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Cultural chats help teach English


Photo
DAVID HARDEN /Arizona Daily Wildcat
Chris Burnham a theater freshman listens as Blanca Hernandez a CESL student from Monterrey, Mexico explains language differences during a language exchange session Thursday in the CESL building.
By Erin Schmidt
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday September 16, 2003

International students have the opportunity to sharpen their English skills and teach Americans about their culture at the same time.

Thanks to an $18,000 grant from the Arizona Board of Regents, 37 students from all over the world are coming together as part of the Perspectives Project.

The project, which began last week and is sponsored by the Center for English as a Second Language, is designed to help international students improve their English-speaking skills by pairing them with American students. The paired students discuss a wide range of topics including politics, linguistics and other concepts that have helped shape their cultures.

Jerrold Hogle, a UA professor of English who helped find American students to participate in the program, said the project not only helps improve international students' speaking skills but encourages a cultural dialogue.

"This project allows both groups of students to compare different cultural approaches to the ideas that their courses raise," Hogle said. "The result should be an increase in cross-cultural awareness."

Students in three selected general education courses were given the opportunity to get involved in the Perspectives Project, said Helen Abdulaziz, intercultural coordinator and student adviser for the CESL.

She said 17 UA students were chosen.

"We wanted to attract UA students who have had no international contact with other students," said Sarah Kim, assistant director for CESL.

Participating UA students meet twice a week for 50-minute sessions with either one or more CESL students, Kim said.

pullquote
We wanted to attract UA students who have no international contact with other students.

-Sarah Kim
assistant director for CESL

pullquote

The UA students must come prepared to each session with questions and topics to discuss with their international partners, Abdulaziz said.

A Learner-Centered Education Grant from the board of regents supports the Perspectives Project, Kim said.

The UA students participating in the project will be paid for their time, with the available money from the grant, Abdulaziz said.

She hopes students will hear about the program and want to participate in it next semester and next year.

"We are hoping next year we can just work off of volunteers and not have to offer money," Abdulaziz said.

The CESL students are not getting paid for their participation, she said.

"The purpose of the grant was to target UA undergraduate education," Abdulaziz said. "The CESL students just like to meet the UA students and practice their English."

Alex Laetsch, a media arts freshman, said he liked the fact that he was getting paid, but that he participates for more than money.

"It actually turned out to be really fun," Laetsch said. "I would have participated even if I wasn't getting paid."

Laetsch was paired with a student from Mexico and Japan for his first session last week discussing freedom of speech in different cultures.

"We just sat there and discussed the politics of our countries," Laetsch said. "There was no language barrier. It turned out to be really fun."

Asuka Takakuwa, a CESL student participating in the project from Niigata, Japan, said she wanted to learn about American culture.

"It is very important to learn about different cultures," Takakuwa said. "This project is a very good experience to meet and talk to UA students."

Abdulaziz said both UA and the CESL students have responded well to the last two sessions.

"I feel optimistic just from everyone's eagerness," Abdulaziz said.

Abdulaziz hopes the students will use the information learned in the program in their class discussions and in their term papers.

"I hope students will volunteer more in class discussions," Abdulaziz said. "We hope that the professors will see that this is a valuable program."

Soon Jee Park, a CESL student from Seoul, South Korea, sat with an American student discussing the differences in religion between their cultures.

Park said at times it's hard to understand the American students.

"It is a good and adventurous program," Park said. "At times the subject matter can be difficult to understand but it is still very beneficial."

Chris Burnham, a theater freshman, said his interest in languages and different cultures drew him to the project.

"I have always enjoyed learning about new cultures, but I never really got the chance," Burnham said. "Now I can have a structured opportunity to learn about many different cultures."

Although the program was only offered to honors students this semester, Abdulaziz said the Perspectives Project will be offered to all students next semester.

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