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“The most important thing we learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school.”
—Haruki Murakami (1949–), Japanese author
What should every ESL student know?
Beats me. “One size fits all” philosophies often seem a bit strange to me. Can anybody really answer this question for every international student and ESL (English as a Second Language) college student? Really? Don’t circumstances, needs, and desires differ?
Yet, college and university administrators, ESL teachers, future college students, and current international ESL students constantly ask the same question. What should every ESL student know?
A smart, savvy resource
Fortunately, braver and more confident souls than I feel comfortable addressing such prevalent concerns. That’s why a small green and purple book, What Every ESL Student Should Know: A Guide to College and University Academic Success, caught my eye years ago at an English teachers’ conference in California.
Author Kathy Ochoa Flores offers deeper insight into this important, yet puzzling, question, displaying considerable wit while dispensing practical advice to international students and immigrants preparing for college. “My students always want to know what they should do to learn English,” notes Flores in the second chapter. “I tell them to marry an American – one who is a native speaker and rich. That way, they can have someone to practice with every day, and they won’t have to worry about working and studying at the same time. Unfortunately, this advice does not work for most of my students.”
Her solution? Since many students are already married or otherwise too young to do so, Flores advocates for the importance of making American friends. In bold print, she argues: “Native English speakers are everywhere. Use them. They are like free tutors.” How? Take the bus, she advises; sit down next to some nice-looking American, and start talking. Seek out the elderly in particular, since they tend to have both more free time – and might be lonely. Talk to children, meet a school counselor, and ask many questions. Flores even suggests “talk[ing] to the telemarketers who call you during dinner time, and ask[ing] them lots of questions about their products.” I completely agree.
Why I recommend
This 128 page, affordable book provides dozens of these imperative statements followed by detailed advice. Written in a clear manner, the concise format and friendly style make this book a wonderful book for newcomers to both the United States and American university classrooms.
Easier to read, smaller in scope, and less than controversial than the popular book What’s Up, America?, this 2008 title serves a slightly different purpose. Both titles help international students adjust to American college campuses, but What Every ESL Student Should Know focuses more on survival skills. International counselors, university orientation coordinators, and even private intensive English language schools (IEPSs) could provide a real service to their international students by including this thin book in their orientation sessions and pre-college materials. The minimum cost will pay for itself by reducing ESL student stress.
Meanwhile, future international students should find it and buy it. This “one size fits all” work offers enough tips to satisfy nearly any ESL student – and even a skeptical ESL university teacher!
What advice would to give to incoming international students attending an American college? Are there any published resources you’ve found particularly helpful in answering this question? Feel free to share!