, which is modeled after CSUF’s freshman programs. ALP provides this course to its students to ease the transition into a university setting and ensure they prosper in an American classroom.

“A lot of international students will study here for a couple years and still be so unaware of all the resources on campus,” Rubin said. “So that is a big part of the University Success.”

The class has brought in guest speakers such as counselors, representatives from different colleges, career center advisers and the police to provide international students with information about what services are available to them.

As part of ALP, Lee teaches a critical thinking course that is a favorite among students.

“I love that they bring their own perspectives that are different from mine,” Lee said. “To see things from their angle just brings a greater dynamic to my classrooms.”

The entire ALP community will sometimes have get-togethers. Recently, students read the play “Anna in the Tropics” in class and then went together to see CSUF’s production of the show.

During the semester, ALP went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Petersen Automotive Museum, the La Brea Tar Pits and other local destinations.

Because most international students live on campus or don’t have transportation options, ALP wants the students to feel included in the campus community and more inclined to stay at the university.

“We try to do more activities on campus,” Lee said.  

On Friday, ALP is hosting its student conference, in which students present some of their class projects to the whole program, not just the class where the project was assigned.

At the end of the year, ALP and all other international students will also hold an end-of-the-semester celebration in the TSU.

Resources and events can come in handy, but for some students, they are not the most valuable aspect of the program.

“I go to USA classes, but it is difficult to make friends who are American. It is easier to make friends here (in ALP classes),” said Eri Okazaki, a Japanese student in Lee’s class.

Darya Aminian, an Iranian student also in Lee’s class, chose this program for academic reasons.

“My major was teaching English, and I decided to come to this program, especially the reading and writing part is very good,” Aminiah said.

Years ago, ALP had almost entirely Asian students. Now, it has more diversity, which is exactly what CSUF strives for, Rubin said. If a class has students all with the same ethnicity, Rubin and Lee have noticed it is harder for students to pick up the English language.

“If we have balance of cultures, then everybody has the same pressure to speak English,” Rubin said.

Lee’s critical thinking course is one of many that is filled with diverse students determined to learn English and succeed as the years go on.

Several CSUF alumni and past ALP students have demonstrated ALP’s success by becoming instructors on campus.

Hiromi Takizawa, an assistant professor for the Visual Arts Department, went through the ALP program herself. After a half of year in ALP, she went to Santa Ana College and then returned to CSUF to earn a masters of art.

“When I came over here (from Japan), I spoke little English. All the staff and faculty (in ALP) was really supportive and helpful,” Takizawa said. “ALP, those people, were helping me sort of settle in and learn English and guiding me to go to college.”

Another way ALP helps students better understand the English language is through “conversation partners.” These partners are American students that sit and mentor the ALP students during class.

Through language instruction, networking exercises and resource provisions, ALP helps international students understand and become a part of the university and American culture.

“The ALP gives (students) an opportunity to create a social network, which is valuable to them later,” Rubin said. “Through language, you can talk about virtually anything.”

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One commentOn American Language Program guides international students to success

  • ALP is a wonderful program because being an international student isn’t easy, given our complex culture and language. Assistance must come from numerous sources to aid these young people embarking on life’s journey. Most struggle in their efforts and need guidance from schools’ international departments, immigration protection, host families, concerned neighbors and fellow students, and even informative books to extend a cultural helping hand so we all have a win-win situation.

    One such new award-winning worldwide book/ebook that reaches out to help anyone coming to the US is “What Foreigners Need To Know About America From A To Z: How to Understand Crazy American Culture, People, Government, Business, Language and More.” It is used in foreign Fulbright student programs and endorsed worldwide by ambassadors, educators, and editors. It also identifies “foreigners” who became successful in the US and how they’ve contributed to our society, including students.

    A chapter on education explains how to be accepted to an American university and cope with a confusing new culture, friendship process and daunting classroom differences. Some stay after graduation. It has chapters that explain how US businesses operate and how to get a job (which differs from most countries), a must for those who want to work with/for an American firm here or overseas.

    It also has chapters that identify the most common English grammar and speech problems foreigners have and tips for easily overcoming them, the number one stumbling block they say they have to succeeding here.

    Good luck to all at CSUF ir wherever you study!

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