English training program developed

In an attempt to attract a larger international presence, Wilfrid Laurier University has introduced The Laurier English and Academic Foundation (LEAF) Program, an English-as-a-second language (ESL) preparatory program designed to assist international students in developing the skills needed for success in a Canadian post-secondary institution.

Dave McGuire, the manager of international recruitment, spearheaded the project in order to recruit a larger number of international students and to create a program targeted at language development in an academic field.

“One of the ways to improve our international student numbers was the development of an in-house language training program so that we could recruit students that met the university academic requirements but for some reason didn’t do the standardized English proficiency test or have a high enough score,” he said.

The LEAF program, based at the Brantford campus, essentially draws students from numerous non-English countries and helps them develop and prepare for an English university by providing university-like lectures and classroom environment.

It also offers residence on campus or with host families.

With experienced instructors from Canada and abroad, preparatory “core” English courses such as academic listening and speaking, punctuation, reading and writing are offered to the students.

“Typically in language-based programs, the classroom environment is more relaxed,” explained Fred Perkins, the ESL facilitator for the LEAF program in Brantford.

“The main thing is to have an atmosphere that is very positive and to allow students to have a forum in which they can practise and improve their English abilities.”

As well, the program has a conditional offer for students who do not have the required TOEFL or IELTS English test scores.

“Tests are expensive and they are really quite stressful. Students spend like a year in a private school preparing for some of these tests and some write them a number of times,” McGuire continued, “Having a student go through an academic English program is generally more favourable than having them submit a test.”

The program has five intake dates throughout the year to give plenty of opportunity for students to join the program. Once enrolled, the student will be tested and placed into a “level”, and must complete the program’s fifth level with a grade of at least 70 per cent in order to fulfill Laurier’s English proficiency requirements. Each student goes through at least one ten-week cycle of instruction.

Since its launch in September 2010, the program has had six graduates from the first cycle, five of which are now undergraduates at the Waterloo campus with the sixth at Brantford. According to McGuire and Perkins, students are responding well to the program.

With 20 students currently enrolled, McGuire hopes for that number to double by the third intake on Jan. 31.

Tom Buckley, VP of academic services at WLU, also commented on the growth of the program, “The program will grow modestly and incrementally for the next year or so, until it gets up over 100 students. We are proceeding almost in lock-step with our enrolment projections.”

McGuire, with the growth of the LEAF program and his experience in language training, is hoping to acquire the funds to create better opportunities, such as language labs, for international students at Laurier.

“It is kind of like a mini-faculty,” he added, “And things like this cost money.”