Still within the spectrum of fascination, I would like to discuss one of the many programs and facilities that Northwestern University (NU) offers its students for academic trouble-shooting. Help is always available as long as we go and ask for it. The brief account of my recent activities in the following paragraphs serves to give a clearer picture.
In my first three weeks in Evanston, the Equality, Development, and Globalization Studies (EDGS) program had designed an English as a Second Language (ESL) Intensive Course exclusively for the Arryman Fellows. The course was held on weekdays from 9 am to noon at the homey Buffett Center. Topics being covered were mainly about standard North American English in academic settings and casual daily life. Each attendee received the same amount of attention on our pronunciation, speaking/reading/writing/listening, and discussion skills. More importantly, information about the available resources for enquiries on academic writing, health issues, student life in the US, and sports facilities were also explained in quite a few sessions. I feel very fortunate to have had Kathleen, whose expertise is in speech pathology, as my instructor. She delivered every lesson with enthusiasm and clarity. Also, having Carol as my writing advisor was another advantage. Her being meticulous and firm in stimulating my thoughts to restructure my sentences was one of the many traits that I learned about being an effective instructor from her.
My meetings with Kathleen made me realize one key point: the intense amount of my exposure to North American pop culture is no guarantee for speaking the correct and standard form of English. Rather, my improvement in English relies more on my self-awareness of how I use proper English in my daily conversations and writings.
As a simple example, we may find it easy to memorize and sing English songs almost perfectly like a native speaker of English. However, when it comes to doing ‘elevator pitches’ in semiformal social events, errors occur frequently in terms of grammar or pronunciation, and stuttering. Hence, the first week of the course focused on word stress patterns and pronunciation. It was a memorable experience because I never knew learning English is so similar to learning Mandarin Chinese in comprehending its five basic tones until the day of my first meeting with Kathleen. The second week centered on U.S. academic settings. The four main themes were leading reading discussions, summarizing verbally, paying extra attention to plagiarism, and communicating with colleagues and advisors via e-mail. Last but not least, the third week’s concentration was on evaluating my writing assignments of the previous two weeks and preparing for a few tests that are compulsory for admission to The Graduate School of NU.