The Applied English Center goes beyond helping international students learn English.
By Wu Peih-Shyun
When his telephone rang during his first semester at Kansas University, Lih-Long Woan often hesitated to answer it. Woan, a Taiwanese graduate student in economics, couldn't speak English very well.
``But now it's getting better after taking English courses at Applied English Center," he said of his English skills. ``I have a lot of assignments to do every day. So I can improve my English intensively.''
Woan is not alone. More than 300 international students are trying to master the English language at the center.
The Applied English Center, or AEC, was founded in 1964 to help international students adapt to a new environment and develop sufficient English proficiency to participate thoroughly in university life.
``For the university, the function of AEC is to make sure all international students don't enter university classes without sufficient English,'' said Elizabeth Soppelsa, director of AEC since 1980.
She said that keeping strict English standards for foreign students enable instructors to maintain appropriate speed and content of instruction for academic programs.
If international students do not have a recent Test of English as a Foreign Language score of 570 or higher, with each part score 57 or higher and a score of 5 or higher on the Test of Written English, they must take a four-hour English test.
If students pass the test, they may enroll full time in university academic courses. If students don't pass the test, they will be required to enroll in one or more noncredit English language courses at AEC. If some parts of students' scores on the test are high, they will be permitted to take one or more university academic course.
At the end of every semester, AEC students must take a final proficiency test to determine their level in English.
Soppelsa said AEC offers many other services besides English classes. Several counselors at AEC answer personal questions, such as how married students can find a baby sitter or where students can buy food from their native countries. The counselors spend a lot of time helping students understand the university system, such as how to enroll in classes and how to find advisers, she said.
AEC's services also include individual writing tutorials to help international students who need extra coaching in writing, field trips to assist them with American culture, conversation groups to enhance their speaking and listening of English and a Learning English On-line computer lab.
Kuok-Wai Hong, a Macao freshman who is taking three AEC classes, said that he benefits not only from daily AEC classes but also from its English-learning environments.
``But I still have problems in speaking and listening,'' he said. ``I have a hard time to communicate with American students who live next to me.''
He said that his difficulty in conversation is due to a lack of practice even though he has already lived in America for more than six months.
Jenny Wu, a Taiwanese full-time student at AEC, also gets into trouble when she carries on a conversation with American students.
``Sometimes American students ask me the time on campus with different ways, and they spoke very fast, so I just stood there like a log,'' she said. ``I feel that it's hard to make close friends with Americans because we are not able to talk something deep.''
Margaret Coffey, language specialist and coordinator of the cross-culture counseling program at AEC, said that most AEC students in their first year usually have difficulties making an adjustment to the new environment, including the language, the culture and the education system.
``For some students it's very easy; for some people it's kind of average; but for some students it's very difficult,'' she said.
She said she was impressed by her students.
``They have to make so many changes to be able to adjust to this new education system and to be successful,'' she said. ``My students do it with such grace and such ease.''
Susan Grace, a language specialist and writing teacher at AEC, suggested that students who want to master their English should use English not only in classes but also outside their classrooms.
To make fast progress, she said, students should attend classes every day, do all homework and participate in any activities. Watching TV, attending conversation groups and reading magazines are all excellent ways to improve English by leaps and bounds, she added.