When Marco Bonett-Matiz GRD ’16, a 7th-year Ph.D. candidate, organized a series of workshops for physics teaching assistants last year, he noticed that almost all of the Asian TAs stopped attending by the second session. Puzzled at first, Bonett-Matiz later received feedback that his workshops were not tailored for or mindful enough of TAs who did not speak English as their first language.
Bonet-Matiz said that while he is not sure how he could solve this problem, his experience shows that graduate students who speak English as a second language need to be made aware of the on-campus resources available to them. One such resource is the English Language Program, which was founded to serve all members of the Yale community who do not speak English as their first language. The unit mainly serves graduate and professional students and has been particularly successful in attracting visiting scholars, but program director Jim Tierney echoed Bonett-Matiz’s critique that not enough people know about ESL resources. Tierney added that ESL faculty members and graduate students also face the stigma of seeking help.
“One significant barrier for advanced second-language speakers is the false belief that language and writing support are inherently remedial, or intended for lower-level learners,” Tierney said, adding that, as a result, some faculty members he works with seek the program’s help discreetly.
The ELP currently offers a range of services, including writing workshops where graduate students exchange and critique each other’s written work and one-on-one consultations with faculty members. Tierney said the program focuses on improving and editing academic writing, such as grant applications and published work, though ELP instructors also offer spoken language and pronunciation tutorials.
Often, Tierney said, the main obstacle for ESL faculty and graduate students is not in the nuts and bolts of grammar, but in the nuances of vocabulary and meaning.
“A lot of our work is diagnostics,” he said. “Sometimes people come to us to proofread their paper, but once you scratch the surface, you realize that there are miscommunications between languages.”
All five graduate students and faculty members interviewed who have taken advantage of ELP resources said they have had extremely positive experiences with the ELP. Several of them said that they feel a stigma against seeking help.
A former Yale postdoc, who is now a faculty member at another university and asked to remain anonymous due to stigma faced by ESL instructors, said he found the ELP program useful when he was preparing job applications. Still, he said ESL students and faculty face more challenges in their academic work because of the language barrier but are often reluctant to seek help.
“I have many such experiences, even now as a faculty member,” he said. “And it gets more difficult for me to look for help, because sometimes it is expected you’re already a master of English.”
Economics professor Jose-Antonio Espin-Sanchez said his department’s director of undergraduate studies recommended the ELP to him. He said as the University attracts the best professors from all around the world, students should be accommodating of faculty with foreign accents.
Despite concerns about stigma, there appears to be an increasing willingness — among faculty at least — to raise awareness about the ELP.
Film and Media Studies professor Francesco Casetti, who was involved with the ELP when he first arrived at Yale six years ago, said he is currently planning a series of workshops between the Film and Media Studies graduate program and the ELP to make his students aware of the resource. He said the program is particularly useful for his department, as many graduate students are international.
The ELP is currently located at 370 Temple St., where it occupies several floors of Dow Hall. However, the ELP recently became a part of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Tierney hopes that the ELP will attract more faculty members through this new relationship.
“We are working with our new colleagues at the Center for Teaching and Learning to find better ways of making faculty aware of our services and routing them to us,” Tierney said.
The ELP is part of the Center for Language Study.