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Is English a certificate for global newcomers in Wales?

For students from China like Ruofei Shang, studying in UK is not easy as she has to face a lot of problems alone, headed by the language barrier. “I’m afraid that I cannot understand Welsh people because of their accent,” she said.

Miss Shang has received a conditional offer from Cardiff University for the year 2013-2014. But first she to provide an IELTS test score that reaches her major’s standard to update the offer as unconditional. Otherwise, she is required to attend at least 8 week pre-session English class before the semester begins.

Every year international students come to Wales and study here. Some are from European countries, who’s English learning system is generally better than their counterparts from other parts of the world, for instance, China.

Emma Davies, teacher integrated in the English Language Programme´s Team in Cardiff University, has taught English for nearly one year especially for journalism students. She told The Archer: “The courses are set by us and students’ tutors, so we try to match what’s happening in students’ studies to what we do in class.”

Not only international students, there are people coming from all around the world to Cardiff to work or make a living. Making a life in such a big city is never easy, especially for those who face a language problem.

Although Mr. Mohammed from Sudan used to work as a guard in his home nation, now he finds that it is hard for him to be employed in Wales. His friend Mike said: “If he had money, he would put it in his pocket. But unfortunately, he has none.”

After being recognised as a refugee, Mr. Mohammed had the legal rights to work legally on the country. Compared with other asylum seekers who are still waiting for the result of their application, he is lucky. But he cannot find a job because his English is still not considered good enough.

This has significantly influenced Mr. Mohammed’s life in Cardiff. Without stable income, he cannot afford family expense. On a long term, this situation could even harm his psychological health.

For both international students like Shang or refugees like Mr. Mohammed, English seems to be a huge card to draw when deciding their future. If they fail to communicate with locals, they may not be able to ever get involved in the society.

Learning English is quite important for international immigrants.

Learning English is quite important for international immigrants.

But the problem faced by Miss Shang and Mr. Mohammed is a slight different one. Miss Davies pointed out that for international students, what they lack is the ability of using proper English for an academic level.

“Maybe they are fluent in English in conversational style, which is not always appropriate for academic study at university level. Initially their weakness is changing the style from conversational to academic style. Mostly for writing, but also for giving presentation,” Miss Davies told The Archer.

Students in Cardiff University are encouraged to attend English Language Programmes (ELP). This free course aims to help students to get used to academic English. Students can take an exam in advance so that teachers can make strategies, targeting on their weakness.

“It’s not compulsory. It’s optional but they are strongly recommended. I think it’s written in the course guide that if your mark does need support, you really should attend because if your English is poor, you might not do it as well as other people,” Miss Davies said.

For refugees and asylum seekers however, essential communication skills are the more instrumental. What they need is basic English to interact with locals when they go out to public places. More seriously, during the application procedure, they have to meet both lawyers and officers from UK Boarder Agency. A better level of English also enables them to be more confident. They can express their ideas properly and get more opportunities to be employed after they get a legal civil identity.

A lot of organisations in Cardiff were established to help refugees and asylum seekers with their English in Cardiff. For instance STAR (Student Action for Refugee) holds a drop – in session every Wednesday evening. Students from both Cardiff University and other collages are welcomed here to teach refugees and asylum seekers basic English language skills.

The English for Speakers of Other Languages Service (ESOL) also provides free classes. “Our courses are set to improve essential English skills,” an ESOL spokesperson told the Archer.

“Attend our course and practice with local people as more as they can,” they said.

Miss Davies also stressed that students should always come to the ELP classes in university. “Students should always expose themselves to as much English as possible. So if you have a lot of people from one country coming to study together in a place, they should really try to make friends with other nationalities and home students as well,” she added.

Learning and living abroad is not simple tasks, especially when they are combined together. Students, asylum seekers and refugees alike face and tackle the same problems alone, sometimes even without the support from family members.

English is becoming a certificate for them. Certificates can be forged by people, but life can’t.

Annie Yang

The Parade ESOL Service (English for Speakers of Other Languages):  http://www.cardiff.gov.uk/content.asp?nav=2869,3067,3924&parent_directory_id=2865&id=2142 

Learn English in Wales: http://www.englishinwales.org.uk/

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