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Language institute and international partnership aids students

UAEM Summer Institute English language proficiencyActing out a parent-child conversation about a grocery store purchase may not seem like a method for learning English.

But such improvisation, scripted skits, vocal warm-ups with recitation of sounds and even a flash mob will provide students from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico opportunities to improve English language skills during this year’s Summer Institute.

Approximately 50 students from the university, or UAEM, are attending the institute through July 16. The institute has been offered for the past four years by UNT’s Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication.

Katie Crowder, senior lecturer in the department and director, said the institute’s mission is to provide an English language program through cultural immersion and experimental learning.

“The program promotes fluency through social interaction and engagement with the UNT, Denton and Dallas-Fort Worth communities,” Crowder said. “Although the students are studying English for six hours a day, our program is not a traditional classroom experience at all. The classes focus on American culture instead of content in a textbook.”

The institute has ESL classes according to proficiency level and four different tracks:

  • Performing Arts
  • Fine Arts
  • UNT Scholar
  • Professional Development

Students of all proficiency levels will meet together for three hours per day in the tracks to do creative and academic activities, conversing in English to increase vocabulary. All classes are taught in English, and students are requested to speak only English during class.     

“Just as an athlete warms up for a sport, I try to get the students to warm up for speaking English by doing the vocal exercises,” said Elizabeth Schalchlin, above, with a 2010 class. who recently received a master’s degree in ESL and is teaching the Performing Arts Track. “They also work in teams to create their skits, and will work together this year to create a flash mob.”

In the Fine Arts Track, students learn English by reading poetry, creating origami and a mural and studying street art in Denton. The Professional Development Track students create resumés and online portfolios and do practice job interviews, while the UNT Scholar students - those who hope to enroll at UNT - sit in on classes and tour campus.

Chip Cullum, a recent graduate of the ESL master’s degree program will teach and lead the Fine Arts Track. “I have the students look at stereotypes of U.S. and Mexican culture and study American college students by interviewing UNT students,” said Cullum, who also has taught beginning English speakers in Japan. “Instead of telling them that we will study past progressive or memorize verb tenses, I have the students use English to do tasks. The grammar rules become a natural part of speaking the language, which is the way that you use language in the real world.”

The Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication began the institute at the request of administrators at UAEM, which has had a connection to UNT since July 2002. Faculty members and students from both campuses collaborate on academic programs and in research projects in materials science, environmental science, physics and related fields. UNT and UAEM also both have offices to provide information to students and faculty members about research projects and academic opportunities at the two campuses.

Posted on: Wed 13 July 2011

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