Ukrainian students learning how English is taught as second language in U.S.

Thursday, June 7, 2012
Visiting Ukrainian students Olena Melnyk, right, Tetyana Kucher, center, and Kseniia Dabizha listen Wednesday as international students receive their certificates for the completion of an English course at Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

For the past three weeks, several area schools and many classrooms at Southeast Missouri State University have played host to visitors from a faraway place.

Four college students from Ukraine -- Kseniia Dabizha, Olena Melnyk, Tetyana Kucher and Tetiana Bondarenko -- said they've never visited a place like Cape Girardeau. Here, students of all ages have many resources, such as online classes, in-depth language instruction manuals and games for children to help them learn English. They don't have those at home, they said.

What is most different is communication. And that happens to be what they are here to learn about.

"The way people communicate is so different. It's very informal. Here it is student and teacher on equal level," said Dabizha, who, like two of her traveling companions, is studying teaching English at Vinnytsia State Pedagogic University in the central Ukraine city of Vinnytsia.

Bondarenko earned her undergraduate degree from the university last year but is working toward a master's in teaching English.

Visiting Ukrainian student Tetiana Bondarenko applauds Southeast international students Wednesday as they receive their certificates of achievement for the completion of the Intensive English ESL Institute: Pronunciation and Vocabulary at Southeast Missouri State University. (Laura Simon)

The purpose of their visit is to learn how English is taught to non-English speakers in schools and communities of the United States and observe various classroom settings and the communication and relationships between teachers and students. They are the first students from Ukraine to come to Southeast as the result of a partnership between the university and Vinnytsia State. They are taking a four-week practicum course from Southeast.

Irina Ustinova is a Southeast professor who directs the marketing of the university's master's degrees in teaching English to speakers of other languages, or MA TESOL, and certification for teachers of English to speakers of other languages, or ESOL. Ustinova coordinated the students' visit.

Ustinova said the practicum is one of five courses that lead to becoming certified for teaching English in a foreign university -- a nice addition to a related bachelor's degree.

"For them, this is a tryout period," Ustinova said. "To help them decide what to do in the future."

From their interactions with students and teachers in an elementary setting at Prodigy Leadership Academy, a visit to an adult English as a second language program at the Cape Girardeau Adult Education Center and daily observations in face-to-face university courses across majors, the Ukrainian students say they see comfortable and casual interactions. They like what they see, they say, and want to learn and use that interaction in their future careers.

Melnyk said observing interaction between Southeast international students enrolled in a course on English pronunciation and vocabulary and a team of two instructors let her experience how students are encouraged to speak up and feel comfortable openly sharing ideas. In the Ukraine college setting she is used to, more emphasis is placed on reading, she said.

Kucher agreed.

"We are always writing and listening," she said. "People are more afraid to talk, but they are able and they are allowed."

According to the students, the differences between the cultures in educational settings and other areas come down to theirs being more traditional, which they said has its advantages. Students are never interrupted during a class presentation, Kucher said. Mistakes are pointed out after and feedback is given. The students saw feedback given and interaction taking place during similar situations in Cape Girardeau, they said, but one way doesn't necessarily trump the other.

In several settings, the Ukrainian students gave presentations about their country and culture or were allowed to teach vocabulary. Most of the time, that experience wouldn't happen until their third year of college in Ukraine, so they considered it a great opportunity.

All the students said they would like to attend Southeast for a master's degree in TESOL but may not have the resources to make that happen. Ustinova said the partnership makes it possible for the students to obtain a "double diploma" from the universities that is equal to a master's degree from Vinnytsia State and a master's in TESOL from Southeast.

Dabizha said she and the other students want to extend gratitude to the university, its students and instructors and to the Cape Girardeau community where they'll come back to stay for longer if they can.

"Such attitude is not common," she said. "We've been here for three weeks, and the people we've met here act like we've known them for years. We love the people."

The students return to Ukraine on Tuesday.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

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