As they prepare for and move on to college life, students undergo many transitions. The most important are the social and academic changes that new students will face in addition to dealing with a new language if English is their second language.

The first semester of college is one of growth and development in many areas of life. That includes managing time and finances as well as cooking and forming healthy habits (Johnson, H., August 1, 2019).

Students need to make connections that will help them adjust to this new life. International students especially may feel isolated as they are far away from home, and the initial excitement may wear off quickly. Extracurricular activities will help them make friends outside of the ESL program and give them additional chances to practice English in a non-classroom environment.

Additionally, the quality of extracurricular activities trumps the quantity (A13). Clubs and organizations that help in their future careers should be considered. Sports activities are good since they build confidence and teach teamwork.

The author provides the following advice:

Remember, college is about learning. Expanding perspectives and making new connections. Make the most of this experience (A13).

Teaching hint No. 1: music

Music can be an integral part of the ESL lesson plan. Students are focusing on the music and acquiring English in a natural way rather than through forced activities. English language aide Rissa Williams found that having students learn to play the ukulele enhanced learning.

These weekly music sessions go beyond notes on the page. "We use it for math, we use it for reading, we use it for English — parts of speech, pronouns, nouns," Williams says (Olson, T., Feb 21, 2019).

Students who were shy and withdrawn responded well to the new music program,

Mmunga Lulaca was fourteen when his family moved from Tanzania to Bismarck, North Dakota. “I was nervous that I was not going make any friends," he recalls. He was a stranger in a strange land — trying to learn things like biology and algebra while still trying to get a grasp on English. English language aide Rissa Williams remembers those early days, working with Mmunga."Every time you handed him a test last year he would panic and start to break down," Williams says. But that was then — and this is now. And it's thanks in large part to the ukulele. “I brought it in, and I let them try it, and they loved it," Williams says. "So, I said, okay, how can I use this to facilitate learning?” (School aide uses ukuleles to teach English language)

By connecting with another discipline and teaching in context, in this case music, teachers encourage their learners to go beyond the lesson and start learning because they are interested rather than just doing another assignment.

Music allowed the learners to focus on something they could focus on that did not require fluency in L2. Here the standards are referring to L2 learning, but they also apply to ESL.

Academic English

A way to improve retention is to be sure that the ESL students are ready to make the transition to academic language. Students coming to the U.S. to study may know English but may not be proficient in academic English and standardized admission tests.

That’s not an easy task for students who aren’t familiar with academic English, have no experience with the structure of the tests themselves, don’t have access to updated prep tools, and may not even know how far in advance they should begin preparing for these tests (Bates, P. June 7, 2019).

Academic language in general is different from the everyday English the students are used to. Grammar is more challenging, and the vocabulary may not be familiar.

They may be able to speak conversational English, but when it comes to the SAT and ACT, you need to understand academic English and you certainly can’t select answers just because they sound right. You have to know basic English grammar rules and be able to apply them and understand academic vocabulary, or you’re just not going to be successful (Conquering US admissions exams).

Test-taking skills

Students may be able to get copies of test guides or sample tests, but these are often outdated.

Test prep books are for sale online, but they may be old or not relevant to what the students really need.

Students need the tools to understand the western educational testing system. In their home countries, they may answer with long answers or even a paragraph rather than the multiple-choice options (Conquering US admissions exams).

Teaching hint No. 2

The following comment is directed to L2 instructors, but it is can be applied to ESL.

Foreign language instructors can expect to spend the bulk of their time teaching the first four semesters of language study. In heavily enrolled languages, there will also likely be separate courses for conversation, culture, composition, introduction to literature, and language for business purposes. Film, women's studies, and comparative literature courses are possible as well. For English instructors, courses range from basic reading and writing and ESL courses to university-parallel composition and literature courses, honors courses, creative writing, technical and professional writing, and genre and survey courses in literature. (MLA Committee on Community Colleges, 2006)

Encouraging ESL students in the regular classroom

Often, second language students are together with regular students unless there are sheltered sections. The ESL students may be prepared by having done the reading and writing assignment, but they may still need help in listening comprehension. Here are some strategies:

Use non-verbal cues (such as gestures, pictures and concrete objects) in your teaching to assist comprehension (Frankfurt International School, December 28, 2018).

Make any adjustments in seating arrangements:

Make sure that ESL students are seated where they can see and hear well. Provide them with maximum access to the instructional and linguistic input that you are providing. Involve them in some manner in all classroom activities (teachers/support/guide).

Teaching hint No. 3

Students need to be able to live and work in different cultures both in the host country or another country different from their own. For example, someone from Egypt may complete ESL and academic training in the U.S. but end up doing advanced training or working in Europe.

Global skills are those that must be developed in order to operate in an international context. As the rise of technology leads more and more companies towards becoming globally interconnected, these skills are important for all to acquire – particularly international students (Study International Staff, November 12, 2019).

These skills can be included in the ESL curriculum or taught as a separate elective or be made a part of field trips or extra-curricular activities. The curriculum can include intercultural competence, interpersonal communication, collaboration and digital literacy (English Language classes must instill more global skills in students).

While these traits are being embedded in university courses through experiential learning activities and by other means, they can also be taught through English classes— a typical college requirement for most students (English Language classes must instill more global skills in students).


Awareness of diverse cultures is important for teachers and administrators. Culturally responsive teaching (CR) is a way to make students more comfortable and enhance learning. Evidence from descriptive studies, often portraits of teachers who are experts in CR, suggests that students who spend time in high-quality CR classrooms benefit in several ways.

Teachers in CR classrooms do this work by changing curriculum and pedagogy. For example, they use instructional techniques that reflect ways of learning in students' home communities and texts from authors linked to familiar people and places. They set academic tasks in students' everyday activities and encourage students to tackle social issues through carefully structured projects. Ideally, CR programs are shaped locally, with input from families and community members (Heather, H., March 6, 2010).

Teaching hint No. 4: Encourage your students

One way is to provide encouragement. Show appreciation that the learners are becoming bilingual and will be great assets to their communities and have an advantage when they enter the job market.

As a teacher, start to recognize that the English-Language Learners in your class enjoy benefits from being bilingual. Help all students in your class appreciate the great skill set of speaking two (or more) languages. During parent conferences, emphasize to the family that you value their home language and think their student is at an advantage knowing multiple languages (Ferlazzo, L., January 17, 2020).

It is important to build relationships.

As with most best teaching practices, it all comes back to building relationships. The time and effort you take to connect with your students who are English-Language Learners will have long-lasting positive effects (Ways to Support Long-Term English-Language Learners).

Correct, don’t criticize.

Students from other cultures expect more error correction but not direct criticism which they regard as immoral and to which they will not respond positively. Great value is placed on doing things right the first time, whereas in the United States the method is more experimental with the students using problem solving techniques to come to the right conclusion (Scarcella, R., 1992).


Many college freshmen begin their education, but 40% leave without getting a degree (Kirp, D., September 21, 2019). The author, a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, offers ways to improve student retention. These suggestions can affect native speakers and ESL/ESOL students as well.

If colleges are to boost graduation rates, they must show their students that they are not being batch-processed like Perdue chickens—that they belong on a campus that values them for more than their tuition check (A13).

More and more employers will require a college education. This fact alone should be an incentive for students to stay in school since minimum wage does not cover the rent. Students who do not finish will face fewer job prospects along with the stigma of not finishing their education in the host country.

Economists forecast that by the end of 2020, the American economy will have 55 million job openings, two-thirds of which will require some form of postsecondary education(A13).


Bates, P. (June 7, 2019) Conquering US admissions exams, Language Magazine,

Ferlazzo, L. (January 17, 2020) Ways to Support Long-Term English-Language Learners, Education Week,

Frankfurt International School (2018) teachers/support/guide,

Heather, H. (March 6, 2010) Culturally Responsive Teaching Is Promising. But There's a Pressing Need for More Research, Education Week,

Johnson, H. (August 1, 2019) Finding success as a college freshman, Orlando Sentinel, Opinion v.142, no. 213, A13

Kirp, D. (September 21, 2019) Valencia, UCF helping their undergraduates across finish line, Orlando Sentinel, v. 142 no. 264

Olson, T. ( Feb 21, 2019) School aide uses ukuleles to teach English language, KXNET,

Scarcella, R. (1992) Providing culturally sensitive feedback, in The Multicultural Classroom Eds. Patricia A Richard Amato and Marguerite Ann Snow, Longman, NY 130–145

Study International Staff, (November 12, 2019) English Language classes must instill more global skills in students, Study International