Free English classes for international students

by Lindsay Guentzel

With more than 3,000 international students registered at the University each fall, there is always a demand for English as a Second Language classes on campus.

This fall, there are 21 different ESL courses offered through the Minnesota English Language Program, but students like Lian Ortiz – a University student from Honduras and a native Spanish-speaker – are using free programs to improve their English.

Ortiz, who has a scholarship through the University that allows her to take three classes this semester, is unable to take University ESL classes because her schedule is full with classes she wouldn’t have the opportunity to take in Honduras, she said.

She started studying English on her own time, practicing her vocabulary and grammar in the library between her studies, she said.

Looking for more instruction, Ortiz said she was happy to find out that an organization she worked with was starting a weekly class for international students.

On Sept. 5, the Christian Student Fellowship, a University student group, started holding ESL classes at its St. Paul location.

The new program is geared toward helping international students improve their English in a safe, comfortable environment.

Seated in the front room of the Christian Student Fellowship house Wednesday, Ortiz and three other international students listened as their teacher explained some American taboos.

Marilyn Bohne, a University alumna, came out of retirement after teaching ESL for nearly 40 years to run the weekly ESL class.

The small class size is welcoming to students who might be shy or intimated by speaking in public, Bohne said.

“It is conducive to giving the student an opportunity to speak without having a huge audience to be embarrassed in front of,” she said. “It gives intimacy.”

Having taught ESL on three continents, Bohne was part of the first ESL master’s program at the University in 1968, she said.

“I’m 77 years old. I have a lot to tell,” Bohne said.

Mary Ann Barnett, a Christian Student Fellowship employee, said many international students want to improve their English- speaking skills but don’t have time to fit it into their busy school schedules.

The one-hour class gives students more attention and allows them to communicate in an everyday situations, she said.

“They are here to better themselves so they can better their countries,” she said.

Glenise Johnson, a University student from the Bahamas, said many international students are excited to take the ESL classes.

“They say it allows them to talk and not feel pressure,” she said.

The classes aren’t the only free ESL classes offered to the University community. The Stadium Village Church also offers daily ESL classes for international students and members of the community.

Bethany Maupin, a program assistant for the Minnesota English Language Program, said many international students look for ESL opportunities through the University.

Most students either enroll in a class or find an ESL tutor through the University, she said.

Students can also use a resource guide to find ESL conversation classes in the community, although Maupin said she hasn’t given out many lists.

“Most of our students are looking for a more structured ESL class,” she said.

Barnett, who lived overseas with her husband, said it’s important for the University communities to offer ESL classes and programs for international students.

“We know what it feels like to come to a country and not know anyone,” Barnett said.