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Breaking language barriers one student at a time

Campbellsville University’s ESL Department helps students from around the world learn English
Soledad Trigo
Raquel Cunha helps student Eduardo Romero in class. Cunha is the director of the ESL department (English as a Second Language) at Campbellsville University.

Oriana DaSilva, a Venezuela native, came to Campbellsville University to not only pursue her college education, but to also achieve her dream of learning English.

When she first arrived on campus, she was scared to speak to others.

“Speaking was very difficult for me because it made me very nervous since it was a language that I didn’t know,” she said.

Raquel Cunha, the director of the ESL department (English as a Second Language), knows precisely what DaSilva is going through because she has experienced it herself. She motivates her students with her own story.

After leaving her native country, Brazil, Cunha and her husband decided to start a new adventure in Campbellsville in 2007. She enrolled in the ESL program, starting at the beginner level. She graduated from the program in 2008.

Cunha began volunteering for the ESL department, and eventually began working there full-time as secretary. In 2018, she became the department’s director.

Setting goals is something Cunha tries to encourage her students to do.

“I try to motivate people when they talk to me and tell me I cannot do this,” she said. “I give them my example that I learned English at 30. Everything depends on you.”

Cunha and her staff encourage their students to do other things outside of the classroom to improve their English and their self-confidence, such as making American friends and talking to them to help them lose their fear.

“Our goal is to expose them and for them not to be afraid to talk,” Cunha said. “The classroom is the opportunity for them to make mistakes and learn from them.”

According to Robert Parrish, one of the instructors in the ESL department, there are three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Before enrolling in the program, ESL students take an exam to see what their skill levels are in writing, listening, grammar, reading and speaking.

Parrish said the department has open office hours and students can connect with tutors and students who are native English speakers. He said the Center for Global Engagement helps students tremendously with the visa process, transportation issues, and other services. Parrish said he’s working on creating more tools that would allow the students to do even more.

“We will be creating multiple levels and giving students more opportunities in the program,” Parrish said. “We set up partnerships yearly to help the students have an exceptional experience.”

Fabiana Di Feliciantonio, who is from Venezuela, graduated from the ESL program last December. Fabiana started at the advanced level. The ESL instructors taught her how to write essays, research papers and speeches. She said the last assignment she had to complete to graduate from the program was stressful because it was divided into two parts: a research paper and a 15-minute speech. After finishing that assignment successfully, she said felt ready to finish ESL and start working on her degree at Campbellsville University

“Some advice I will give the current students at the program is to take all assignments and activities seriously since many of them help as practice for the future in whatever they are going to pursue,” she said.

The ESL department continues to transform the lives of many students who come from all different parts of the world to achieve one goal, which is to learn English and use it to be successful in their future lives.

“I feel happy and proud of everything I have achieved,” DaSilva said. “I compare myself to the first day, and the truth is that I see everything I have achieved and learned, filling me with joy.”

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About the Contributor
Oriana Espinoza Mendoza
Oriana Espinoza Mendoza is a junior originally from Venezuela, but she's been living in North Carolina since she was 14 years old. She is a mass communication area major with a minor in sports management. She's also a member of the Campbellsville University women's tennis team. She really enjoys playing a variety of sports and cooking with and for her family. This is her first year reporting for The Campus Times.

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