A Closer Look at Academic English Studies

Photo Courtesy of Lewis & Clark College

Lewis & Clark’s Academic English Studies (AES) department has existed on campus for more than 40 years and continues to draw new students from across the globe. Although not all students are from international schools, LC has an especially long history of admitting students from universities in Tokyo and Sapporo, Japan.

“Some of the students in AES… take full-time or part-time course loads in our program in order to strengthen their English and academic skills,” Laura Shier, the director of the AES department said. “Other students join us for their semester or year-long study abroad experiences.”

The process of applying to LC as an international student is similar to applying for college domestically in the United States.

“The main difference is that international students whose first language is not English need to submit a standardized English test score,” Shier said. “We do not have courses for beginners, so students must have some experience with learning English.”  

For example, Japanese AES student Hiroyasu Tamura has been studying English grammar since he was five years old.

“My parents said to me that I should study English … I found it really interesting, good to learn,” Tamura said.

Tamura and his classmate Gai Iwatete both went to the same school in Tokyo before traveling to America to participate in AES. However, the two did not actually meet until they moved into the same residence hall at LC.

“I didn’t know him. It was such a huge university,” Tamura said about Iwatete, adding that he knew almost none of the other students at his school in Japan.

At LC, Iwatete and Tamura spend between three and four and a half hours a day studying English in class. After their classes are done, they pass the time much as American college students do, working on their homework before relaxing with extracurricular activities. Iwatete participates in tennis and sailing at LC, and Tamura plays guitar and takes vocal lessons in the Evans Music Center.

It can be challenging for Iwatete to study at a school where most students don’t speak his native language.

“It’s intense for me,” Iwatete said. When language barriers make communication challenging between Iwatete and American LC students, Iwatete says that laughter makes him feel more comfortable. “When I can’t understand what native speakers want to say, I want them to laugh. If the native speakers laugh, I feel good.”

In Tamura’s experience, conversations with English-speaking students become more difficult when there are more than two people in the conversation.

“When I’m talking with my roommate, or someone one-to-one, it’s not so uncomfortable, because they can slow down. But when there are more than two people, the conversation gets much faster,” Iwatete said.

To help international students practice English outside of class, the AES department has a program in which English-speaking LC students serve as tutors for AES students. Shier said that the English tutoring program is beneficial for the American students who serve as tutors, as well as for AES students.

“These opportunities provide experience for students who are considering graduate studies or work in international fields and settings… 40 percent of LC undergrads do not participate in Overseas Studies, but they can experience global diversity by engaging with AES students on campus.”  

Tamura hopes that his command of the English language will help with his academic endeavors when he returns to Japan.

“In my university, I can study subjects in English, so I have some chance to use English.”

Additionally, Iwatete hopes to use his English skills in his postgraduate career.

“I want to get a job that uses English,” Iwatete said, although he has not yet decided on a career path. “I think if I get into a big company, maybe I will use English.”

Shier said that the students who participate in AES programs help make the LC campus more diverse.

“One major benefit to the college is the diversity our students contribute to campus. Without AES, there would not be the same diversity of international students at LC. This includes the many countries AES students come from, as well as the diversity of their life experiences,” Shier said.

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