Dr. David Quinn and Dr. Shelley Saltzman Help English Learners Excel

Columbia University's American Language Program (ALP) offers several courses for international students who have been admitted to the Columbia school of their choice but need to further develop their English skills before pursuing their degrees. With the English for Professional Purposes (EPP) program, the ALP prepares students for business, law, international and public affairs (SIPA), and social work with intensive summer coursework that develops students' written and spoken English skills within the context of their respective fields. Here, we speak with David Quinn, senior lecturer and former director of ALP, and Shelley Saltzman, associate director of ALP, about what the EPP experience is like and how Columbia's ALP brings New York City into the classroom.

Can you give me an overview of the EPP courses?

DQ: The ALP offers full-time, intensive English study, but the EPP offerings are specialized courses for professional purposes. They take place in the summer, and some of them have grown to a two-course sequence that includes the fall.

SS: Prospective students cannot register directly into an EPP course; the courses are mandated for some international students by the school to which they have been accepted. It's a benefit for those going into those programs: "I can get my social work degree and improve my English as well!" It's another tool for their toolbox.

What is the scope of the EPP courses?

SS: For us as directors, we look at the curricula and see what the students need to succeed in their degree programs and work that into the courses. Take a communications-focused curriculum, for example, where there will ultimately be a course in storytelling: In the summer EPP program, there are a lot of field trips where they leave campus and investigate demographics. And in the fall, they do things where they listen to stories, read stories, and do verb tense sequencing. This helps prepare them for the course and for writing a story.

That's interesting that they're taking these field trips into the city. Can you tell me more about those field trips?

SS: It allows us to take New York and bring it into the classroom. For instance, in the law program, they have the wonderful opportunity of meeting an appellate court judge, Denny Chin. He meets with them individually, chats with them, gives them a few cases that he decided, asks them what their decisions would be, and allows them to interview him. In this case, that class has a huge cohort of Asian students, and he's the first Asian American appellate court judge, so he speaks about that.

So the class offers English language skills, immersion in the legal language, exposure to the legal environment, and cultural insight.

Is there anything else you'd like to share about the summer EPP program?

SS: Our EPP is fairly unique; I believe ALP had one of the first English for legal purposes courses. English for business is fairly widespread, but English for international affairs, we're probably one of the first.

Do you have any outstanding success stories from the EPP courses?

SS: In terms of EPP Law, I know some of those students have gone on to some of the best law firms in New York. Sullivan & Cromwell have hired graduates of EPP Law. Usually, we visit their law firm, and the students from the previous year are there to greet the students of this year.

How does EPP help international students adapt to a new environment?

SS: Right, sometimes it's language that prevents them from succeeding, but sometimes it's also the newness of the academic environment. If you come from an educational environment where you don't speak up during class and you don't question the professor, and now you're in a class where your silence is construed in a way you didn't expect, that culture shift is difficult.

So we incorporate that into the curriculum. Sometimes it's a matter of cultural adjustments in an academic environment: how to participate in a discussion, how to grab the floor and keep the floor – these are very different in different places.

Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

DQ: I wanted to point out, it's not a matter of remediating this group of people. We help our students stand up and say what their perspective is. Especially at an elite university, it's a matter of not just surviving but excelling. We're trying to push our students to truly excel to compete with the creme de la creme out there.

SS: The ALP program helps to internationalize the university and give everyone a more global perspective. We see the addition of international students into other programs as a great benefit for the other programs, not just the students.