English Language School encourages confidence, builds connections for international learners

The U of A English Language School became part of the Faculty of Education in spring of 2022

Daniel Navarro came from Panama to the University of Alberta to complete a master’s degree in mechanical engineering, but needed to improve both his verbal and written English language skills in order to achieve this goal. He worried that his existing skills would hold him back and that he’d make too many mistakes to succeed, but through the care, assurance and expert guidance of English Language School (ELS) instructors, Navarro was able to build both proficiency and confidence in his English language abilities.

“The experience was wonderful and really helped me to improve my English,” he says.

“ELS strives to provide a nurturing and inclusive learning environment that inspires international students to achieve their fullest potential,” says Zuzana Buchanan, an ELS assistant lecturer.

Most students enrolled in the program are Bridging Program or Continuing Education students preparing for undergraduate studies or, like Navarro, graduate students who have met the academic requirements but not the language requirements for their program of study.

Students participate in English for Academic Purposes (EAP) courses, which are interdisciplinary courses that advance their English language proficiency while also enhancing their crit­i­cal think­ing, research method­olo­gies and pre­sen­ta­tion skills.

“Through EAP courses, students from a wide variety of academic areas use discipline-specific materials to complete their assignments while working together to refine their language usage and build applied academic tools and understanding,” says ELS’s assistant director Lisa Matthew.

“International students who graduate from our EAP program leave with a clear image of the expectations and requirements for not only English language use in a Canadian university, but also of the importance of engagement and inclusion,” adds Buchanan.

“In EAP 550, I learned really useful writing skills that I will use during my graduate studies,” adds Navarro in his testimonial. “This experience has been really rich and really helpful in order to get ready for my future.”

Learning at ELS is not restricted to undergraduate and graduate students, however. The school also supports international university professors from various disciplines who teach courses in English through English Medium Instruction (EMI) courses. These courses help professors meet their students' academic and intercultural needs, and enhance their pedagogical skills and confidence in delivering their instruction.

The school has also begun offering five micro-credential courses that make up the Communication Skills for the Workplace (CSW) certificate. The target audience for this certificate is learners who are either currently working in Canada, are recent immigrants to Canada or are international workers seeking training before emigrating to Canada. Participants in these courses are individuals from diverse backgrounds looking to increase their employability by building their knowledge of workplace communications and cultural competencies.

“I noticed profound transitions in me, my confidence, and language fluency,” says CSW student Anar Saju. “I also felt more comfortable talking to my classmates than I did when I started the courses.”

Fostering student engagement

A core belief of ELS is that learners thrive when connected with the broader university community, and one way in which the school supports this is through its Student Engagement Centre (SEC).

ELS students can access daily activities, workshops and events at the centre. For example, students can attend weekly guest speaker activities, join campus and community field trips, connect with existing resources on North Campus or find a wide range of volunteer opportunities. These offerings support students’ language needs and provide opportunities to develop interpersonal language skills through social and cultural activities.

“We create opportunities for students to learn about the university and the broader community’s history and cultures, which are essential to their process of academic socialization,” says Buchanan, who was previously an SEC instructor. “The goal of the SEC is to create inclusive opportunities that help ELS learners become confident users of English with the understanding that they are an important part of the university community and beyond.”

Resources for every educator

In addition to equipping students and professionals with critical skills for thriving in English-speaking environments, ELS also offers resources for faculty members in the Faculty of Education and beyond.

ELS has a strong relationship with the Faculty’s TESL program by providing practicum opportunities for future educators who plan to teach in international contexts.

“We would like to continue to build on that relationship,” says Buchanan. “In the future, we would like to expand our partnerships and reach out to Faculty of Education instructors and students for engagement opportunities in ELS and beyond.”

ELS members also regularly contribute to the Festival of Teaching and Learning regarding topics that may help U of A instructors deliver courses in a way that builds more profound connections with their international students. These contributions include Empowering the International Student Voice in University Courses and Engaging International Students Online.

Interested in learning more about ELS and its resources? Check out these useful links: