Graduate School

The University of Mississippi

Volunteers work to improve language skills of international students’ partners/spouses

Posted on: April 30th, 2014 by benita

Story by Tyler Carter

Kate Batson is one of many students who volunteers her time and expertise to help international students and their families adjust not only to campus but also American life.

The free English as a Second Language (ESL) program for partners/spouses of UM faculty began in fall 2013, originally developed by Tamara Warhol, associate professor and linguistics graduate program coordinator for Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). It falls within the Department of Modern Languages, where Warhol is director of the Intensive English Program (IEP).

The ESL program is designed to help partners/spouses of UM faculty improve their English language skills while gaining practical knowledge about living in the U.S.

“This program is definitely a personal passion for me as well as my fellow graduate students,” Batson said. “I believe that I would be in the wrong profession if it wasn’t a personal passion. From having spent time abroad, I understand that it is sometimes difficult to integrate into a new culture, especially when it is believed that you don’t possess the language skills to do so.

“I feel that the community ESL program gives the ESL program students a place where they can feel comfortable in practicing and improving their English language skills that can be put to use in the larger community. The program also allows graduate students like myself to learn from and offer services to the international community, a vital part of the University of Mississippi.”

The classes are taught by TESL graduate students each Monday night from 6-8 p.m. in the IEP building, allowing the students to gain valuable practice in teaching ESL courses.

Around 19 TESL graduate students volunteer in this program, and those who are not teaching for the night also provide free child care for the students in the program. Although the program is relatively new, it is quickly expanding. About 30 students attend the class (a considerable increase in enrollment from last semester), with new students joining as the semester progresses. Not only are the program’s members collaborating with the UM community-engagement organizations, but they also hope to expand their services to the larger community soon.

This program is the only one of its kind in the state of Mississippi. Warhol wanted to start this program to build on the best practices in language teacher education developed at private Ivy League institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University Teacher’s College. Additionally, given the UM 2020 flagship goal for internationalization, Warhol thought this would be a way for the TESL program to contribute to university internationalization. Students in this program not only build a bridge of companionship but also are contributing to the substantial goal of globalization of the university.

While Batson and other graduate students are teaching the international participants, they are also gaining insight from them as well.

“Not only are they learning from us, but we are also learning a lot from our students,” Batson said. “Every Monday night, the graduate students gain new insights into the kinds of cultural and linguistic differences they bring to our classrooms. We are able to take these insights and use them to improve the overall classroom experience and learning outcomes of the community ESL students.”