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English language program teaches students about American culture

by Kala Kachmar - July 23, 2007

Students from more than 25 countries on six different continents come to UConn each year for one purpose: to learn English at the University’s American English Language Institute.

UCAELI teaches students formal English language skills, and encourages them to engage in cultural activities that help them understand American life.

A warm July evening when the sky is ablaze with fireworks is a backdrop for conversation.

Roasting marshmallows is the talk of the hour at a local campsite.

A day baking on the beach is another forum for communication with Americans.

“Experiences like these are invaluable to our students,” says Arthur Galinat, program coordinator of UCAELI. “Going camping or going shopping stimulates more conversation than a traditional classroom setting.”

UCAELI offers several programs to students of different ages at various English-speaking levels to help improve their language skills and assimilation into life in the U.S.

“When I lived in New York, there were so many other international students that I didn’t get a chance to meet with Americans,” says Jiyoun Myung, who came from South Korea to New York University graduate school.

“When I came to UConn for UCAELI, I made American friends and met families, and I learned what suburban America was like.”

UCAELI programs include the Intensive English Program, the High School Intensive English Program, evening courses for international undergraduate and graduate students looking to improve their language skills, and the Summer English Experience, a three-week program for teenagers ages 13 to 17.

“Most of the students are learning English to prepare to transfer to a U.S. college, but we have some who are children of international faculty and visiting scholars, and also some new Connecticut residents,” Galinat says.

“We hope they remember UConn when they apply to college.”

The majority of UCAELI students enroll in the Intensive English Program, a 15-week program during the fall and spring semesters, or eight weeks during the summer.

The Intensive English Program is the only nationally accredited university-based English language program in New England.

It is intended primarily for students college-age and older, and focuses on three main areas: listening and speaking; grammar and communication; and reading and writing.

Students also take electives that are put together by the UCAELI teachers.

“I took an entertainment class and learned about celebrity life, the red carpet, and slang words,” says Nucharin Puensakul, a UCAELI student who came from Thailand to prepare for graduate school in the United States.

“They were fun and interesting to learn about.”

Many of UCAELI’s programs entail field trips to complement classroom work.

Turkish students in UCAELI’s High School Intensive English program perform a sneaker commercial they created during a language class.
Turkish students in UCAELI’s High School Intensive English program perform a sneaker commercial they created during a language class.
Photo by Kristi Newgarden

The Summer English Experience program in particular focuses on recreation and field trips as a way to learn English.

Camping at Rocky Neck State Park, taking a day trip to the Big E, or visiting exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Art with UCAELI staff and UConn volunteers, introduces English language students to U.S. culture and tradition, while providing opportunities for everyday conversation, Galinat says.

Another UCAELI program, High School Intensive English, is specifically designated for Turkish students aged 13 to 16. UCAELI has a partnership with the Putnam Science Academy, where the students stay during the academic year.

All students in a UCAELI program are assigned conversation partners, volunteers recruited from the UConn community who engage in one-on-one discussions with the students.

“I loved having conversation partners,” Myung says.

“We were able to meet with them in and out of class, and I often went to dinner and hung out with my partner.”

“This interactivity gives UCAELI students a chance to meet someone different and talk about American life,” Galinat says. “At the same time, volunteers can learn what life is like in Asia or the Middle East.”

UCAELI students are encouraged to participate in University activities on campus during the school year.

“We feel it’s important for our students to learn about campus life and participate in UConn activities as well,” Galinat says.

UCAELI has also created specialized English as a second language programs for companies upon request. In 2004, the University’s Dining Services funded a program that taught English for daily living to 10 of its employees.

“UCAELI is constantly creating and changing programs to fit the needs of interested participants,” says UCAELI director Kristi Newgarden.

UCAELI staff members help students with immigration documents, medical insurance, transportation, and accommodation.

UCAELI students in the Intensive English Program can make their own living arrangements, but many choose to live on campus in graduate and undergraduate dormitories with UConn students, or with local host families.

“The students bring diversity to campus and the local community,” Galinat says.

“In addition to teaching English to international students, UCAELI also gives UConn students and faculty the opportunity to gain insight into the world as a global community.”

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