Students in a class at EMU's Intensive English Program enjoy a light-hearted moment. Classes are kept small and family-like, though serious studying is necessary to keep up and make quick progress toward English-language fluency. (Photo by Lindsey Kolb)

Speakers of other languages flood into EMU’s English-language program, often preparing for college

A program to rapidly enable speakers of other languages to master English has reached record enrollment at Eastern Mennonite University.

With 85 students this fall, EMU’s Intensive English Program (IEP) is fully utilizing its newly renovated space on the ground level of Roselawn, a former dormitory into which IEP moved in 2012.

“Our long-term goal for IEP is 100 students,” said Kathleen Roth, director of the program. “We’re getting there more quickly than we expected.” In the fall of 2008, the year before Roth became director, IEP had 35 students.

IEP is particularly adept at helping international students sharpen their English skills so that they can enter American colleges, said Roth. In recent years EMU has also invited local immigrants and refugees to its English-language center.

Prospective students are tested before they enter and at the end of each term to determine their placement level. After a semester or a year or more, the successful students are able to enter EMU or other schools as regular students.

Nabeel Alsulami, 24, one of this fall’s students, earned a university degree in accounting and worked at an architectural firm before he came to the United States earlier this summer. He hopes to pursue a master of business administration degree at EMU or at nearby James Madison University. He is among 35,000 students from Saudi Arabia who are in the United States, many of them with scholarships from their government.

“The IEP students and faculty are like a family,” said Alsulami, who didn’t know anyone when he arrived on the EMU campus. “Now I have lots of friends.” He likes the small informal classes.

Since its opening in 1989, IEP has taught more than 1,000 students from 62 countries. Classes are kept small to allow better teacher-student interaction, as well as close student relationships. Class sizes usually range from 6 to 12. Tutoring is also offered one-on-one and in small groups.

While many language programs teach survival English, EMU’s program helps international students, immigrants, and refugees to go further – to develop the speaking, reading, writing, and grammar skills necessary for university study or professional success, said Roth.

Several local employers of immigrants are providing money to help their employees study at IEP. In addition, local students receive a tuition discount of more than 75 percent.

“We also emphasize cross-cultural interaction, believing that this speeds the learning process and creates lifelong memories,” said Roth, adding: “All of our students are a gift to IEP, to the EMU campus, and to the Harrisonburg community. They help us become better world citizens.”

For the 2013-14 school year, IEP is offering classes from late August to mid-December, from early January to late April, and short sessions in May and June.

More information is available online at or by calling 540-432-4053.