Multi-cultural program breaks ‘walls’

By Roxana Amparo, Associate Editor

Recruitment methods continue in the English as a second language department as they also work toward breaking the continuous stigma surrounding Contra Costa College’s program.

“There is a persistent misconception that ESL is easy or for remedial students that aren’t very smart,” ESL assistant professor Shelley Ruby said.

ESL is designed to help non-native speakers transition into regular English classes by pushing them to improve their reading, writing and their grammar skills.

Realizing that taking ESL classes is an advantage rather than a weakness is necessary, English as a second language department Chairperson Elisabeth Xiezopolski said.

Although they are required to take the ESL assessment test, students can enroll into regular English classes that don’t require prerequisites, but are recommended to go through the ESL sequence.

ESL part-time professor Susan Marvin said if students take both the ESL courses and the regular English courses they usually end up dropping or repeating their courses.

“It’s a big problem actually,” she said.

“They don’t realize that they are wasting time by repeating the course,” Xiezopolski said.

But some students prefer going through regular English classes even after testing into ESL courses.

“We tell our ESL students that our high level classes are more appropriate for their needs,” Xiezopolski said.

Ruby said students get insulted by their suggestions and don’t listen to their advice when recommended to take the ESL classes.

Currently enrolled in the ESL classes are 709 students. Last spring there were 789 students enrolled in ESL classes, Xiezopolski said.

Last semester the classes were larger than this semester, but it always depends on the subject, whether it is writing, grammar or speaking, Ruby said.

English courses teach students at the level an English course should, but ESL classes focus more on the little things such as punctuation and vocabulary.

“Our high level classes are harder,” Ruby said. “Students sometimes tell us that they are more difficult than regular English classes.”

ESL has higher expectations for students and has become challenging because they want to ensure students learn the necessary material to move to regular English classes.

Ruby said students reach a point where they learn enough and then slow down on their learning and become impatient. Others only take courses enough to learn the language to find a job and then stop.

“They hit a wall,” she said.

Marvin said students are eager to move on to regular English classes and sometimes decide to take them, but fail and return to ESL courses.

Students believe two years is enough, but they don’t recognize the amount of work they need to put in and be active learners,  Ruby said.

“The worse the economy is, the more likely students are to enroll at CCC,” Xiezopolski said.

She said when the economy is good or begins to improve, students take jobs instead of bigger course loads.

She said international students think two years is enough to finish community college but the culture change and their additional duties affect their plans.

Marvin said another reason why students aren’t enrolling into the ESL classes is because of the cost.

Ruby said some students are parents and work part-time jobs, and others take classes to improve their English and leave the programs for work.

Xiezopolski said students could complete ESL courses if they become “active learners.”

To ease the ESL challenges, professors allow for one-on-one tutoring throughout each semester, so they know what their grade is and whether they need to work harder to improve their writing or grammar skills.

Marvin said there is also tutoring available in the Skills Center for credit.