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Continuing Education's TESOL Program Prepares Teachers for International Experiences

By Jo Kadlecek

TESOL student Milena Grzibovska

As Milena Grzibovska, 22, was studying how to teach English at the University of Iceland in Reykjavik where she is a graduate student, she began to notice a similar trait in the professors she most admired. Often they infused their lectures with personal stories of traveling abroad. Not only did they know methods for language instruction, but they had experienced first hand life in an English-speaking country.

Their example sparked in Grzibovska a desire to expand her knowledge -- and her studies -- in an academic experience outside of Iceland. When her teaching supervisor suggested she spend the summer abroad, Grzibovska did what any graduate student would do these days to get information: she surfed the Internet.

What she found was Columbia's Continuing Education program and its Teaching of English to Speakers of Other Languages [TESOL] concentration. Grzibovska emailed for more information and by early June, she arrived in New York City on her first trip to the United States, ready to sharpen her English and teaching skills through Columbia's 2002 intensive summer TESOL program. What she received as well was an education in New York life as she learned to ride the subway for the first time, navigate her way through crowded streets and survive the summer's heat and humidity.

"New York City is the absolute opposite of where I came from in Reykjavik, so I was a bit overwhelmed at first," Grzibovska said. "But Columbia is an oasis in this big city. I am very happy to be studying here in such a beautiful setting with strong academic training."

Grzibovska was one of 17 students in this summer's eight-week TESOL class. Part of Continuing Education's American Language Program (ALP), the intensive certificate program began four years ago in response to the demand for well-trained English language teachers. Like Grzibovska, many students discovered the program through the Web site; others learned about it through a friend or an ad in the newspaper or at a bookstore.

Since the summer of 1998, almost 60 candidates from a variety of backgrounds have gone through the certificate program, each having earned 18 credits in two months before continuing their further professional goals. Students take six courses that include how to teach grammar and phonetics, methods of teaching, second language acquisition, classroom materials development and a practicum, where student teachers both teach and observe different methods and levels of English students in the classroom.

"Basically, these students are living, eating and breathing what it means to teach the English language while they're here," says Linda Lane, director of the TESOL program. "It's extremely demanding. But it's equally rewarding to see how well the students integrate the varied class information into their own teaching."

Lane -- along with two other professors -- divides her summer time between teaching core TESOL courses and advising students with course selection, immigration concerns and additional educational opportunities. While a majority of the students are already U.S. residents, some, like Grzibovska, are visiting students from other countries such as Korea or Japan with the intention of returning home to teach.

About a third of the students, however, use their training as an opportunity to support themselves while traveling abroad, according to Lane. She says another third return to graduate school for more training, and the final third teach English to international students in the United States.

Because English has prominent status as an international language, and the number of students studying English as a second/foreign language has increased, the ALP -- one of the oldest programs in English as a second language in the United States founded in 1911 -- began offering the TESOL program as an extension of its mission. As a result, educators from throughout the city and now the world have improved their teaching skills in its classrooms, and beyond.

"My first teaching experience here will be very memorable in academic, personal and cultural terms," Grzibovska says. "An English teacher is not a dull or boring professor because it's so important to experience the English culture as well. I will definitely recommend this program to friends back in Iceland."

Published: Sep 12, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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