Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Imaginative approach to English

Global center begins summer language program

S’mores?

How does one explain this word to a group of international students whose first language is not English?

That was the challenge that language specialist Kara Burrage had one morning this summer while teaching a group of high school students from Nanjing, China, as they participated in Wheaton’s new summer English program.

So she started by teaching them the word “marshmallow,” the main ingredient in the gooey American campfire treat of graham crackers, roasted marshmallows and chocolate.

With “s’mores = some more” written across the blackboard in a Meneely classroom, Burrage handed out marshmallows from a large bag. Each student gingerly bit into the spongy sweets.

“Do you know what these are?” she asked.

They each guessed in their native Mandarin.

“How about in English?” she reminded them, and then explained the ingredients of s’mores, as well as the contraction of “some” and “more.”

It was a fun moment during serious study. And it was in keeping with Wheaton’s practical yet imaginative approach to helping students hone their English language skills.

The Center for Global Education began the three-week summer English program in July 2010, under the guidance of Alfredo Varela, global center dean, and Jill Ostrowski, associate director and international student advisor.

They, along with other staff members, spent more than a year developing the program. As part of Wheaton’s growing involvement in global education, the program seeks to give students a chance to improve their English; a firsthand experience with U.S. culture; and advice about the possibility of attending college in the United States. At Wheaton, perhaps?

“Understanding that internationalization is an ever-important aspect of our campus community and that it means more than sending students overseas really supplied the energy for this project,” said Varela. “I think this fits in well with other institutional goals, including making better use of the facilities in the summer and establishing more Wheaton educational initiatives. This program will also further advance the Wheaton name overseas as a partner in global education.”

This year, 35 students attended classes that were taught by three Boston-area English language teachers. Students spent three hours a day in morning classes and enjoyed social activities in the afternoons and evenings. On the weekends, they took excursions to Boston and New York City, accompanied by Wheaton student counselors Yang Li ’13, Marco (“Sebastian”) Gallardo ’13 and Rebecca Procter ’12. They also hung out with their peers at nearby Norton High School.

While the traditional classroom lessons explored important concepts like the meaning of words in context, the cultural and social events allowed students to practice English outside of the classroom, as well as have some fun.

Judging by the spirited basketball game a group of students played one afternoon in Clark Center, “hot-dogging” looks about the same in any language.

The global center hopes to expand the program next year by doubling the number of students and broadening the geographic representation, said Varela.

“In addition, the global center wants to find ways to make substantive contributions to the college. We feel this program does that in a concrete manner,” he said. “We hope this program will serve as an additional point of contact for those looking to study in the United States. We want the center to be seen as an international education hub—not simply as a place students go for advising about study abroad.”

To see more photos of the students, visit blogs.wheatoncollege.edu/globaled/.