Northern State’s New Campus ESL Program: English Corner

Recent meeting of Northern State University’s English Corner. Photo credit: Balie Albrecht.

   Northern State University’s international student population is notably large, and many of these students speak English as their second language.
   With the possible exception of foreign language courses, NSU students are expected to write in English for their coursework, to read their many required textbooks in English, and to be able to understand English during lectures.
   However, many international students are not necessarily provided an opportunity to speak English on a frequent enough basis for them to feel comfortable in meeting the spoken and written English language requirements of their courses.
   These students oftentimes live together and tend to meet and spend time with those of the same nationality, so their everyday conversations may not include much English.
   Yet, students of all nationalities—even native English speakers—must learn how to effectively communicate in English to succeed in many facets of life in the United States.
   Northern State University graduate student Joni Wileman saw this problem and decided to create a solution. Wileman began the English Corner, a group that meets once a week to practice conversational English in a fun, friendly setting.

…a place where you can speak the English language in a setting which allows you to ‘stretch yourself to new concepts.’
Joni Wileman, founder of English Corner

   The English Corner started as Wileman’s class project for one of NSU’s graduate level courses, “Methods of Teaching English.”
   With Academic English Program Interim Director Tara Arnsten’s assistance, Wileman decided to use her love for people and experience teaching English as a second language to create this program.
   She grew up in Costa Rica and has taught Spanish at many different levels, from third grade Spanish immersion to college Spanish. She also knows a little French.
   She identifies the environment of her school in Costa Rica as a bit of an inspiration for what she aspires English Corner to be, calling it a “virtual United Nations,” a place where you can speak the English language in a setting which allows you to “stretch yourself to express new concepts.” And this is exactly how she has structured the English Corner.
   A standard English Corner meeting is an informal time to hang out, bring a snack, and just practice speaking English.
   Sometimes, at English Corner meetings, participants play fun games that help to increase vocabulary, but at a standard meeting, students talk about life, their week, and discuss prepared questions so that every member, no matter his or her skill or comfort level, can get the chance to speak conversational English.
   Students of many nationalities come to English Corner, including from countries such as Peru, the Philippines, Korea, China, Vietnam, Russia, Belgium, and the United States.
   Wileman noted that many students have made friends from other cultures through this program while they grow in their confidence level of their spoken English skills.
   The English Corner meets every Tuesday from 12:30pm to 2:00pm in the Maroon Room, located on the second floor of the Student Center.
   Wileman encourages anyone of any English background to join, whether “you could use some practice using English or would just like to meet some great people.”

Annika van Oosbree