Students Encouraged to Take Advantage of Free Academic Support at American Language Institute

Free additional language support is one of the many examples of the personal attention that students of SDSU’s American Language Institute can expect. In addition to daily speaking classes and electives that include learning English through dance, sports, and movies, students can get one-on-one guidance in the Pronunciation Clinic, Pronunciation Lab, Grammar Lab, and Homework Help Lab.

The room numbers and hours change every semester, but students are always free to drop in. Staff members also change every semester — except for the Pronunciation Clinic, which requires special training. Instructors who staffed the clinic and labs this summer offer an overview of what students can expect.

Pronunciation Clinic
Marty Gardella has been teaching in the Pronunciation Clinic for many years. “I was fortunate to learn from and study under Sidney Hamolsky, a former teacher at the ALI who wrote a pronunciation book in the 1950s. He taught me so much,” he said. The clinic is two days a week of face-to-face classroom instruction.

“I often give a diagnostic reading test to the new students and from it plan on how to best help each student improve his or her American-spoken English,” said Gardella. “In class, students usually take turns answering or reading. We work on recognizing syllables, on word stress, sentence intonation, the 56 English sounds, consonant clusters, es/ed ending sounds, etc. I have hundreds of lessons I have put together as well as lessons from our textbooks.”

Gardella noted that numerous students have attended his pronunciation clinics for two, three, or even four semesters and almost never miss a class. “They enjoy interacting, encouraging and helping each other,” he said, “The classes are always different as I try to mix interesting, educational, as well everyday expressions.”

Many of the students are referred by oral communication teachers but Gardella invites everyone to take advantage of the clinic. “All students will benefit in many ways. They can reduce their accents, learn new vocabulary words, gain confidence in contributing in class, and not feel embarrassed to make mistakes,” he said. “I try to get everyone to feel comfortable and get them to talk before class and at the beginning.”

Course Preview Video —
Watch the Pronunciation Clinic video.

About Marty Gardella: I’ve worked at the ALI since 1977 when I started as a facilitator in an oral communication class and have been full time for many years now. I have also taught Study Skills, and Rhetoric and Writing at SDSU for many years, and Humanities and English classes at San Diego City College (I have been teaching three classes a semester there since 1990). In addition, I taught English in Japan from 1987–1990. At the ALI I usually teach writing, reading, listening, pronunciation, grammar, and oral communication classes.


Pronunciation Lab
As the name suggests, the Pronunciation Lab is held in the computer lab, and students work independently using American Speech Sounds software. “It’s language-specific, so students are able to choose their native language, and the software will pick up the sounds that speakers of that background generally have a problem with, so it customizes the exercises,” said instructor Lynn Eddy-Zambrano.

Students first work on distinguishing sounds, with an exercise for each vowel and consonant. “It’s very extensive. They listen to sounds and get feedback from a voice on the computer,” said Eddy-Zambrano. “Even though I’m not standing next to them, they’re getting visual and audio feedback on their performance.”

Next, students do production exercises where speech is modeled by a voice, then they record their version and compare it to the model.

“I really believe in the value of a lab like this based on my experience as an 18-year-old exchange student in Sweden,” said Eddy-Zambrano. “There were certain sounds I could not hear. My Swedish teacher — she was fantastic — made me sit in that lab listening and listening, and all of a sudden I heard it. It was like the angels started singing. So I know this kind of thing will work.”

To help students get the most out of the Pronunciation Lab, Eddy-Zambrano developed an assignment sheet for ALI teachers to check off areas they want a student to work on. “So there’s no fumbling about,” she said. “Students know exactly what they need to work on. There’s no instant gratification. You have to work at it to see results. One student comes in every day to work on her pronunciation. During the read-aloud exercise, I can hear her pronunciation getting better. It’s very fulfilling when I see them making progress.”

About Lynn Eddy-Zambrano: I started here in 2011, and work mostly in the English for Academic Purposes program teaching the reading component of Foundations for student with almost no English. It’s intensive — four days a week. I’ve also taught listening, writing, speaking, reading, and grammar; and this summer taught grammar for the IEC program as well.


Grammar Lab
Instructor Glen Clabaugh describes the Grammar Lab as “very self-directed. It’s 99 percent online tutorials and one percent someone helping the students through the tutorials.”

He encourages students to take advantage of the lab, and most importantly, to ask questions. “I tell my students all the time that the whole reason we (teachers) are there is to answer students’ questions,” said Clabaugh. “If they don’t ask, we don’t get to do our jobs. If they don’t ask questions and seek help on their own, they may not ever get their questions answered completely. They also miss out on a lot of opportunities to meet new students, teachers, and faculty to practice with, and considering what many students have to go through just to get to the ALI, that seems like kind of a waste.”

Clabaugh’s passion for his career is evident. “Since I earned my certificate to teach ESL/EFL at the ALI, I have been VERY enthusiastic about my job. One of my favorite things in the whole world is seeing that light bulb go off in a student’s head and then see them take that knowledge and use it in a real, practical situation. That’s the stuff. I have, I think, the best job in the world; I get to talk to people and teach almost every day and make their lives better. How much more fantastic can it get?

Course Preview Video —
Watch the Grammar Lab video.

About Glen Clabaugh: I’ve worked at the ALI for six years and have taught almost everything there is to teach: speaking, reading, listening, grammar, writing, GRE and GMAT test preparation, math, and several electives like English Through Television, and English Through Exercise.


Homework Help Lab
“Homework Lab is first come, first serve,” said instructor Elizabeth Osman. “And if multiple students have the same issue, I can help them as a group. It’s great because I see all levels of students from low English proficiency, to intermediate, to higher level. I also get a glimpse of what other teachers are assigning. I get most students asking for help on writing and reading, some grammar. Or they come in to just speak with me to practice their English speaking and pronunciation.”

She also noted that often students don’t fully understand the assignment. “We encourage teachers to take a few moments in class to go over the homework assignment rather than just assign it at the end of class as students walk out the door.”

One of Osmun’s Homework Lab students, Abdullah Alrashed, thanked her for the help he had received. “I really enjoyed coming,” he said. “You gave me a lot of information that helps me a lot in class. Thank you for supporting and teaching me.”

“Students are always welcome and should take advantage of this service we offer,” said Osman.

Course Preview Video —
Watch the Homework Lab video.

About Elizabeth Osman: I have been a teacher and advisor at ALI for about 8 years. I currently teach writing, grammar, listening, vocabulary, and TOEFL Waiver class, but I have taught reading, speaking, math science, vocabulary, culture, and Slang & Idioms in the past. I also work as an advisor regarding university success and ALI issues.