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PALS: Making a difference for Non-English students at Rutgers University in Newark

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It’s no surprise to find large numbers of students from different regions of the world at Rutgers University in Newark, the most diverse national university campus in the United States.  International students must not only learn about a new land and environment, but many must perfect their English. This is the mission of the Program in American Language Studies (PALS), which teaches skills in the English language to help students converse fluently, understand lectures and write in English.
The PALS program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students at Rutgers, as well as the public. Participants can either opt for non-matriculated intensive English, or English for matriculated students. Based on a preliminary test in English, students are assigned specific courses from the six that are offered by the department. They are: Communicative Grammar, Writing, Reading and Vocabulary, Listening and Conversation, Pronunciation and Survival Skills. Those who are residents of the United States can opt for the part-time curriculum, but all students on a student visa (international students) have to take the full time course. This program is a non-credit program but certification of proficiency in the English language is a requirement by the university.
Dr. Minoo Varzegar, director of PALS, heads a staff of 11 teachers dedicated to teaching English as a Second Language. Motivation is a key function of PALS instructors, Varzegar notes, explaining, “Students just learning English might not be too comfortable talking to anyone outside their class. In order to break away from this, the instructors constantly make the students interact with different people. As a result, they learn to speak and understand different forms of English spoken by different people.”
Varzegar also heads the Office of International Students and Scholar Services (OISS), which assists international students on campus.
Varzegar says that it is very rewarding to see improvements in her students’ skills at semester’s end. “I feel so happy to see the students conversing with each other in the corridors and they greet me when they see me.”  She describes the program as a “language environment” where the students learn to adapt to their new environment and improve and learn through their mistakes.
PALS students praise the program. “PALS instructors are not only our teachers, but our friends, too, and PALS is like a family,” says Irene Quiros from Costa Rica. Daniela Bortoncello from Brazil, a student of PALS since January 2008, credits her teachers’ commitment for her improved skills. “The course is intensive and difficult but it has helped me a lot,” she states.
In addition, PALS-ECHO, the department newsletter, features articles written by the students and showcases their progress through the different levels of writing they are learning. This form of public recognition also encourages students to better their English language skills.
What’s more, there is a PALS ESL Club, which organizes special events to help the students interact with each other and practice their skills.  These include an international potluck dinner, trips to famous historic sites, picnics, and celebrations of traditional American customs. The students not only learn the language, but the activities help to enhance their learning in a more realistic environment, notes Varzegar, adding, “The events also give students a chance to mingle with students of different nationalities.” The International Students’ Club a973/353-5013nd the International Cultural Exchange also organize events that bring together people of different nationalities under one roof.

 

Author: 
Carla Capizzi