In this post, Sirui He and Yongxin Guo, share their experience hosting and leading the English Second Language Peer Assisted Learning Scheme (ESL PALS↗️) sessions. This post belongs to the Hot topic series: Student Partnership Agreement 2023↗️.
The English Second Language Peer Assisted Learning Scheme (ESL PALS↗️) is an official student organisation managed by the EUSA↗️. Our primary aim is to provide opportunities for students at The University of Edinburgh to practice spoken English, acquire skills, and make friends, particularly for international students for whom English is a second language. The University of Edinburgh has been welcoming students from diverse cultures and countries for many years, and new students from around the world join this community each year. However, it has been observed that despite high language proficiency entry requirements, many students still struggle with speaking English and making friends, especially newcomers. In response to this situation, ESL PALS was founded to assist students in overcoming these challenges.
In contrast to societies that may require potential members to purchase memberships and sign up in advance, Peer Assisted Learning Schemes (PALS) are supported and managed by EUSA. Therefore, we welcome all matriculated students to join us freely, without any cost. All our internal members (committee and session leaders) are higher-year students who are passionate about volunteering and helping. In addition to the formal training provided by EUSA, we also offer internal training sessions for new members to ensure they become well-acquainted with our scheme’s culture and purpose. We provide interactive sessions and social events in a relaxed environment, centred around various themes such as cultures, careers, and study skills on a weekly basis. These activities help attendees continuously practice their speaking and listening skills. At the end of each activity, feedback from participants is collected and analysed, and adjustments are made for the next session accordingly.
Last year, we were fortunate to receive incredible support from staff members across various programs and schools during the promotion stage, which significantly boosted the number of members on our Teams Page. Furthermore, we successfully secured funds from the Student Partnership Agreement↗️ project, enabling us to host social events and joint activities with other societies aligned with the interests of our attendees. Some attendees even expressed a strong desire to become volunteers in our society after their positive experiences with ESL PALS. Joint social events have also inspired us to foster more connections and liaisons with other societies, with the goal of promoting cultural integration and student relationships. This approach has become the main strategy for our society in this academic year.
However, we also identified some issues with solutions from the previous year. Firstly, new leaders tended to conduct sessions more formally, which inadvertently imposed some pressure on attendees. Although we took prompt action upon discovering this issue through feedback forms, we have decided to have one experienced leader assisting new leaders with session delivery to ensure that the atmosphere remains relaxed and informal. Secondly, it was observed that students tended to attend only one or two sessions each week (even though we ran three sessions last year) and preferred social events with food and drinks provided. As a result, we have reduced the number of sessions this year and increased the frequency of social events each semester. Additionally, we are making efforts to collaborate with other communities, such as Tandem↗️, Global Buddies↗️, and Translation Societies, which share the same goal of fostering liaison among students and promoting cross-cultural communication through joint social events.
Furthermore, we are currently planning for the new academic year. Building on the lessons from the previous year, we have devised a new strategy with slight modifications. First, we are actively working to strengthen our collaborations with the School of Literatures, Languages & Cultures↗️, as well as other societies, in order to expand the scale of our social and activity offerings. Additionally, we plan to enhance our career-focused sessions to help students with internship and job planning, and these sessions will be led by experienced leaders. We will continue to run sessions and social events specifically tailored for lower-year students. We are also exploring opportunities to apply for funding, as the university has introduced several funding projects for societies. Nevertheless, we acknowledge that attracting and retaining attendees remains a challenge, as many of them are seeking English native speakers, while our members generally speak English as a second language. Addressing this issue will be our primary focus in the present and future.
Our promotional video↗️ highlight the benefits of attending ESL PALS sessions.
Yongxin Guo, President of ESL PALS, and a fourth year student studying Economics with Finance↗️. Yongxin shares: “I like reading and travelling. My favourite part of being an international student is that it’s easier for me to get involved in a multicultural community”.
Annie is a postgraduate student at The University of Edinburgh. She has contributed to the preparation of the ESL PALS promotional video.