Centre puts language transition first for class
By Adela Talbot
September 18, 2013
University life can be difficult enough to adapt to without a language barrier to scale. But thanks to Western’s new English Language Centre (ELC), that obstacle will be lowered for a group of 85 international first-year students before classwork even begins.
“Our students come to us to learn English, but what they will gain is more profound,” said Matt Bazely, ELC administrative director.
Housed in the Faculty of Education, the ELC welcomed this month its first cohort of 85 international undergraduate students, new to both Western and Canada. Over the next three years, the centre will give 150 academically qualified first-year international students the opportunity to study English before turning to their given majors.
The centre provides English language instruction alongside lessons on cultural acclimatization. ELC students study solely with the centre to perfect their English from four to 16 months before beginning their studies, depending on their individual language proficiency. Students whose English skills are more advanced will integrate their studies with their English courses sooner, Bazely explained.
Innovative in its mandate, the ELC will also be a research venue, providing information on English language instruction and the needs of international students everywhere. Under the academic direction of psycholinguistic researcher Stephen Bird, the centre will take lessons learned from the classroom and use it as a basis for research to improve future instruction of English as a second language.
“We are looking at vocabulary acquisition, student success and assessment,” said Bazely of the research goals of ELC. He noted Bird’s association with the Brain and Mind Institute will play a role in the research initiatives of the centre, with goals of looking for evidence-based changes in the brain associated with vocabulary acquisition.
“This is a great fit for the Faculty of Education and we’re very happy,” Bazely continued.
The bulk of Western’s international students come from Asia. However, nearly one quarter of the current class comes from Angola, which has Portuguese as its official language. The centre, together with Brescia University College and Western International, worked to recruit the scholarship students from the southern African nation who would have otherwise gone to study in the United States.
The centre works closely with faculties to ensure discipline-specific language is considered when teaching English to Western’s newcomer students.
As for the students, it’s clear they feel welcome and are off to a good start.
Muveno Pascoal Elias Mucaza, originally from the Luanda province in Angola, discovered earlier this year he had won a scholarship from the Sonangol Group, a company that oversees petroleum and natural gas production in Angola. The scholarship landed him at Western this fall, with the goal of studying mechanical engineering.
“I always had a passion for machines and learning how things work,” he said. “My biggest dream is to start my own company.”
Mucaza’s scholarship covers his full tuition, including the first year, which he will spend working on his already strong English skills at the centre.
“The people here are very nice and they are prepared to help you. The city is very beautiful, but it’s very different from home,” the 19-year-old said of his first impressions of Western and London.
“I hope I learn English fully and I am able to speak English just like any other Canadian student,” he added. He also would like to learn French while in Canada, take some administration courses on campus, see Niagara Falls, the CN Tower and go snowboarding.
Mucaza’s classmate, Denny Danqi Liu, 18, came to Western from Shenzhen, China, specifically for the Business Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) program, with the intention of continuing his education at the Ivey Business School.
“Western is the biggest school I’ve been to,” Liu said, adding while the student population isn’t overwhelming when compared to home, the campus is still taking some getting used to.
Liu, happy to be part of the first ELC cohort that will improve his English, is already eager to join clubs on campus, looking for opportunities to play basketball and get involved in the Western community. He is also looking forward to travelling and seeing more of Canada, with plans already in play to see classmates from home who are studying at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto.
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