To ESL or not to ESL?

That is the question international students face with ENGL-020.


Ammie Phan, Staff Writer

This semester, Grossmont will be applying a new required supplemental course for international students. English 020 will supplement English 120, the first semester transfer-level composition course, “designed to develop critical reading and writing skills essential to academic inquiry across the disciplines,” according to the Courses of Instruction in Grossmont College’s Catalog 2019-2020. This means that in order to take English 120, there is a requirement of taking English 020, a one-unit class, as a supporting course applied for students who have received the English placement result in English 120 level.

Moreover, by taking English 020 while taking English 120, which is a three-unit class, international students do not need to take any English-as-a-second-language (ESL) courses. That way, they can save their time spending on completing transfer-level ESL coursework requirements, which usually takes one or two semesters— or could take even longer since English is not their first language.

The addition of English 020 to the English program is an implement of Assembly Bill No. 705 (AB-705). In Chapter 745, the bill authorizes the board of governors to, “establish regulations governing the use of measures, instruments and placement models.” This was designed to reach to the maximum time students, particularly international ones, will enter and complete transfer-level coursework: one year for English and mathematics, and three years for ESL instruction.

There have already been some meetings between the school administrators and staff members, mainly from Admissions and Records, Counseling, and the English and ESL Departments. These meetings are to keep them updated with the new regulation and figure out a way to help international students in choosing the right path for completing English requirement coursework before transferring to a four-year university.

For international students, it is an important decision to determine which way works the best for them: spending more time to be more proficient in English comprehension and writing, or skipping the ESL courses to save time and money to complete transfer-level English courses. Under the pressure of AB-705, international students also need to be mindful of their educational plan so they can also work on their financial plan accordingly.

Counselors who work with students to choose classes have the most knowledge about the students’ situation, especially those first encountering English 020 this semester.

“It just gives our students another option besides having to take the ESL classes. Now they have the option of either choosing the ESL or English,” said Narges Heidari, an international counselor at Grossmont.

She also added a lot of international students come to Grossmont with more time in language schools, and taking further ESL classes is a waste of their time, so English 020 “no longer forces them to take ESL.”

Heidari said although English 020 is non-degree applicable and cannot be counted in an international students’ full-time 12-unit minimum, it can be more affordable compared to taking more ESL courses.

For example, if an international student begins with ESL 105 before taking English 120, that student needs to move gradually to ESL 106 and ESL 119 to be able to take English 120, which costs them nearly $5,000 for 16 units (as $311 per unit) in total in two years (four semesters). In comparison, taking English 020 is a one-unit course added to the three units of English 120, so international students just need to pay around $1,200, which is four times cheaper and also takes less time.

“We were putting unnecessary barriers in front of students,” said Dr. Cindi Harris, co-chair of the English Department. “What we recognize is that some students need more support. They need more help, they need more time, they need more access to student services, so that’s why we developed the English 020 class.”

Even though there is a positive perception of the new English course, there are still some concerns. Barbara Loveless, chair of the ESL Department, said that for international students who have no ESL support – especially no grammar support, which is needed in English 120 – and start at a very low level of English, “English 120 is extremely hard.”

Heidari shared the same concern as Loveless regarding the international students who have low-level ESL assessment results, and said that taking English 020 to skip all the ESL classes might create higher risks. Heidari said that ESL-105-level students might struggle and fail English 120; therefore, $1,244 could be wasted.

“It’s a lot of money to lose by experimenting,” said Heidari, adding that she always tells students to think carefully before choosing ESL or English classes, and suggests they drop English 120 during the first two weeks of the semester if they see it is not possible for them to continue the class and choose ESL instead.

In fact, Loveless said even though she has seen a drop in ESL 119 at the very beginning of the semester, she also has been receiving a lot of requests from international students to get back into ESL, mostly in the second week.

English 020 is a new offering, but some international students still take it in advance. Harris said that the English Department opened 18 English 020 classes this semester, and they are all full. “We know that there are many students who are afraid, and part of that class is to address those fears, where they come from and to help students notice that they can be successful in the class,” she added.

For the students’ success, Loveless has some suggestions for the school to support the international students who have difficulty in deciding to take either ESL courses or to take English 120 with English 020 and skip all the ESL. She said having a late start for some ESL classes at the third week of the semester might be a good idea, so that the students who change classes will not miss information from the first two weeks and not be left behind from the course schedule.

She also suggests a way to help international students determine which class is more suitable: “Pick up a book and read its first 20 pages to see how it feels. If you feel overwhelmed, you are right for ESL.” But most importantly, Loveless said that she hopes the students can be “honest with themselves” so that they can be in the right place.
The introduction of English 020 might cause some confusion, not only among the school’s administrators, but also international students. There is nothing ensured right now since the course is new to them, but the school’s administrators and staff members are looking for some positive outcomes.

“It’s a waiting game,” Heidari said. “I am both excited and concerned to see the outcome by the end of this semester.”