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Greeting from the St. Thomas ESL Programme!

By way of introduction, my name is Chris van den Broeck, and I am the Coordinator of the ESL Programme at St. Thomas University in Fredericton. St. Thomas offers a programme for students whose level of English proficiency is not high enough to pursue regular studies at an English-language university. While we are a small programme, we offer what I feel to be a unique, personalised language learning experience for students looking to focus on academic language skills.

The “ESL” portion of our programme is somewhat misleading. In fact, our courses are strictly in the EAP (English for Academic Purposes) domain. Our required courses focus on the major skills required for success in academic studies:  listening, speaking, reading, and writing. These are a graduated sequence of courses that eligible students are required to complete from their entry level. We also offer content-driven courses designed for language learners (such as Introduction to Psychology and Introduction to Literature) taught by professors who meet with the class for an extra hour each week so that they can present the material more slowly. Class sizes in all courses are capped at a maximum of 12 students, to ensure a more intimate classroom dynamic that is vital in the language learning experience.

All incoming students are placed using the CAEL (Canadian Academic English Language Assessment) exam. This diagnostic ensures an accurate measurement of incoming students’ EAP proficiency. A critique of CAEL is that it does not do a good job of assessing students at the lower end of the proficiency scale, but all students coming into the ESL programme have already been admitted to the university based on TESOL or IELTS scores placing them above true beginner.

Finally, and what sets the St. Thomas ESL Programme apart from other language programmes across the region, is all of the courses that students take carry academic credit. Of course, there is no ESL degree, but students are able to carry ESL course credits toward an eventual undergraduate degree. Many students come on exchange and are only on campus for one academic year, but many others remain to finish their degrees. This aspect of language study at St. Thomas is what attracts many international students to our campus, and this academic year has seen the largest cohort of international students to date.