27 Apr 2012

Increases in International College Students raise demands for English Speaking Skills

Author: Simone Jackson | Filed under: BGSU, Enterprise Story, Spring 2012, Student Contributor

By: Simone Jackson

Tolulope Olaonipekun, 17, moved to America in January to receive what she considered to be the best education possible.

Olaonipekun, who prefers to be called Tolu, is from western Nigeria and is studying journalism at Bowling Green State University.

“Studying in the U.S. will give me better knowledge of what journalism is. Nigeria is very corrupt, and many do not believe journalists,” Tolu said. 

BGSU has 756 international students from 91 countries. Most students come from China, Saudi Arabia and India, said Paul Hofmann, director of the Center for International Programs at BGSU, in an email.

According to a report by the Institute of International Education, a private nonprofit organization, the number of international students in the U.S. reached a record high of 723,277 in 2010 to 2011, a 32 percent increase since 2000 to 2001. Ohio is numbered eighth in the country for hosting international students according to the report.

The increase in international student enrollment has heightened the need for international students to speak English clearly.  According to the report, intensive English language is one of the top fields of study for international students.  In 2010 to 2011, more than 30,000 students chose English as their main field of study, a 24 percent increase since 2009 to 2010 and the highest percent change of all the fields included in the report. 

Source: Institute of International Education

Many of these increases have to do with globalization and competition between the U.S. and other countries,said Amanda Sipes, a graduate assistant at  the Center for International Programs at BGSU. In most countries, if someone knows English and has studied in the U.S it strengthens their credibility, she said.

At BGSU, several international students said that the most challenging part is learning the culture and communicating with Americans.

Though English is Tolu’s first language, the reaction she gets from Americans when she speaks has made her uncomfortable.

“It is especially difficult to communicate with Whites and people laugh at my accent. For a while, I just stopped talking.” Tolu said. “I was lonely and depressed,” she said.

Fahad Alruweili, a guest student at BGSU from Saudi Arabia said that international students are at a disadvantage with their peers and professors because of the language and cultural differences.

 “I can’t think like an American because I am not one,” Alruwelli said.

Sipes said she has noticed that students from African and Asian cultures tend to be more reserved than students from other countries.

“Some cultures are stricter than ours and it may not be acceptable to ask the teacher questions.  On top of worrying about their English, students have to get used to the cultural differences,” Sipes said in a phone interview.

After an entire semester at BGSU, Tolu is beginning to adapt to the American culture.

“I am starting to pick up on communication both from students and professors. I have improved,” Tolu said.

Mohssen Alathmi, a native of Saudi Arabia and an engineering technology student at BGSU, moved to America four years ago. Alathmi had been exposed to English since he was 11, but he did not start taking the subject seriously until high school. When he arrived at BGSU, he could not speak any English, and he only understood a few English words.

Alathmi enrolled in Bowling Green’s branch of The Language Company, a private organization that offers intensive English programs to international students through its 10 locations across the country. The Language Company is based in Edmond, Okla.

The majority of The Language Company’s 550 students come from Saudi Arabia, China and South Korea, said Daniel Escobar, Director of Marketing Research at The Language Company’s main location.  

“It was hard, but if you want to learn to speak, you have to practice,” said Alathmi who would purposely start conversations with Americans to become more comfortable with the English language.  

The Language Company in Bowling Green  has about 80 students.  The company works closely with BGSU’s International Programs office, but is not directly affiliated with the university. The Language Company at Bowling Green has an all English all the time policy.

“We have students with a variety of goals. Some students have bachelor’s degrees in their home countries and some students plan on graduating from Bowling Green State University,” said Christina Stefanik, Director of the Language Company in Bowling Green.

Each year, approximately 50 graduates of The Language Company in Bowling Green go on to become BGSU students, Hofmann said in an email.

Stefanik said that a significant challenge for students studying English at The Language Company in Bowling Green is that it takes students a while to learn the difference between spoken American English and written academic English.

“The challenge is communicating in practical day to day matters.  They know exactly what they want to say, but they do not always have the sentence structure to do so,” Stefanik said.

Alruweili said that the international programs at BGSU could be improved.

“The people are not qualified. Most of them have never studied abroad, so there are things they would never understand. We came here to be immersed in the American culture and certain programs have played a weak role in making that happen,” Alruweili said.

The Center for International Programs introduces international students to every office on campus and provides many resources during orientation, but our office is understaffed , Sipes said.

The International Programs office at BGSU has plans to expand.

 The goal is to increase the enrollment of international students at BGSU to 1000 and to send 1000 BGSU students abroad, said Hoffman.

 “English is an international language, and for many students, being able to speak it is a necessity to reach their personal and professional goals,” Stefanik said.

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2 thoughts on “Increases in International College Students raise demands for English Speaking Skills

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    Adapt to another culture is difficult when you don’t speak English well.