“Yeah…that sounds interesting. Let’s do it.” I had just committed myself to spending a semester at University of California – Berkeley teaching English to Guatemalan refugees with a friend. She had found a local Bay Area-based nonprofit that helps to connect refugees from Central America with services and resources, and one of the things that they offered was English as a second language, taught by volunteers in refugee's homes.
Because he studied ESL, Cheng got a Psychology degree at the University of Oregon. He served as a research assistant, and now has the possibility of going on to graduate school.
He also gained a lot of personal benefits from ESL. He made lots of new friends both from the United States and around the world. He now can access knowledge, which otherwise would have been inaccessible, and he has a much broader outlook on the world.
Two years ago, Ahmed Alqahtani, a legally blind student from Saudi Arabia, did just that. He wanted to become proficient in English as a Second Language (ESL), meet new people, and complete academic graduate studies in the United States. At the time, those goals might have seemed quite ambitious.
“To be honest with you I didn't imagine that I could speak English like this. Because it's not my native language and I would hear the radio two years ago and I couldn't understand anything.”
Even though U.S. law protects all students from discrimination when Applying to ESL Programs, students are getting turned away or discouraged if a program states they are “not prepared” to best serve these students. Often the students are not digging deeper because they want to attend a program that is prepared and can offer accessible teaching methods.
Before I worked at MIUSA on the National Clearinghouse on Disability and Exchange project, I advised hundreds of international students coming to the U.S. to learn English at a major university. Although I also managed the admissions process, I rarely saw students with disabilities come through. I was waiting for them to reach me.
As the largest organization for English language educators, TESOL International Association hosts more than 6,500 people annually from around the world at its convention. Educators at all levels attend to exchange ideas and connect with a dynamic professional community.
The NCDE has launched the #AccessLanguages campaign to encourage more people with disabilities to learn and teach a foreign language abroad, including ESL/EFL.
Being able to communicate in English is a basic requirement for successful study in the United States. If English is not your native language, U.S. colleges and universities, as well as some professional visitor programs, will ask you to take an English language proficiency test before admission to determine your English language ability and appropriate placement level.
Common English language proficiency tests for entering an academic or professional program include:
Practice your English before you arrive in the United States by using these free ESL resources.
“Do international students get extra time? Is being a non-native English speaker a disability?” This question comes up frequently from international students and disability service offices. At first thought, many offices would easily say “no” and “no." Should it be that easy?
Many academic departments and student service offices may initially assume that issues arise solely from being a non-native English speaker, but it may also mean that a disability is not recognized, and a second look should be given to these students.
When Kurtis Klein first arrived in Heidelberg, Germany, he quickly found that the German language he had learned in the classrooms of San Diego State University was going to need some fine-tuning in order to settle in to the host university and community where he would be spending the next twelve months.
“It was a struggle, at first, to communicate effectively, because I did not have the specialized vocabulary needed to navigate all of the technical paperwork needed to register with the city, pay rent, set up a German bank account, etc.”
This is best illustrated through the experience of the Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE), which accommodated Erinn Snoeyink, first in a semester abroad program in Seville, Spain, and then on their Teach in Spain Program in Toledo. Erinn, who is blind, wanted the opportunity to get to know Spain better after her first experience, and CIEE was more than happy to oblige.
What motivates YOU to learn English? Whether it's to get a better job or to meet people around the world, take the first step to reach your goal. Join an English as a Second Language (ESL) program in the U.S. or online.
During the second semester of an English as a Second Language (ESL) course, a faculty member finds one of the students from Saudi Arabia, Mohammed (not his real name), is doing fine in all his courses, except for those related to reading.
The instructor approaches Monica Malhotra, the ESL international student advisor at University of Texas in Austin about the concern that Mohammed doesn’t seem to progress, and questions if it’s his struggles with English or something else.
Karen M. Bauer is the EducationUSA Regional Educational Advising Coordinator (REAC) for Middle East and North Africa, based out of the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. She has a passion for international travel and cross-cultural exchange and wants to make sure everyone has the same opportunities she did.
“Growing up, my family always encouraged learning about different people from around the world and fostering cross cultural communication.”
Applying to study, learn English, or get professional experience in the U.S.? You may be required to provide test scores as part of your application. Find out what kinds of disability-accommodations you may be able to receive when you take the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, and other tests.