Iowa State English department offers support to international students

Jaleesa Epps

Transitioning from high school to college can be daunting for American students. But international have the additional challenge of a language barrier as they transition to Iowa State.

Imagine attending a college where the language spoken is not your first language and you have difficulty understanding it. That is the reality for some of ISU’s international students, who make up nearly 12 percent of the total student body — 3,327 students.

“A lot of international students come from Latin American countries, Europe and Asia. We also have a few students who come from several countries in Africa on occasion,” said Mary Barratt, senior lecturer of English.

At Iowa State, the English department offers international students courses to support academic English skills. The curriculum consists of reading and writing, listening and speaking, grammar and pronunciation.

Students must pass the English Placement Test (TOEFL), which is required before they can register for regular classes at Iowa State.

On average, it takes a student three semesters before they can pass the TOEFL.

“I’ve been enrolled in the Intensive English and Orientation Program since August. Passing the TOEFL is very important, if I don’t pass it then I will need to take IEOP again,” said Bryann Sotomayor, future student in mechanical engineering.

The IEOP program at Iowa State helps students acclimate. Every student takes four classes every day in order to understand American culture.

Jing Jing, freshman in business, speaks Cantonese — a language spoken in Southern China — and Spanish. She lived in Costa Rica with her family since the age of 5.

“I wasn’t very comfortable speaking English in the beginning. But as time went on I became more comfortable with speaking and writing the language,” Jing said.

When students pass the TOEFL, they can officially register for regular classes, but some still face challenges when it comes to writing essays for class.

“Some international students use translators in class, but personally, I use a dictionary and Google for Spanish-to-English translation,” Jing said.

There are many resources available to students who are learning English.  The Language Learning Center is a computer and language lab for IEOP students. Instructors and lab monitors are available to help students with material selection.

There are also clubs that are available to all students. The Coffee, Tea, and English Club and the American Culture Club assist international students with their transition to Ames by allowing them the opportunity to practice their English and converse with American students.