Language School: A Trap or Stepping-stone?

“If everything went well, I would start my preparatory courses by the end of this month.”

“But I have to change my plan now” said Zheqi Hu, a high school student from China who is now studying in the language school of RMIT. Since he failed one test at level 3, this meant another five more weeks’ study, with around $ 410 tuition fees each week.

This young boy has been in Melbourne for almost 7 months, starting from the middle of last October. According to his VCE mark, he was asked to take 30 weeks’ language lessons here followed by a semester of preparatory courses.

“There is something worse than that. It is a Domino effect. Since I originally planned to attend the preparatory classes starting from June this year. Because of this, I have to delay all the schedule and try to catch up with the semester next year. Some of my classmates who also failed the test even want to quit, and have already planned to go back to find a job in China. I heard this may also cause some problems for my student visa, maybe I will have to leave Australia within 8 weeks after I finish the language courses here.” he said.

why choose to learn at language school?

“I do not need to take the IELTS test since I am an international high school student in China, we can attend the VCE test and use the mark to apply for the universities here. And I could actually have been admitted by RMIT directly. I was a student in a Sino-Australia class in China aiming at students who plans to get a bachelor in Australia. But my VCE mark can not help to apply for an ideal major — commerce and mechanics. But if I accept to learn at language school for a while, then I can make it. That’s it” Zheqi Hu said.

Things are a little bit different for Haonan Ai, who has already become a master student in the University of Melbourne. She also had a period of language learning experience in Hawthorn campus of Melbourne University. But her session is shorter, 10 weeks with $5000 tuition fees. For her, the language school is much more like a contract to get her offer from Melbourne University.

Hawthorn Campus of Melbourne University

Non-English spoken students are usually asked to reach the cut-off line of IELTS or TOFEL which is different according to the universities and majors they apply, if you can not manage to do it, then language school is an alternative.

Are there many students like them?

Yes! According to the statistics from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training, international students has reached over 650,000 in 2015. And China is the major source country. In 2014, it made up 18% ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students) students’ numbers. Since for non-English spoken students, English proficiency is the premise for the entrance of university.

International Students in Australia

If they can not make it when they are in the home countries, due to the time limit or individual ability, then oversea language school become a good choice.

“99% of my classmates in the language school are Chinese” Haonan said. In RMIT, the figure is around seventy percent. Chinese students make up the majority. “Just imagine a class with 18 students sitting together, 16 Chinese, one is Serbian, and the rest one is Chilean.” Zihan Wang said, who used to be a student in the Hawthorn Campus as well.

Why they choose Australia?

For Zheqi, the reason is quite simple. “I have been here for a summer school camp when I was in middle school. And I think Australia is relatively safer in comparison with America. So I choose the Sino-Australia class instead of Sino-America in my high school.”

For most others, the relatively ease requirement of immigration in comparison with other countries such as the United Sates or UK is an attraction. According to the government website of China, China is the major source for Australia’s all kinds of oversea immigration except the Skill Immigration. Australian government even offer some immigration majors like commerce, nursing and teaching, choosing such majors can help students to get a higher mark when applying for Permanent Resident here.

Some students choose this as a preparation for their future immigration. More and more Chinese people view Australia as an ideal destination for education and future job. And most of them start to apply or prepare at a much younger age, they either move here to attend the high school courses or choose an international high school in China like Zheqi Hu.

Along with this, a lot of agencies who can offer services for students’ oversea study and application mushroomed these years, by the end of 2012 there were 448 agencies working on this. They provide service like language training in IELTS, TEFOL, GRE and almost all the tests you will need to apply for a university. New Oriental Education & Technology Group, as the biggest one in China, achieved a net revenue for its Q3 2016 with $346,912,000.

What do they do in the language school?

There is a little difference in each language school. In Melbourne University’s Hawthorn Campus, two teachers are responsible for a week’s course, speaking, listening, reading and writing are the basic classifications. The assessment involves a mid-semester exam, a final exam, 2000 words essay and a 15 minutes’ presentation.

In RMIT, there are no so obvious classifications, it is more general, but also with two teachers teaching them. Each day, they have two classes. Each of them lasts for two hours. There are also exams, but they are assessed according to different levels. For Zheqi, who needs to attend bachelor courses in the future, his goal is to reach the level 5. For other classmates, who want to take the master courses after this, they need to try to reach level 7.

By the end of the session, their marks with teachers’ comments will be delivered to the universities they applied, if they can not make it, then they had to stay longer in the school like what had happened to Zheqi.

Does it work for the future study?

“I can’t say how much it had helped me. I don’t think so.” Haonan said. For the academic learning in her master courses in Melbourne University, most of the time, she still has difficulty in understanding what the lecturer said.

“Although, they try to cover all the things, speaking, listening, writing and reading, there are still something left. Not so many skills, I don’t think I have learned a lot there.” Zihan said.

Besides, Haonan mentioned the comment of the teachers. “it is really subjective without too many standards, if you fail, you have to wait for another session of language course” She gave a 70 out of 100 marks for her satisfaction of the language school, for it did not meet her expectation which is to improve her ability of language using. “Maybe the good part for me is the essay wring and presentation in class. For the speaking, 99% students in my class are Chinese, you just don’t have an atmosphere to practice your speaking.”

Zhe Zhang, who was admitted by Melbourne University successfully with his IELTS test results, also met the same experience. At the beginning of the semester, “students burst into laughter all of sudden, and I just totally got lost, and did not know what had happened. It was quite a depressing period for me.”

“Actually, I also considered to take a language school hoping to get some help, but I heard the tuition fees are too high, so I just gave up. I used to think once I came here, my English will get better in an English-speaking environment. But things are totally different, practical use is too different from what we had learned in our home country. And the test result can not ensure you have already achieved a good level. Maybe more practice will make it better.”

“You know what, sometimes in the tutorial, I really don’t agree with what other students had said, I think I can offer more good views. But my poor English hold me back, since I don’t want my classmates get confused after I excitedly talked a while.”

People’s opinions vary a lot towards whether it is well worth making a detour to finally achieve your goal to a high-ranked university.

As the youngest interviewee, Zheqi shows the most confidence, even though he failed one test. He said “I have confidence in my next exam. And I like the language school here, I can meet and talk with Australian teachers and learn how they look at different things.”

He had made a plan for the long delayed empty session between the language school and next years’ preparatory. “I’m going to find a part-time job and travel around in this country.”

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