Performing arts, resumé writing will teach English to students in UNT immersion program

ESL program
Elizabeth Schalchlin, then a master’s student in the University of North Texas’ ESL program, leads students from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico in vocal exercises during the 2010 Summer Institute at UNT.
Tuesday, June 28, 2011

DENTON (UNT), Texas -- Acting out a conversation between a parent in a grocery store and his or her small child, who keeps pestering the parent for candy, may not seem like a method for learning English.

But improvisation, scripted skits, vocal warm-ups with recitation of sounds, and even a flash mob will provide students from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico practice in improving their English during this year's Summer Institute at the University of North Texas. Approximately 50 students from the university, known as UAEM, are expected to attend the institute, which will be July 2-16 this year. 

The institute has been offered for the past four years by UNT's Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication. Katie Crowder, senior lecturer in the department and institute director, said the institute's mission is to provide a unique English language program through cultural immersion and experimental learning.

"The program promotes fluency through social interaction and engagement with the UNT, Denton and Dallas-Fort Worth communities," Crowder said. "Although the students are studying English for six hours a day, our program is not a traditional classroom experience at all. The classes focus on American culture instead of content in a textbook."

In addition to providing students with ESL classes according to their proficiency level, this year's institute will offer four different tracks -- Performing Arts. Fine Arts, UNT Scholar and Professional Development. Students of all proficiency levels will meet together for three hours per day in the tracks to do creative and academic activities, conversing with each other in English and so increasing their vocabulary. All of the classes are taught in English, and students are requested to only speak English during class.     

"Just as an athlete warms up for a sport, I try to get the students to warm up for speaking English by doing the vocal exercises," said Elizabeth Schalchlin, who recently received her master's degree in ESL from the department and is teaching the institute's Performing Arts Track this year. "They also work in teams to create their skits, and will work together this year to create a flash mob, so they will be having conversations with those who may know more or less English than they do." 

Schalchlin, whose hobby is performing in variety shows as a comedian and emcee, also taught in the institute last year and in 2009. She said she saw a huge difference in students' confidence levels in speaking English from the first day to the last day of the institute.

"I never thought that some of them would be comfortable performing a skit, in English, in the closing ceremony, but they did. I was amazed that they learned their lines," she said.

In the Fine Arts Track, students learn English by reading poetry, creating origami and a mural and possibly studying street art in Denton. The Professional Development Track students create resumés and online portfolios and do practice job interviews, while the UNT Scholar students -- those who hope to enroll at UNT -- sit in on summer session classes and tour different areas of the campus.

The Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication began the Summer Institute at the request of administrators at UAEM, which has had a connection to UNT since July 2002. Faculty members and students from both campuses collaborate on academic programs and in research projects in materials science, environmental science, physics and related fields. UNT and UAEM also both have offices to provide information to students and faculty members about research projects and academic opportunities at the two campuses

Chip Cullum, a recent graduate of the ESL master's degree program, taught the lowest level of English speakers at last year's Summer Institute and will teach this group again this year, in addition to leading the Fine Arts Track.

"I have the students look at stereotypes of U.S. and Mexican culture and study American college students by interviewing UNT students," said Cullum, who has also taught beginning English speakers in Japan. "Instead of telling them that we will study past progressive or memorize verb tenses, I have the students use English to do tasks. The grammar rules become a natural part of speaking the language, which is the way that you use language in the real world."  

In addition to speaking English in their classes, the students practice the language by meeting each day in their conversation groups, which are led by UNT undergraduates who are native English speakers.

Crowder said that because last year's students said they wanted to socialize more with native English speakers, this year's students will be required to participate in evening activities, going to local coffee shops, events at UNT and to UNT's recreational center with their conversation groups. They students will go on weekend field trips to shopping malls, the Dallas Zoo and Dallas' Arts District and West End, and attend the Independence Day celebration at UNT's Fouts Field.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108