Several questions about the ESL program here at HCC follow. If you have
any questions, concerns, ideas, etc. about this program, click here (firstname.lastname@example.org) to
send an e-mail message to Gary James one of our ESL faculty.
- How do I know if I have an ESL student in a class? What is
- How many of you recognize this scenario? You have a student who always
comes to class, who appears to listen intently, to take notes, and who
says "yes" when you ask if they understand? But then, on a class
assignment, on a test, or during another activity they make it abundantly
clear they haven't understood anything? Or, perhaps, you have
students who are very fluent in their speaking ability, even native-like,
but when it comes to writing, they can't put simple sentences together,
and when it comes to reading their textbooks, they don't understand
them. Chances are the student is a non-native speaker of English, in
other words an English as a Second Language student. At HCC about 25%
of our students are ESL students.
- Why do ESL students act that way?
- There are a number of factors influencing ESL students' performance
in class. If they are Asian students, one of the factors is probably a
very high respect and even love for learning. Their cultures have
instilled in them a motivation to study and acquire knowledge. At the
same time they have been taught to respect the teacher and never to
question authority, so to admit they don't understand you would be
unacceptable behavior. As for widely disparate abilities in speaking
versus reading and writing abilities, that's a very common occurrence
since the more academic reading and writing skills are usually acquired
somewhat after speaking and listening skills.
- Why do my ESL students have such limited English vocabulary, such
poor grammar, etc.,?
- Language learning takes a long time, approximately five to seven
years. Academic vocabulary and native-speaker-like grammar are among
the last aspects of language acquired because they are the most advanced
stages in a continuum of linguistic items to be acquired.
- But my ESL students are high school graduates from public
schools. Surely they have to be competent in English to graduate from high school?
- Not necessarily. The public schools don't have any exit criteria
for ESL skills, which may be only fair since they don't offer much in
the way of ESL instruction.
- What measures are the ESL faculty taking to ensure that my
future ESL students will be better prepared than my present students?
- Since the summer of 1993, the English as a Second Language instructors
at HCC have met extensively in an effort to make major changes in the
ESL program here. They have created some sound proposals that address
the needs of the students for pedagogically sound instruction in English,
their second (or, in some cases, their third) language, and the needs
of HCC for budgetary restraint. The proposals have been submitted to
the HCC Administration for consideration.
For about three years now, the ESL teaching staff have focussed attention
on the three levels of classes that, at present, make up the English
Language Institute Program. These classes deal with the basic levels
of ESL instruction (starting with reading levels at roughly the first
grade level and going to the sixth grade level). These three classes
meet from seven to ten hours a week, and all of them have required labs
for extra practice time. They have worked to build a solid curriculum
in this program taking into account the principles of language learning.
The result is students are coming out of it at much higher levels
of competence than they ever have in the past. Simply put, it is a very
good program, acknowledged by our ESL colleagues in the other UH
Community Colleges as the best ESL program in the community colleges.
A current problem being dealt with is the upper levels of ESL
instruction, the current English 8 and 15. This problem is related to
the problems of second language learning in general, and especially the
problem mentioned above of the necessary time it takes to learn a
As has already been noted, ESL students can come into the lowest level,
ELI 1, at the first or second grade reading level, and exit the highest
level in three semesters reading at the sixth grade level. National
studies in the professional literature indicate that the norm for
progress in reading ability is one year of improvement for each year
of instruction. Our students are progressing at a rate four times as
great. This is an impressive rate of progress. This pushes the students,
and it truly demands a great deal of committment and effort on their part,
which not all students are willing and/or able to give. However, the
vast majority of students learn, pass their classes. and move up and
out of the program within three semesters.
The problem we are facing at HCC now is that when students exit the top
level ELI class (at the sixth grade reading level), they go into English
8 and 15. In order for students to pass these classes, students
must be reading and writing at the tenth grade level. That means that
our students have to make a gain of four years in reading and
demonstrate native-speaker competence in writing in only one sixteen-week
term of three hours a week of instruction per class, miraculous gains
in an impossibly short period of time. This is impossible, but that's
what they have been expected to do since the inception of English 8 and
15. The results, of course, have been seen in the large numbers of
repeaters, semester in, semester out, with some students repeating the
courses as many as three, four, or five times, greatly delaying their
entry into higher level English classes, transfer programs, or
- How can we change this state of affairs?
- Step One: Shift the Lower-Level Classes to Non-Credit Status
The ESL teaching staff has come up with a proposed program that will
deal with the issues in a realistic way and which take the current
budgetary constraints into account. We are poposing that the current
lower level ELI program (with reading levels of first to sixth grade),
complete with the current curriculum, (but without the labs), be changed
into a non-credit program through the Office of Community Services. The
instructional costs for the lower-level ESL classes would be completely
removed from HCC's budget and put on a pay-as-you-go basis under the
Office of Community Services, with the result that the tuition fees
generated for the non-credit program would stay on this campus. That
money would be used to hire part-time ESL teachers who would teach in
this non-credit program and to pay for a coordinator for the non-credit
program. Moreover, the students' tuition rates would be about the same
as they are now through the regular program. The part-time teachers
would use our current textbooks, the teaching materials we have developed,
and they would work under our direct supervision. Thus, the current
HCC ESL teaching staff would be involved at every step in setting up
and running the non-credit ESL program in order to maintain quality
control and to ensure student progress.
- Step Two: Redesign the Upper-Level ESL Courses
Once the lower-level courses are transferred to the Office of Community
Services, the current HCC ESL teaching staff will be free to teach in a
totally new three-level ESL program that would start at the sixth grade
reading level and within three terms move students up to the tenth grade
reading level. Students' listening, speaking, reading , and writing
skills would increase at about one-and-a-half years per term until they
reached the tenth exit level. In contrast to the old English 8 and 15
which focussed only on reading and writing, and those subjects at levels
much too high for the entering students, the new ESL program would
include listening, speaking, reading, and writing instruction which
would start at the levels the students enter at, roughly sixth grade,
and take the students to the tenth grade in a seamless flow.
- Step Three: A Smooth Transition into Transfer-Level Courses
Students would then make an easy transition into voc-tech programs,
into mainstream English classes. After students complete the top level
of the new ESL program, they would then be mainstreamed into English 22
with native speakers of English. Students who only currently need to
complete English 9 and 10 to enter voc-tech programs could directly
flow into those programs after completing the top level of the new
- When will this new ESL program be implemented?
- The ESL faculty would like to implement this program in Spring, 1996,
to serve the needs of the growing ESL population on our campus. The
sooner we can get started on it, the better everything will be for our
students, for HCC, and for an improved workforce for the 21st century,
including both blue-and white-collar workers. Right now this program is
being considered by the Administration prior to being discussed by the
Curriculum Committee. If you think the new ESL program will help better
prepare your students for your programs, then we would ask for you to
support it as it proceeds through the curriculum approval process.