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ECU offers English language academy

(Oct. 4, 1994)   —   In an East Carolina University classroom, six graduate students from the former Soviet Union watched closely as an instructor for ECU’s new English Language Academy jotted a phrase on the chalkboard.
“My mother and father were glad when I came home from college,” the instructor wrote, before turning to the students for an interpretation of the sentence.
“The parents dislike the college,” said one of the students from the new Commonwealth of Independent States. Three others nodded in agreement while still another student wondered aloud why the parents wanted their son or daughter to leave college.
Understanding English nuances and double meanings are common problems for non-native speakers, says Dr. Bruce Southard, an ECU English professor. Southard runs the new language program that is aimed at closing the gap between native English speakers and those from countries where other languages dominate.
The English Language Academy officially opened this summer under the management of the Department of English, the Office of International Programs and the Division of Continuing Education. The academy offers its services to foreign students and to other individuals who are in the United States for the first time and need to improve their language skills.
“Part of the goal is to provide instruction in reading, writing, speaking and listening so that (foreign) students develop the language skills needed to succeed at institutions of higher education in the United States,” said Southard.
ECU requires non-native speakers of English to pass a special exam before enrolling. Called the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the exam helps the university decide if a foreign student can understand English well enough to function in a classroom with an English-speaking professor.
“We are also interested in providing language instruction to people and families that have relocated to the area,” Southard said.
The impetus for ECU to launch the program came with a $149,000 grant from the Soros Foundation of New York. The grant provides graduate level study in education for six school teachers from the former Soviet Union. Part of the grant specifies that the students get English language training.
“That’s why we put the program into operation,” Southard said. “With the students from the Commonwealth of Independent States, we have a core that we are trying to build on with additional students.”
Recently, a group of Japanese college students visited eastern North Carolina for three weeks while on an educational tour of the United States. Their visit included intensive training with academy instructors.
Because all the Japanese students could read and write in English, the daily, three-hour classes focused on conversational skills.
“In Japan, the emphasis is on the written form of the language rather than the spoken word,” Southard said. He said the academy tailored its instruction to meet the needs of the students.
In addition to the English Language Academy, ECU provides a certification program in English as a Second Language (ESL) for public school teachers. To date, the ECU program is one of only two in the state; the other program is at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Several other universities have expressed interests in developing teacher certification programs.
ECU also offers a master’s degree in education with a concentration in teaching English to non-native speakers.&nb