Watching reruns of Friends wasn't just a lazy way to beat the heat for some students studying at UNT this summer.
Students visiting from the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico at Toluca, or UAEM, closely watched short clips from the popular NBC sitcom as part of their English as a Second Language classes. They answered questions about what they believe will happen on the episode to practice different verb tenses and American conversation.
In July, the UAEM students attended the annual LTC Summer Institute hosted by UNT's Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication. Through late July, the institute provided participants with a unique opportunity to increase their fluency in English through cultural immersion and social interaction -- doing everything from asking a Denton business owner about the price per ounce of frozen yogurt during a scavenger hunt to playing word games to having dinner in homes of Denton residents.
A group of 56 UAEM students and 18 UAEM faculty and staff members, spent three hours each weekday morning in ESL classes with students of their same proficiency level. In the afternoon, they attended two-hour workshops on different interests, including performing arts, oral presentation skills, and business English. The workshops will include students of all English proficiency levels. Recreational activities in the evening and on weekends, including field trips to other parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, were also part of the institute.
Because the institute focuses on English immersion, the UAEM students were required to only speak English most hours of the day.
"We tailor the curriculum in the classrooms so that students can do the activities and learn more English as quickly as possible," says Dustin Aguilar, a UNT graduate student and instructor to the UAEM students.
Aguilar, who is earning his master's degree in English as a Second Language, taught Level 3 students, who have intermediate English comprehension. He says he wanted to teach the UAEM students for a chance to teach native Spanish speakers.
"I am Hispanic, and I have a real affinity for Latin American culture," he says. “I can also be creative in the class. At Level 3, students are starting to have basic conversations in English, and you can give instructions in English and have them understood pretty easily."
Aguilar says the students in his class were in groups of two or three for most activities to practice English conversations. In addition to discussing the Friends clips, Aguilar's students made lists in certain categories, such as things they would want to have with them on a desert island, and practiced English by ranking the lists in order of importance.
Liz Hopper, a master's student in technical communication at UNT, taught the business English workshop, helping students to write tailored resumés and cover letters for specific jobs. The students also learned about U.S. business culture.
"We understand some students may have vocabulary issues, but we still discussed the fact that Americans tend to not like silence when they're sitting with someone, and how to make small talk and topics to avoid," she says. "We also did some role playing, with students practicing making phone calls to inquire about jobs and interviewing skills."
Hopper also organized the UAEM students' participation in UNT International's Conversation Partners program. Each Thursday evening, the students met individually or in small groups with native English speakers -- UNT students -- to discuss specific topics for an hour.
The Department of Linguistics and Technical Communication began the ESL Summer Institute in 2008 at the request of administrators at UAEM, which has had a connection to UNT since 2002. Faculty members and students from both campuses collaborate on academic programs and in research projects in materials science, environmental science, physics and other fields. UNT and UAEM also both have offices to provide information to students and faculty members about research projects and academic opportunities at the two campuses.
Nancy Kolsti with UNT News Service can be reached at Nancy.Kolsti@unt.edu.