Brock ESL students learning English in a virtual world

Until March, a walk through the halls of the International Centre, located on the east-end of Brock University’s main campus, would show how practicing with your peers is essential in learning a new language.

“At lunchtime, we see hundreds of students from around the world interacting and practicing their English together,” said Program Assistant for Brock ESL Services Mehdi Mezhoud.

With in-person classes largely postponed for the 2020 Fall Term, Brock ESL Services needed to work quickly to replicate their on-campus feel in a new, virtual world.

Mezhoud, a second-year Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) student from Tunisia, is a program assistant and one of several staff responsible for implementing the new initiatives with students.

“I use my past experiences to help the students overcome language, as well as cultural barriers, with an open mind, all while keeping in touch with them the same way I would do at the International Centre,” said Mezhoud.

Hima Kasuga.

Of their new initiatives, one of their most popular with students is their conversation groups. In this activity, students are divided into groups of six sharing similar interests and meet online each week to practice their English language skills in a relaxed atmosphere.

“We shared some thoughts or experiences based on the theme, which Mehdi gave us,” said level 5 ESL student Hima Kasuga. “It was interesting to listen to what other friends from different countries experienced or thought.”

Kasuga, who comes from Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, started classes at Brock in February before COVID-19 moved programming online.

“To speak in English in front of many friends and sometimes be praised for what I spoke or how I spoke gave me more confidence to speak in English,” said Kasuga.

Another unique approach to improving English skills is their Saturday language games. Each week, students get together online to play various games based on English vocabulary, speaking and listening skills. Amongst these games are tongue twister competitions, Pictionary, spelling bees and vocabulary contests.

“In order to motivate students to participate to these activities, we tied their participation grade to their attendance,” said Mezhoud.

At the end of the Spring Term, Mezhoud noticed the students were more likely to engage with each other in English and use more challenging language to communicate.

Optional activities were also created, where students listen to music or play videogames together.

While formal classes are essential in providing the fundamentals in learning a new language, Brock’s experiential approach to learning is providing to be an invaluable tool in a student’s personal development.

“As an international student, I can confirm that a lot of my English language education occurred outside of class,” said Mezhoud.

More information about Brock’s ESL Services and their available programs can be found on their website. Students interested in enrolling during the Fall or Winter semesters are encouraged to email to have their questions answered by one of Brock’s international recruitment officer’s.

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