The English Language Institute has remained relatively unheard of among USF students since its established in 1978. However, it has changed many international students’ and community members’ lives, and yet, for the most part, has gone unnoticed.
The ELI started as a teaching and research laboratory for USF faculty and graduate students in USF’s master’s program in Applied Linguistics. It provides intensive English-as-a-Second-Language instruction to international students and prepares students for university study in the United States.
The ELI is a self-supporting unit within the Department of World Language Education in the College of Arts and Sciences and has offered instruction in academic English to more than 10,000 international students.
“If it weren’t for the ELI, I probably would have never come over to America,” said Angel Moldonado, a former ELI student now enrolled at USF.
The curriculum and classes focus on a communicative, interactive approach. The average class size is 15 students, and they meet 25 hours per week for 15 weeks in the fall and spring and for 13 weeks in the summer. Students learn valuable integrated skills that include listening, speaking, reading, writing and grammar. Professors also teach content courses such as cultural contacts, strategies for learning, literature, community interactions and test preparation.
“We have a really nice setup for our curriculum. We create realistic situations for our students to learn from. It’s not just grammar,” said Dr. Richard Schreck, Director of the ELI.
Test prep is an extremely important part of an international student’s education. Teachers prepare students for the TOEFL, SAT, GRE and GMAT in order to enter into an American university. Three to four hours per week is devoted to computer lab instruction in order to get students familiar with the Internet and research techniques. There are five levels ranging from level one (beginning) to level fiv, (advanced). The ELI also offers part-time classes to international students enrolled at USF, their family members, visiting USF scholars, U.S. citizens and permanent residents of the community.
All faculty of the ELI have or are completing master’s degrees in language teaching, such as applied linguistics, teaching English to speakers of other languages and other courses. Many faculty members are also pursuing their doctorate in second-language acquisition/instructional technology, and many have lived, worked and/or studied outside the U.S.
“The teachers made me feel welcome to the US, they helped me feel comfortable in a new society and country,” said Perla Fuemtes, a second-semester ELI student from El Salvador. “You can tell they really love their job and that makes a difference. If we need something, they help us.”
To qualify for admission, students must be 17 years old with a high school diploma. Many students have bachelor’s degrees and are here to get their master’s. Since 1978, the ELI has taught students from over 120 countries, and this year it has 103 students from 23 countries.
To help students pay for their education, the ELI has developed the STELLAR (Support for Talented English Language Learners) award. For new students to be considered for the STELLAR award, applicants must submit their high school or college transcripts (translated into English) and evaluated, a brief statement of intent in English outlining educational objectives, career goals, past and current extracurricular activities and how this award will help reach stated goals and a letter of recommendation in English from a teacher or employer. For continuing students to be considered, applicants must complete an ELI level with distinction and a grade average of 95% or above. At the end of each semester, ELI instructors will submit names of continuing students eligible to be considered for an award. Awards, valid for one semester, will be granted in the fall and spring semesters of each year. The number of awards and the amount of each will vary depending on the funds available.
Ariandne D. Miranda, ELI Coordinator for Student Activities, organizes activities outside of class to promote the use of English outside the classroom and to encourage student involvement in the USF and local communities. Activities encourage interaction with USF students and members of the local community with programs such as the Conversation Partners and Adopt-an-ELI-Student.
Conversation Partners is a one-on-one program suited to help both ELI and USF students. A USF student studying a foreign language or applied linguistics is paired with an ELI student of that language so that they can learn from each other. The Adopt-an-ELI-Student program is the simplest form of interaction between USF and ELI students. A USF student can adopt an ELI student for any amount of time: an afternoon, a day, a week or even a semester. They can go shopping, go to movies, go bowling or any number of activities.
“This program was developed to give ELI students a better understanding of American culture. The best way to learn about it is to experience it,” said Barbara Smith-Palinkas, the assistant director for curriculum and instruction.
USF students are strongly encouraged to volunteer at any of the activities offered. The Annual International Festival held on Nov. 15 offers opportunities for students to share information about their countries and culture with USF and the local community.