Contributor: Carrie McKinnon
‘ An ISS adviser with a background in ESL and coaching can be of great benefit to the student, in all areas of their lives…’
In the world of international student support services (ISS) advisors and counselors at schools across North America, Europe, and Australia have daily interactions with non-native speakers of English. The well-being of an international student, in many cases, absolutely depends on their ISS adviser’s communication skills. An ISS advisor with a background in ESL and coaching can be of great benefit to the student, in all areas of their lives, especially when the focus is on making sure the student understands the full scope of the immigration, work, academic, and cultural norms they are now living with.
I have a personal story about this: In my own days as a student at Georgia State University I was once stopped by a city police officer for crossing the street, in the crosswalk, on a no-walk signal. There were maybe 5 of us all together that were stopped and ticketed. Because GSU is an urban campus, obviously the city police were trying to cut down on students taking over the crosswalks when it is the motorists turn to go.
‘After the judge repeated, very loudly, “YOU NEED TO SAY GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY”, the student looked up and said “guilty?” in heavily accented English.’
There was an international student that was ticketed at the same time as me. On the day we appeared in court, I was advised to plead not guilty by another student that was going through the same thing. When it was my turn to be called up to the judge, I said ‘not guilty’ and they dropped the ticket and told me to go. The international student that had been ticketed with me, however, did not understand what he needed to do. At that time, I was studying applied linguistics and had already begun work part time as an ESL teacher in a center that worked with ESL students matriculating into the U.S. university system. It is for these reasons this guy was on my radar. Instead of leaving immediately after my ticket was dropped, I listened to the student being asked repeatedly what his plead was. He remained silent, looking down, confused and scared. The courtroom was packed and the administrative people, the judge, the police officers, and everyone else in the place had no time for this guy. After the judge repeated, very loudly, “YOU NEED TO SAY GUILTY OR NOT GUILTY”, the student looked up and said “guilty?” in heavily accented English. The judge repeated and said, you are pleading ‘guilty’, is that correct, more silence. This is when I had heard enough and understanding the possible repercussions for an international student entering a guilty plea to anything in a court system, I decided to interrupt. From behind the wooden guardrail, I shouted, ‘He doesn’t know what he’s saying, he needs a translator’. The court was quite annoyed and started in with’ you need to leave’, ‘step back’, ‘you can be arrested for interfering’. The student turned to look at me and I locked eyes with him and said ‘say NOT guilty’. He got it, turned around, ‘not guilty?’. The judge and everyone looked visibly relieved and dismissed his ticket swiftly, I jumped out of the courtroom and took off before I got myself in any more trouble.
‘language coaching is about more than teaching someone a language, it is life skills, emotional intelligence, and self reflection at the very core.’
My story foreshadows my career of dedication to international students as well as marginalized populations in need of exactly the kind of communication channels that Language coaching can provide for students. That’s because language coaching is about more than teaching someone a language, it is life skills, emotional intelligence, and self reflection at the very core. Students can use the self-reflective skills they learn through a language coaching process and apply it to gain insights to help them in the sometimes dangerous world they face when living abroad – before they are fluent in their target language.
It is our responsibility in the education systems that we work in to make sure that these students are getting the best orientation and advice regarding their language usage in English and the different areas of their lives that are impacted by English. Language coaching is unique in its approach because it helps students understand where they need to focus themselves. It doesn’t only ‘teach English’ as a syllabus-lead, pre-determined, objective based approach but rather it focuses in on critical zones of communication, communication outcomes, and individualized language use.
A language coach working with a student would have a rich and informative session with the student after this incident. Gently guiding the student to develop their awareness and around what happened in the entire exchange as far as the usage of English language, how that made them feel, and ultimately what they believe they can do to work on those specific areas of language usage.
International students are moving through the world, using their target language on a daily basis and in a variety of unanticipated situations. Language coaching techniques such as paying special attention to communication outcomes, usage patterns, pain points, and triumphs is a powerful way to approach the study abroad experience from the student’s perspective.