Intensive English and Orientation Program assists non-native English learners

Katharina Gruenewald

For a non-native speaker, English classes and speaking English can be a challenge.

They might not understand everything and American students might have problems understanding them, said Katarzyna Krzystolik, international student from Poland in the Intensive English and Orientation Program.

“I think speaking is the hardest part for me, especially over phone,” Krzystolik said. “I am nervous when I speak to people in English, even when I speak with my friends in the IEOP.”

Part of the problem when speaking English can also be pronunciation. Bad pronunciation might make a completely correct sentence incomprehensible.

“When I came here, it was a total shock for me,” said Kelly Bazan Vargas, international student from Peru and student in the orientation program. “English and Spanish are very similar, but the related words are pronounced very differently. So thinking about the Spanish relation harmed my English pronunciation.” 

Iowa State has admission requirements regarding English skills for non-native English speakers. Students have to pass either the Test of English as a Foreign Language or the International Language Testing System to be fully admitted.

However, even if a student cannot meet the requirement, that person can still apply to Iowa State by being issued partial admittance and then be enrolled in the orientation program.

In this program, students can study the English language to obtain a test score that meets the requirements with the help of experienced teachers who specialize in English as a second language.

“Our goal is to provide excellent English instructions to international students, to prepare them for study at an American university and to provide them with orientation to American culture and especially American academic culture,” said Suzanne Van Der Valk, assistant director of the orientation program.

The four different skills of writing, reading, grammar and oral communication, which consists of speaking and listening, are taught in the orientation program. Divided into six different levels, a student generally has to be enrolled in level four to six classes in all skills to pass the language tests, said Susan Burkett, lecturer for the orientation program.

“Our students are mostly from Asia and the Middle East. Some are from South America and we have a few Eastern Europeans,” Burkett said. “They all come with different skill levels of English, and we try to help them improve [their skills] and give them orientation to the area and the system.”

The orientation program is not just about passing the tests.

“We also prepare them for the academic studies because the [language test] has nothing to do with the academics, like listening to a lecture and taking notes,” said Lance Noe, lecturer for the orientation program.

That is the reason Iowa State has set up an English placement test for international students. Even after obtaining an eligible test scores, non-natives are far from finished with English requirements, said Volker Hegelheimer, professor in English.

“The skills for the [language tests] are not exactly what is going on at Iowa State,” Hegelheimer said. “Many international students think in order to become efficient they just have to pass the TOEFL, but that is not true.”

Most international students will have to take Iowa State’s placement tests so that the university can see what level they are at.

 The grade will determine if international undergraduates can enroll in classes like English 150 or if they have to take prerequisite classes.

In those classes, focus is put on strategies to listening to lectures, taking good notes, writing essays and other similar things that will help students in Iowa State’s academic environment.

“We try to provide skills like skimming, scanning of texts, identifying unknown vocabulary in context and acquainting them to fast speech of natives,” Hegelheimer said.

Sometimes students voice concerns that taking these classes will not earn them any credits, and it might delay graduation time, but Hegelheimer said the classes are important for success.

“I want them to be as ready as [soon] possible, so that they become successful Iowa State graduates and can get jobs,” Hegelheimer said.