University of Mississippi

Graduate Students Teaching English as a Second Language

Research Assistant and TESL grad student Grace Ann Pierce,  teaches an ESL class, offered free to adult family members of international students, faculty and scholars at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Bain/Communications

Research Assistant and TESL grad student Grace Ann Pierce, teaches an ESL class, offered free to adult family members of international students, faculty and scholars at the University of Mississippi. Photo by Kevin Bain/Communications

University of Mississippi graduate students are helping family members of international faculty, staff and students to improve language skills and ease their adjustment to living in the United States through UM’s new Community English as a Second Language Program. No other Mississippi university has such a program.

The program began in fall 2013. It was developed by Tamara Warhol, graduate program coordinator for the Teaching English as a Second Language, or TESL, program within the Department of Modern Languages and director of the Intensive English Program.

The program allows graduate students to get teaching experience while helping people new to the United States get a better handle on the language, and also how to handle new cultural situations they may encounter. Similar programs are in place at University of Pennsylvania, where Warhol received her master’s and doctoral degrees, and also at Columbia University’s Teachers College, she said.

Tamara Warhol

Tamara Warhol

“I wanted to start the program to build off the best practices in language teacher education developed at these other institutions,” Warhol said. “Additionally, given UM2020 flagship goal for internationalization, I thought this would be a way for the TESL program to contribute to university internationalization.”

The program is free and open to adult relatives of faculty, staff and students. Child care services are available for those who attend the classes at the Intensive English Program headquarters inside the University ID Center. About 30 students are enrolled, which is a substantial increase over its first semester last fall. The enrollment continues to grow as the semester moves forward.

It is hoped the program can expand to serve not just the university, but the local community in coming years, said Kate Batson, an Intensive English Program graduate instructor who oversees the program.

“We understand this international community plays a vital role at the University of Mississippi,” Batson said. “It can be difficult to integrate into a new country and also into a new culture, especially if your (partner or relative) is working all day. What we do is offer them a chance to come in and feel comfortable because there are other people in the same situation with them.”

Terms such as “bless your heart” or words such as “y’all” can be confusing to new English speakers, so the program places an emphasis on teaching students how to understand informal speech and meanings of common Southern slang terms. The goal is to make it easier for the students in the class, who might have a good grasp of formal English, to be able to communicate more effectively in everyday situations.

Sarah Yao, a native of China, said she’s much more confident in her English after taking the class.

“I think the class is very helpful,” Yao said. “I have been here for half a year, but I still am afraid to speak English. Through the ESL class, I am improving my spoken English. At the same time, I have learned many new words and grammar.”

Heba Agha, originally from Egypt, said she has also gained many new skills through the course.

“This course is very helpful, and I really learned a lot about vocabulary, improving my listening skills and learning more about (how and what to say in certain situations),” Agha said.

For more information about the program, contact Kate Batson atkcbatson@go.olemiss.edu.