BY ABIGAIL JOHNSON, CONTRIBUTING WRITER
Anyone walking past Degenstein Patio on Sept. 23 could hear traditional music and were likely beckoned to join in the dancing. Men in white thawbs and ghutras, arms linked in step, smiled. It was Saudi Arabia’s Independence Day and a new population of students were celebrating.
English Language Learners is a new program that has brought 32 students to Susquehanna’s campus for the purpose of learning English and experiencing immersion into U.S. culture.
Most of the students are from Saudi Arabia, along with two from China and one from Russia. The program has a rolling admission structure, so by the end of October, it plans to grow to over 50 students. Established through Language Consultants International, Susquehanna is now one of only two universities in the U.S. that offer this program.
ELL students may choose one of three tracks on which to focus their studies: academic writing, general English or testing and assessment. Each track includes grammar, listening and speaking and reading in the curriculum, with academic writing focusing additionally on preparing students for further collegiate education in the U.S.
Mansour Alzaher and Menhal Al Rebh, two students in the program from Saudi Arabia, said that while English grammar is not easy to pick up, it has improved their writing. These students take four classes daily from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday, on Susquehanna’s campus.
Rob Hatfield, director of the ELL program, said: “I love how people learn. The hardest things to teach in English are concepts, like take the word ‘pessimism’ versus ‘sad,’ for example.”
The students’ progression is based on a seven-tiered ladder of advancement. Depending on their comprehension in class and exam scores over their academic year, students move up the ladder. Students come in with varying levels of practice in the English language, and the program is designed around them individually. The average student coming in at the first level will spend about two years studying before choosing to continue on in a traditional campus setting.
Hatfield said, “The benefit of learning English in the United States is that it is all around you, so you are learning sometimes without even knowing.”
A large part of the learning experience comes from the daily interactions with Americans.
Alzaher said: “American students are very friendly. I’ve enjoyed getting to know them and learning about America through them.”