MCC turns language barriers into building blocks

Most Americans grow up only speaking English, and if they have any experience with a second language, it may be limited to a high school foreign language class. But what if foreign language wasn’t just a school subject, but the medium through which you learned other subjects, such as biology, history, or math? For more than 70 students at Marshalltown Community College, learning through their second language is just part of everyday life.

Like countless other students, these non-native English-speaking students come to MCC because they know a community college education can be a gateway to a better life. Some come to pursue an education while playing the sport they love, and some come purely to have an international experience. Others already in the community came to Iowa to try to pursue a better life or to escape violent conditions back home.

Many enter MCC with proof of English proficiency and can begin their coursework immediately. However, others may not be ready to take college-level classes in their second language. In fact, University of Toronto Linguistics Professor Jim Cummins notes that academic language can present a significant challenge to non-native-speaking students, even if they are conversationally proficient.

For this reason, MCC offers a series of academic English as a Second Language classes at our main campus to equip students to pursue higher education in English. Topics in the classes include English grammar, academic reading and writing, listening and speaking in the college classroom, and culture in the United States. By taking time within the first few semesters of college to focus on language skills, students are better prepared to succeed in future classes.

As their teacher, I get to see these students progress in their language skills and their self-confidence. Several are first-generation college students, and being away from home doesn’t make things any easier. Nevertheless, they are determined to follow their dreams, even though difficult circumstances. I hope that the Marshalltown community can join with MCC in giving these students our support … and maybe even learn something from them as well.


Theresa A. Orlovsky is the English as a Second Language/Spanish faculty member at Marshalltown Community College. She can be reached at Theresa.Orlovsky@iavalley.edu