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October 24, 2002 New York: Is some of its lustre gone?



by Barbara Castrovillo Seasholtz

Luis Guadarrama’s English teachers at Concordia’s Continuing Education Language Institute (CELI) had warned him it could happen.

For little more than a month, Guadarrama, who is from Vera Cruz, Mexico, had been carrying out his daily activities in English when suddenly, his “brain was empty of words.” Not a syllable in Spanish or English would come out of his mouth. “It was a cultural and linguistic crisis,” he remarked, and “a strange situation.” Nevertheless, he said, his English noticeably improved from there on in.

Guadarrama, an educational technology graduate student, had been working hard to get to that point. In Mexico, he surrounded himself with English books, television shows and movies. He even went so far as to speak to his siblings in English. Then, when he arrived in Montreal, he studied at the YMCA. and the CELI, attended Counselling and Development’s group conversation sessions and made native-English-speaking friends.

Guadarrama still struggles, though, with his pronunciation and written assignments, and he wishes Concordia would invest in an English-language multimedia lab with readily available tutors for writing and speaking assistance. “Studying in a language that is not your own requires a lot of work and help,” he said.

And that sort of help cannot be too plentiful. Jia Yanming, a computer science major from AnShan, China, believes that the only way to improve language skills is to “practice, practice, practice.” That is why he regularly attends Counselling and Development’s conversation groups.

Yanming explained that many Chinese students face a frustrating “barrier to understanding and speaking.” In order to break down that barrier, he suggested the university also offer credit courses in speech and comprehension.

On many ESL students’ wish lists was increased individual practice time with native English speakers. Zohreh Motamedi, an electrical engineering PhD student from Esfahan, Iran, said she thanks her English-speaking friends and conversation group time for the rapid improvement of her English.

Motamedi, who has only been in Canada for three months, hoped the university could help her to have more contact with English speakers. “I want to speak English all the time,” she added enthusiastically.

So does Harpiyar Singh, an Indian from Ludhiana, Punjab. “The best way to improve your English is to use it as much as possible,” he said. To achieve that goal, the mechanical engineering graduate student advised ESL learners to meet native speakers, speak English as often as possible and not be shy.

In fact, Maryam Montazeri from Sari, Iran, emphatically encourages ESL students to take advantage of Concordia’s free English-language services. After all, stressed the graduate electrical and computer engineering student, “There isn’t any better way to improve your English.”

Montazeri, who particularly benefited from Counselling and Development’s individual writing assistance, has seen great improvement in only four months. She can now read her text books and write papers more easily. And, she added, “it also helps me to communicate better with my professors.”