At the beginning of my application last year, I was very motivated to regain my English. I took online classes, memorized words, and did TOEFL reading every day to prepare to get a better score in the TOEFL test, so that I could apply directly to the 2021 graduate program. However, amidst my busy work schedule, and since I seldom spoke English at work, it was very difficult to try to find time to study English. There was no English language environment, and I did not have enough time to prepare for the exam.
I had to find time to digest the learning content after work and take high-density classes on weekends, as well as the pressure of work. After studying for a period, by the time the graduate application opened, my English level had not significantly improved. Furthermore, because of the impact of the pandemic last year, there were many delayed students and the competitive pressure of applying for fall 2021 were relatively large.
How I decided to take RIT’s English proficiency test
At that time, I noticed that RIT had an English Language Center (ELC) with its own proprietary testing system. The test is divided into several sections, somewhat like the TOEFL home exam. The advantage is that each section can be taken separately, and the appointment times are more flexible, which means that you can complete one section at a time without a lot of stress. So I took the school's English proficiency test.
Comparison and choice
At the end of the day, RIT made me an offer, but I needed to take language courses to strengthen my English. My major professor was very nice and allowed me to take my English classes at the same time as my academic classes, rather than having to spend an additional year studying English in the US before even being able to begin my academic study in my graduate program. He also helped me coordinate my class schedule. This arrangement solidified my choice to enroll at RIT last year.
My English teacher in my hometown had told me that language classes always cost more than 100,000RMB (approximately $15,000 US dollars). That wouldn’t have been a cost-effective choice especially for students with tight schedules and limited budget. She suggested that the best way was to prepare the TOEFL to get good grades and take direct admission.
On one hand, the difficult thing for me in learning a language is the need of a step by step. It is hard for me to make rapid progress without a language environment. After comparing the language courses at RIT, the tuition fee was about one-tenth what she had suggested, which is similar to the price of English classes in China. In this way, I chose to take English language courses at RIT.
In my opinion, because everyone’s situation is different, the best way to choose a major or a college is to find what you really want after comparison, rather than listening to the experience of others.
Adaptation and effort
Encouraging discussions with a diversity focus
We have students from five different countries in this language class, and we all come from different majors. Whenever we have a class, we are divided into different groups to discuss. It is a very good exercise. The teacher encourages each one of us to express our point of view, and you can also hear different views on a topic from different majors and different countries.
Improving writing skill with graduate level assignments
A very important point in English language classes is to do more exercises. The writing class I learned focused on some of the most commonly assigned types of graduate writing assignments – this allowed us to learn a variety of writing genres that I am not familiar with but will likely have to write as an RIT graduate student (ex: case study, reflection, data commentary, research paper). Also, I feel that my classmates are very self-driven. After class, we discuss homework together during the zoom meeting.
After teaching a particular writing skill or strategy, students will be given a number of examples, followed by some analysis and revision exercises, followed by independent practice with instructor’s feedback. This approach ensures that students have significant examples and models to understand the skill and practice applying it themselves in a variety of ways before being evaluated on it.
Making friends and expanding my culture and vision
My class schedule ended around lunchtime. Our group would meet in the cafeteria and try different types of foods together. Once we ate sushi and I taught the other students how to use chopsticks. Another time we had burgers and talked about how KFC food tastes different in each one of our countries of origin. We all love to eat, and food knows no borders, so we have a lot to talk about when we talk about food. The class’s diversity improved my ability to interact with students from other cultures, and expanded my international vision.
Making Progress Step by Step
The first time I handed in my homework for one of my major class, my professor said, "I feel that your writing is not yet at the level of graduate students.” Before I went abroad, I wrote English essays of 200 words at most. Once here my first assignment was an English essay of 1000 words, which was a big challenge.
The language class helped me a lot in how to write my essays. English writing is just like Chinese writing in that there are rules and regulations on how to make an argument, how to develop an argument, and how to give the essay "flow". By mastering these skills, you can quickly take your writing to the next level.
Halfway through the semester, my professor mentioned that my writing had improved significantly, and while I know I still need to improve, at least when I am faced with an essay, I am not at a loss for words as I was at the beginning of the semester.
Overall, the English language courses allowed me to target my deficiencies more effectively. I feel that language classes are a more effective means for international students to improve their English language skills. Indeed, English is not our native language. There are accents, grammatical errors, and lack of fluency in expression, all of which are challenges we face when we go abroad. What we need to do is to be positive about our English language deficiencies and try to improve quickly through language classes, writing centers, etc., so that language does not become a barrier to our learning expertise.