At X University the English proficiency is low enough for anyone with Basic English proficiency to get in. The minimum required English proficiency TOEFL score is 66 and IELTS 6.0. According to an article by Hannah Muniz on PrepScholar, the average minimum TOEFL requirement for United States universities is 78. Generally speaking, the more competitive the school is the higher the minimum scores are. For instance, at Northeastern University the most completive (most likely to get in) applicants frequently achieve composite scores between 99 and 107 on the TOEFL iBT, 7.0 and 8.0 on the IELTS Academic. The maximum TOEFL score students can get is 120 and the maximum score for the IELTS is 9.0. It was surprising to see that universities such as Harvard and Stanford do not require a demonstration of English proficiency for their undergraduate students. They strongly recommend to take them but it is not a requirement. At Yale University the required TOEFL score is 100 and the IELTS score is 7.0. At Brigham Young University, the required TOEFL is 80 and the IELTS score is 6.5. The focus on TOEFL and IELTS scores is due to the fact that those tests are recognized by almost all United States universities and colleges. As we can see all of the mentioned schools have a higher English proficiency requirement then X University.
At X University the impact of admitting unprepared students is under looked at, the possibility of students' inability to fully understand the course and lesson is not one of the main concerns.
The fact that foreign students might not be able to participate in class due to their inability to express themselves is not considered when setting English proficiency requirements. The possibility of students not connecting with their peers and instructors due to language barriers is underlooked as well.
I came to the United States a few years ago to further my education. Before attending X University, I completed two semesters at an English language center. English is my third language and I could barely speak it when I first came to the U.S. After two consecutive terms, I started looking into Universities. My first choice was at Brigham Young University. I took the TOEFL test so that I could apply since it was part of the international students’ admission requirements. Unfortunately, I scored 5 points below the required score. So I applied to X University since they had a lower requirement and most of the people I knew who couldn’t get to Brigham Young University ended up there.
English deficiency made things very hard for me at the beginning. One of my first courses was Introduction to acting. I was very excited about this class since I used to act at school back home. On the first day of class, the professor asked that we pair up to get to know either other and retain as much information on each other as possible. We were supposed to share the information later on. The instructor gave us a questionnaire to follow. So basically we were just supposed to answer the questions by asking each other. We were on the first row and I was on the first table, consequently, I was supposed to go first and partner next. We had about 20 minutes to answer the questions, and retain the answers. Due to lack of English proficiency my partner spent a good 10 minutes trying to explain the meaning of the questions to me. Afterward, I answered her questions, when it was time for me to get her response our time was up and the only thing I got and retained was her first name. The questions were just basic questions such as our full names, where we are from, our hobbies and so on. I remember standing in front of everyone and the only question I could answer was my partner’s first name. The professor asked if I remainder at least her last name, she came to my rescue and explained that she didn’t give me her last name and that she didn’t get to respond or answer my questions since we run out of time.
I dropped the class the first day after the lecture. I never took an acting class again. It was very embarrassing to be the only one who responded to only one question. I was lost most of the time during the lecture that day.
For my other courses, I used to read at least twice the reading materials in order to understand the content. My work was doubled, sometimes tripled compared to the other local students. I used to spend more time on the exams and be the last person to finish because I had to take extra time to understand the content of the questions that are being asked. I spent the entire term without participating in class discussions because I wasn’t comfortable enough to express myself in front of my peers. English deficiency was a big barrier during my first years at the University. Additionally, I noticed that the other students who didn’t participate either in the class were my follow international students with English as their second or third language.
I created a survey designed and taken by some foreign students. The students who took the survey were all from X University. None of these students are Native English Speakers. The intent of this survey is to determine and validate that English deficiency is a real issue and affect students' academic success in many different ways. I sent the survey questionnaires (see the questions below) via email to some current students and alumnus at the university my problem of practice is based on.
The responses to the questions were very interesting and enlightening. Some of the answers were not as I expected, I assume that's is normal given the fact that people think differently and have different perspectives on matters. Some of the students took the Michigan Language Assessment (MET) test, which is an English test that I wasn't very familiar with. I was expecting most of them to have taken the toefl or ielts; however, most of them took the MET and accuplacer test. Another thing that surprised me was that some of the students were ok with starting college and universities with their low English level even though they were struggling because of it. on the other hand, some wished they had a higher level before starting their programs.
As I was expecting, most of them found at least the first year hard because of the English language. They had a hard time understanding the course materials and had to read the books a few times before going to class. English being their second language it was hard to fully understand the teacher and some had a hard time communicating because of their heavy accents. It was hard for their peers to understand them. one of the current students stated that she doesn't talk in class unless if there is a group project because she felt like she wouldn't be understood or she would have been judged or made fun of because of her accent. Another mentioned challenge was understanding the content of the exam. Some of the words were difficult to understand. The lack of English affected the relationship between these students and their respective teachers and peers.
In conclusion, these students agree that English deficiency is an issue that needs attention. It affects grades and communication. Sometimes you know the answer but cannot express yourself or convey the information. Having a solid English foundation Is very important and helps international students excel academically.
Please find below the questions and answers for the survey. In the survey report, the students are marked as test subjects to protect their identity. The answers are as I received them with no change made to them.