Upcoming English Learning Centre to assist international students

The SFU Faculty of Education is in the process of launching a new initiative to address the needs of English as an Additional Language (EAL) students, in the form of the Centre for English Language Learning, Teaching, and Research (CELLTR).

The centre will be located in the West Mall Centre near the Centre for Online and Distance Education, with plans to launch sometime next year.

The idea for the space came in 2011 after a “report on EAL came through the senate,” explained David Paterson, associate dean of the Faculty of Education and acting director of the centre.

Since then, he said, “There has been a great deal of talk on how you coordinate the services for EAL students and teachers, and how you understand the kind of diverse community we have here at SFU in terms of your pedagogy and practice.”

According to Paterson, the goal of the initiative is “to curate and try to understand and bring together and organize all of the existing services for EAL learners [as well as staff and faculty] on campus, and then to look at designing programs that may complement those existing resources.”

Ena Lee, an SFU lecturer in the faculty of education whose research is related to EAL learning and teaching, explained that the CELLTR  is unique as it “offers services for students, staff, and faculty.” Not only are EAL students welcome to use the centre, Lee notes, but the programs will also benefit faculty and staff who interact with EAL students on a daily basis.

The centre will address needs that go beyond traditional academic areas, such as language support and language ability, in order to address a broad spectrum of challenges that EAL students face in a post-secondary environment.

Lee explained, “We are looking at overall socio-academic needs [and] how that works for someone who may also be coming from a very diverse language background or a different cultural background.”

She noted that while there are existing services that address such needs — such as health and wellness — “accessing those [services] may be an issue of linguistic access [. . .] or having somebody to assist them and let them know what exists.”

The CELLTR will also be able to connect individuals with services such as Health and Counselling, the Student Learning Commons, and International Student Services, among others.

Although still in its preliminary stages, the centre has already launched several initiatives, including a workshop and seminar series.

The centre will address a broad spectrum of challenges that EAL students face in a post-secondary environment.

The first workshop was called ‘10 Tips for Effective Feedbacking of EAL Students’ Writing.’ The workshop discussed the difference between mistakes and errors, and how to ensure that an instructor is giving feedback when something is actually a linguistic need and not necessarily a simple error.

According to Lee, the need for the workshop arose from the fact that, while faculty members may wish to help EAL students, they may not necessarily have the background to know the most effective approaches to pedagogy.

The centre has also begun a partnership with the Beedie School of Business, the goal of which, as described by Paterson, is to “assess the language and literacy of students who are new to the school and then develop service plans [which could be used] to match students early on with the kind of literacy and communication services they might find useful.”

Paterson added that, in evaluating the success of such programs, “the research component is inextricably woven into all the other goals that we have” and that the centre’s organizers “are looking at [their] key deliverables or performance indicators all the way along through the process.”

While the centre has begun to conduct “preliminary programs that are proof of concept,” the launch date for the physical space will be announced sometime this month and will be scheduled after the spaces’s ongoing renovations are complete.


  1. International students should learn English before they pursue a degree taught in…English…
    I’m Francophone so I know it can be done. I made an effort to learn academic English before attending an Anglophone post-secondary institution. I’m not sure if this new centre is the best use of resources.

    • This is easy to say coming from, what I am assuming to be, a society where that is an option. I just got back from exchange, and as a result I know that “[making] an effort to learn academic English”, or any language for that matter, is not as simple as beating your chest and trying your best. Japan, for example, despite being a highly developed nation, has an extremely poor English curriculum. This poor English curriculum is also standardized across the country, so you can be fairly sure that an extremely high population of Japan was taught English using this poor curriculum. The exceptions are those whose parents had pockets large enough to fund their private tutoring or (continual) language exchange(s).

      And that brings me full circle to the international students who are on exchange at SFU. Typically international students choose an English speaking school to, you guessed it, learn English. If an organization seeks to be paid by a specific type of consumer, they should be understanding of the needs that consumer possesses, or else that consumer were look elsewhere. The same can be said for that of SFU and the international students we provide an education for. For SFU to dismiss that teaching English is a service that most international students desire would be an incredible disservice to those we intend to service.

      • Universities are not places for foreigners to learn English…there are special schools for that. Universities are to advance research and knowledge. If people want to come to Canada to learn English, that’s fantastic, but a university is not the appropriate place to do that, ESL/EAL schools are.

        • “[U]niversity is not [an] appropriate place to [learn English].”

          I don’t really know where you’ve obtained this idea from, but unless you can find somewhere in SFU’s mandate that claims that SFU is not a place for language learning, I don’t think you can sway me on this. Might I remind you that SFU has, not only an English department, but departments for a handful of other languages that don’t assume strength in those languages as a prerequisite. Other than your claim of “this is not the place,” I’m not seeing any reason concrete to the idea that CELLTR is a mistake. CELLTR would create a symbiotic relationship between the students who get help, and the students and staff who offer it. Students from the Faculty of Education would get a chance to work on their ability to educate, and the countless international students that struggle with English that SFU has no trouble taking money from, would get some help. If SFU wanted to keep a standard of English as high as you seem to believe is imperative, SFU would screen those without strong English language skills. But, as we both know, this is not the case, and so it must follow that either SFU is undergoing an identity crisis, or doesn’t mind taking the tuition of those who still need a little help with their English.

          And for the record, saying “universities are to advance research and knowledge” doesn’t at all conflict with the idea of advancing one’s understanding of English.

          • An English major is extremely different from simply learning the basics of the English language. Do you think SPAN 102 and ENGL 101 are on the exact same level? Of course not, ENGL 101 is rigorously literary and academic, whereas in SPAN 102 you learn the alphabet and basic verbs. Based on your argument, the SFU English department is teaching the ABCs to English majors.

            Of course SFU will take money from international students, universities are basically big business, which I find incredibly demoralizing. Anyhow, what I’m ultimately advocating for is the ability to acknowledge that some international students do not have adequate English skills to be considered at the same level as full English-speaking students, and that this is unacceptable at a university. Ideally, it should not be a university’s responsibility to use up resources to teach international students English upon the realization that the int. students they let in can’t actually keep up.

            As for your last point, how can you advance research and knowledge without properly understanding the language of the content you’re studying…?

          • So you’re claiming universities should not give out ANY language aid to ESL students? Or only to a degree? And if only to a degree, what determines that degree? And if you’re saying it shouldn’t give out any aid then you basically are advocating for universities to screen out students who could be geniuses in specific areas like math, physics, economics or basically any subject (with the exception of English) if they don’t have a decent grasp of the English language.

            Clearly exceptional students like these can still add immense value to English universities. Here’s a hypothetical, an ESL math prodige has enough English knowledge to be able to still crush it at math and would even go on to write papers for the university or find proofs for stuff that are world-renowned. But because there is no English aid at his/her university, s/he fails his/her mandatory English class and is forced to leave. It only benefits the university in this example to provide the student with aid.

            Also, I just want to mention that I used math as an example as it was the easiest to demonstrate my point but I could’ve used a lot of other subjects too. Moreover, I realize I also took it to an extreme by specifying extremely smart ESL students, as that is when it is most obvious that it is to the benefit of the university to at least sometimes provide English aid, rather than never, as was suggested.

            Oh and side point, international students pay much much higher tuition and in a way subsidize domestic students’ tuition. So saying that providing them with English aid takes resources away from everyone else isn’t really valid since they pay way more for the education. For all we know, a small part of the reason their tuition is so high is to cover the cost of English aid to them.

          • Well, I’d rather that my degree have value (e.g. a degree is not just handed out to anyone who can pay for it, you have to work for it and be competent in the subject matter) than have some financial subsidies- assuming your claim is even accurate.

            As for your hypothetical example- have you ever looked at the entry requirements for FIC? Because it’s ridiculously easy to get in (you definitely do not have to be a genius), and once you’re in FIC you’re automatically bridged into SFU. FIC is one of the reasons, if not the main reason, why SFU is so overcrowded by sub-par international students.

          • You never answered my question about whether you don’t want ANY aid or just some.

            And my example illustrates that clearly there are circumstances for when providing aid is beneficial. And it illustrates that you don’t have to have a very firm grasp of English to be an asset to the university. In my example the student is still competent in the subject matter and is still working for it. There is no hand out. So the degree still has value, assuming the university only let’s in amazing international students.

            All I’m arguing is that it is beneficial for universities to provide English aid, in at least certain circumstances. This is not specific to SFU. So there’s really no point going into specifics with SFU. We aren’t arguing SFU’s system of acceptance for international students. We are arguing whether they should provide those accepted students with English aid. My guess is that SFU should allow only adequate international students (of at least quality of domestic) in, and raise tuition for domestics to cover the loss of revenue from having less tuition from internationals, but that is completely irrelevant to the argument.

            So as we have established, internationals CAN be just as competent in the subject matter. And they pay a higher tuition, which easily offsets the cost of providing them with English aid.

            So it seems your only problem is that SFU is allowing sub-par internationals in, which I agree is not ideal.

          • “Well, I’d rather that my degree have value (e.g. a degree is not just
            handed out to anyone who can pay for it, you have to work for it and be
            competent in the subject matter) than have some financial subsidies-
            assuming your claim is even accurate.”

            Again, the straw man fallacy. Your degree having value and the institution that gave you that degree having a program that aids EAL students are not mutually exclusive events. Stop phrasing my argument as if I am implying that they are.

            SFU’s entry requirements and their stance on aid for EAL students are, while being relate-able, separate issues. Aid for EAL students not only affects the international students that aim to graduate with a degree from SFU, but also those that are on a study abroad exchange to SFU, with no intention of devaluing the degree that you’re quick to protect. We can have two separate conversations about (1) whether SFU should up their language entry requirements and (2) whether SFU should aid EAL students, but throwing all these tangents into this discussion is solving anything.

            For me, going to university is about the education I am to receive. The prestige of my degree on my resume is second to the skills and knowledge I attain as a result of my time here at SFU. From that standpoint, the inclusion of international students at the school I attend enriches my life, and so I support any notion that enables their inclusion. SFU being “overcrowed by sub-par international students” is not something I am concerned with. My merits alone enable me to stand above the average and get me to the places I want to be, not any prestige of some club I am apart of.

            And lets be honest. If I was looking for prestige, I would have attended UBC.

          • “Based on your argument, the SFU English department is teaching the ABCs to English majors.”
            Build all the straw men you want, but no where in my argument do I imply this. All I did was point out that we have language instruction at our school, which includes the departments that do offer it at an introductory level, which refutes the notion that SFU believes there should not be.

            “Ideally, it should not be a university’s responsibility to use up resources…”
            As Bryce reiterates for again for me below, international student tuition is significantly higher than that of domestic students. If international students feel they are not getting what they should be out of schooling at SFU, they won’t come. The English language barrier plays a huge role in that. If international students stop coming, SFU loses a huge source of revenue, and domestic student fees possibly increase as a result.

            And as for your last point, you’re right. You cannot effectively advance research and knowledge without properly understanding the language of the content you’re studying. But you’re missing the fact that CELLTR’s entire purpose is to deal with this.