For students coming to Full Sail from another country, the process of navigating language and cultural barriers while obtaining a degree might seem daunting. Full Sail’s English as a Second Language (ESL) certificate seeks to make the transition easier on incoming international students by providing an immersive learning experience prior to entering a degree program.
“If you connect with a location and you feel at home, you can learn a language much faster,” says Program Director Tereza Vieira-Reed. “So ours is a completely immersive series of courses.”
Because each student enters ESL at a different point in their journey toward language acquisition, all applicants take a language assessment. This places them in one of four levels of proficiency. Depending on which level they test into, certification takes anywhere from two to nine months.
During that time, students take a variety of field trips, all of which focus on task-oriented problem solving. One assignment has students write to their future selves, then go to the post office to mail the letter. Along the way, they must interact with post office employees and other customers, practicing their conversation skills in order to complete the task. Similar assignments may require students to go grocery shopping, or attend an event at the Full Sail Live venue.
“It’s not just about writing skills, but also public speaking and learning to not be self-conscious about your accent. You have to be able to clearly convey a message in order to be present yourself in a professional manner,” says Tereza.
Students who enroll in ESL courses receive an iPad and language learning software designed to supplement coursework. Course Directors customize digital texts for each class, and instructors use iTunes U as a digital repository for academic assets. The mobility of the tablets enables students to take their resources virtually anywhere. This unique, mobile approach to learning has earned Full Sail’s ESL certificate recognition within the academic field of English as a Second Language, says Tereza.
“Several of our instructors have been selected to present at international conferences, showing exactly how we use technology,” she says.
In addition to mobility, Tereza and her team also strive for a deep level of understanding between students and the Full Sail community. Tereza often pairs up people from different levels of study. This strategy provides support to students who need it and allows students who are further along in language acquisition to deepen their understanding through teaching others. All students also have the option to pair up with conversation partners in other departments. If a student is interested in Entertainment Business, for instance, they would be able to sit down with an instructor from that program and interview them.
“It’s a custom series of courses oriented around Full Sail and the degree programs. Every course has assignments that can be modified based on a student’s interests. So if a student likes music rather than film, we can have them develop an assignment related more to music,” explains Tereza.
ESL courses also familiarize students with Full Sail’s online learning system and message boards, so by the time they start their degree they’re already knowledgeable about those aspects of campus life. Tereza says it’s not uncommon for herself and her staff to check in with students around campus even after they’ve completed their certificate.
“We’re able to see them and ask how they’re doing,” she says. It’s this spirit of support that drives the ESL team. “Really, that’s what we do. We try to welcome students to this part of their professional journey.”