May 8, 2013

International students make the grade

PLATTSBURGH — Marcela Brasil traveled all the way from Brazil to Plattsburgh to study journalism. 

However, the SUNY Plattsburgh student didn’t know much English, and it was definitely a struggle in the beginning.

“It was really hard because people would speak really fast,” she said. “I also have an accent, so they couldn’t understand me sometimes, and I couldn’t express myself.”

English is not the first language of about 80 percent of international students at SUNY Plattsburgh, according to Catrillia Young, associate director of the Global Education Office.

Katherine Friedrich, international application coordinator for that office, said that regardless of one’s native tongue, an adjustment is a normal process when being in a different country.

“(But) the adjustment is harder for students who come to study ESL (English as a second language),” she said.


During her first year, Brasil learned basic English in the college’s ESL Bridge Program; its classes are required for all students whose first language is not English.

Marcia Gottschall, interim coordinator of the ESL program, said some of the international students who come do not need extra work, as their English is as good as Americans’.

“But, that’s a minority, and it’s usually students from Europe, Canada and the Caribbean,” she said. 

“Usually, we already have an idea of their level of English from their TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) and SAT scores before they come to college.”

During their first week in school, Gottschall said, the students take four tests: reading, writing, listening and speaking. Depending on the results, they are placed in the appropriate level class for ESL.

English 100 and English 101 are the two upper-level classes. Other ESL classes include three levels of speaking classes, two levels of grammar and listening classes, vocabulary, conversation, pronunciation, reading and writing classes.

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