ESL Meets DSL

Adult students learning to speak English as a second language benefit from a culturally contextual approach—sentences and paragraphs that reflect contemporary culture and business practices. Not only do the students then learn English, but along the way they also learn many of the actual words and phrases English speakers use in everyday life. With computers such an omnipresent force in contemporary life, making them the theme of an ESL course makes sense. One such course is being offered by Contra Costa College's English for International Students (EIS) department, where students study English in the context of the Internet.

Helen Kalkstein Fragiadakis, chair of CCC's EIS department, teaches the English through the Internet course. The course, which enrolls 10-15 intermediate to advanced ESL students, teaches general English skills (vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, reading, and listening) using, in large part, the Internet as source material. The foundation of the course is GlobalEnglish.com, an online English language learning service, which offers more than 700 hours of coursework on its Web site. Kalkstein Fragiadakis, who is also a textbook author and member of the GlobalEnglish advisory board, discovered that the Internet had a lot to offer her students. "Using the Internet, they get to read current material that is always being updated. It's always fresh content. The GlobalEnglish site is written with the ESL student in mind, so it's a great place for them to start surfing the Web," says Kalkstein Fragiadakis.

Kalkstein Fragiadakis's students came to the class with a range of computer experience, from none at all to quite a bit. "We (she and her part-time teaching assistant) did spend some time working with the novices, but the more experienced students helped the ones who knew the least," she notes. She points out that students learn a lot of English while they're learning to use a computer. "Learning computer basics, navigating Web sites, getting information, they use and improve their English skills. They're reading, speaking, listening, all while they're learning about computers."

Each of Kalkstein Fragiadakis's students took a GlobalEnglish placement test, which determined which course they would take to begin their studies. GlobalEnglish offers dozens of levels of exercises, packaged as assignments within courses, both in general English and business English. The site supports 10 languages, with an all-English alternative for anyone who d'esn't speak one of those.

In the course, students worked through exercises both in class and as homework, sent each other e-mail, and chatted with each other in the GlobalEnglish community chat rooms. "Students loved the chat feature, talking with other students from all over the world," notes Kalkstein Fragiadakis. They used both the open chat and hosted chat functions, and occasionally the voice chat, which was great practice but too noisy to use in class on a regular basis. "Chatting and e-mailing helped them speak and write in real English."

Kalkstein Fragiadakis also encouraged students to visit the skills center, essentially an online language lab, as well as the GlobalEnglish "magazine," a page with weekly news, features, games, and an idiom or slang word of the day. Kalkstein Fragiadakis created clever treasure hunts and activities that sent her students through the Web site's many areas looking for particular information, projects that enriched both their computer expertise and language skills.

Beginning this summer, Contra Costa College will offer college credit for online courses in English as a second or foreign language (ESL/EFL) through GlobalEnglish's Web site. Students, who can enroll at Contra Costa from anywhere in the world, will take their courses entirely through GlobalEnglish. Kalkstein Fragiadakis believes this is the first complete college credit program for online ESL study. Elisabeth Xiezopolski, an instructor at Contra Costa, will be the departmental contact person and "e-teacher," and will host the Contra Costa/GlobalEnglish chat room. The courses are all self-paced and require an online final exam. Contra Costa will make as many campus resources available to the online students as possible, including access to the library's database, as well as an online copy of the student newspaper.

Xiezopolski will conduct regular office hours, timed, she says, "to be most beneficial to my students, wherever they happen to be located." Xiezopolski is excited about her new role as an e-teacher. "I'm looking forward to expanding and learning along with my students. It's a great way to have contact with people from all over the world," she says. The course material offers real benefits, she notes. "GlobalEnglish's site gives ESL students quick and easy access to news, and it's fresh all the time. It's really exciting material to work with."

The for-credit online ESL program begins June 25. Helen Kalkstein Fragiadakis will continue to offer "English through the Internet" to on-campus students in coming semesters.

For more information, contact Helen Kalkstein Fragiadakis at hkalkstein@contracosta.cc.ca.us or Elisabeth Xiezopolski at exiezopolski@contra costa.cc.ca.us.

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