English for the World

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 12.11.09 PMby Kimberly A. Reid

From the Mongolian steppe to Central American rain forests to the African savanna, BYU’s English Language Center (ELC) has blessed thousands of lives worldwide since it opened its doors in 1989. In an unassuming brick building in a corner of the LaVell Edwards Stadium parking lot, BYU students learn to teach English as a second language (ESL), students from some 104 countries gain English skills to prepare them for study at an English-medium university or for business success back home, and General Authorities brush up on their English before general conference. Then those people step out of the ELC doors and use their new abilities to help others.

“As they leave they take the very best things that we’re doing here and export them—take them with them and implement them in other places around the world,” says James Hartshorn, the center’s program coordinator. “I think that their experience here rivals, if not surpasses, any kind of program like this in the world.”

Mongolian Volunteers

Now another group can be considered among the ELC’s newest beneficiaries: English-speaking volunteers bound for Mongolia—and the people they teach when they arrive in that country.

In June 2010 Mongolia asked that volunteers entering the country to teach conversational English be certified in teaching English. Norman Evans, now the chair of BYU’s Department of Linguistics and English Language, and his colleague Neil Anderson, director of the Center for English Language Learning at BYU–Hawaii, were contacted by BYU’s international vice president Sandra Rogers, who asked if they might be able to help.

When they considered the question, it dawned on them: “We’ve got this really powerful, intensive English program,” says Evans of the BYU ELC. “Why don’t we put the volunteers down there at the ELC, have them observe classes, have them teach classes, have them develop lessons, and [have them] go through those lesson plans with a master teacher?”

Over the last couple of years the training process has evolved. It currently consists of two parts: an online training component and a practicum experience that the volunteers complete at the ELC before heading off to Mongolia. Once in country, they typically teach English for 12 hours a week in a variety of contexts such as public schools, private schools, IT parks, or language institutes.

The first round of volunteers who went to Mongolia with the ELC training under their belts are starting to come back—some of them with the desire to teach English as a second language for their careers. “One is now back at BYU–Hawaii getting a bachelor’s degree in TESOL [teaching English to students of other languages],” says Evans, “and there have been several who have said, ‘I think I might come back to this MA program when I get through.’ I hope they do.”

A Personal Focus

The international impact of the ELC, however, is not a new phenomenon. Hartshorn says both the graduate students who teach there and the language-learners themselves go all over the world, from South America and Asia to universities in the United States and Qatar. The program and its curriculum are designed to empower students to succeed anywhere.

While most ESL programs focus on the students learning English, Evans says BYU’s program has two more emphases: first, prepare BYU students to become teachers, and second, share their research with the world. “I’ve seen many intensive English programs, and there’s nothing quite like this. This is a lab school. We’re training our students to be teachers,” says Evans. “It does impact people’s lives throughout this community and throughout the world.”

Because the BYU student teachers in the center are invested in their own education, their enthusiasm rubs off on the English-language learners. “They’re focused on personal needs here,” explains William Cordova, a native Spanish speaker studying English at the center. “They actually base the teaching on people and on students.”

Cordova, who comes from a rural area in El Salvador, had dreamed of learning English and one day studying at BYU. “When I found out about the ELC and I realized it was a part of BYU—and that it was based on Church principles—it caught my attention immediately.”

Now finishing up his last semester in the academic program, a track designed for students hoping to attend an English-medium university, Cordova recently submitted his application to BYU and plans to complete a degree in computer science. Eventually he would like to fulfill his lifelong dream of working for the U.S. embassy in his home country. “They’re always helping the country’s development,” says Cordova. “They’re involved in the community as well, so I want to be a part of it. I want to help as much as I can—to help my country and my community there.”

Lin Zhang, a second-semester ELC student from China, also wanted to study English because she recognized the power it could have in her life. After completing her studies at a university in China, she worked for a small art gallery, where she met visitors from around the world. Without her rudimentary English skills and a trusty English dictionary, she would not have been able to communicate with many of the patrons. She hopes that her English will improve enough to go to a university and get a master’s degree in business or public administration. “Even though every country has their language, we both use English to talk,” Zhang says.

Hartshorn has been involved in teaching English as a second language for 30 years. As program coordinator of the ELC, he works hard to maintain a positive atmosphere in the center for the students he has invested in. “We have people that have made great sacrifices financially to come to America, where it’s so expensive to live, and yet their lives change. They learn English, they help their communities and neighbors, [and] they are able to go back to their country and help their people because of the education that they get. English allows them to do things that they couldn’t do otherwise.