Found in Translation at the English Language Institute

Found in Translation at the English Language Institute
Winnie Chang, left, and Vicky Chiang, both from Taiwan, work on a paper together during a class at the English Language Institute.
Patrick Ko of Taiwan and Pablo Alonso of Mexico work on a question together during a class.
Instructor Shirley Miller works with Angela Hwang of Korea during class.

In June 2004, Hiroko Kumada left her family and friends in her hometown of

Sukushima, Japan, to study at Cal Poly Pomona and earn her bachelor's degree in hospitality management. She had visited America as a high school student and decided to study abroad to avoid Japan's overcrowded and extremely competitive universities.

Every year, a vast number of international students come to Cal Poly Pomona to

pursue dreams of higher education. Like Kumada, many of them have to hone their oral and written English skills before taking university-level courses. Since 1989, the English Language Institute (ELI) has prepared these students for the rigors of university life. Most ELI students come from Pacific Rim countries including Taiwan, Korea and China. Since students don't share a common language, only English is spoken in the classroom.

Kumada began taking classes at ELI when she didn't pass the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), an admissions requirement for international students. Over the course of one year, she studied hard to improve her language skills, taking 20 hours of classes a week covering core instruction, such as listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, as well as five hours a week of an elective such as TOEFL Preparation, American Slang and Idioms or American Culture and Cinema. Programs are offered year-round and follow the 10-week quarter schedule of the university.

The motto at ELI is “Don't just learn English, live it at Cal Poly Pomona,” so students are encouraged to get involved in campus life and put their English skills to the test, says institute director Randall Burger. Students are also immersed in American culture with field trips, sporting events and holiday celebrations.

Trips to outlet shopping malls, amusement parks, TV tapings and museums top the list of students favorites. This year, students are anxiously awaiting the beginning of baseball season, so they can see the Angels play the Yankees.

A star pitcher of the Yankees, Chien-Ming Wang, is Taiwanese and also attended English language courses at Cal Poly Pomona.

“It's a point in our favor that Chien-Ming attended classes at our institute (level one) about seven years ago, as did a Taiwanese actress and model by the name of Jean Wang,” adds Burger.

Through a bridge program, ELI offers advanced students an opportunity to experience the demands of university life by taking two credit-bearing academic courses while they still have the support of ELI staff for papers and projects. After completing level five at ELI, Kumada enrolled in an economic geography course through the program.

“The teachers talked much faster than I expected, and the homework and reading were overwhelming,” she remembers.

However, with the help of her ELI instructors, she did well in her classes.

Kumada successfully passed her TOEFL test, was admitted to the university and is currently working toward her bachelor's degree. She hopes to graduate in 2009 and become a hotel wedding and event planner.

Watching students like Kumada succeed at ELI and matriculate into the university is very satisfying to Burger.

“I feel like a proud parent,” he says. “Many go on to higher education and earn their Ph.D.s.”

In addition to preparing students to enter universities, ELI offers business professionals a 10-week intensive training course to sharpen their English skills for their corporate careers. During the summer months, many vacationing high school students take English language courses and American culture classes at the institute. In a few years, these same high school students may return to Cal Poly Pomona to earn their degrees, and they just might begin their journey at the English Language Institute.

For more information about the English Language Institute, call (909) 869-4814 or visit