Scholar Spotlight: Elliot Sepos

Elliot Sepos is a senior (Class of 2014) majoring in chemical engineering, and is giving back to others in a unique way. He volunteers his time to teaching the essentials of English to students who grew up speaking a foreign language. The following was written by him as an account of his journey to assist others.

The name of my class is Vocabulary for Practical Use. It's an English language class for students whose native language is not English. The class is offered through Purdue's International Center. I am a volunteer, and the class is offered for free. As such, my class does not have a set enrollment. New students can jump into the class at any time and do! I try to format my classes such that the next class is not an augmentation of the previous class as a result.

My course has three goals: To expand students' vocabulary to match that of native English speakers, to teach slang words they will most likely hear on a daily basis, and to enable students to articulate their ideas with increased precision.

I don't have any specific curriculum I'm sticking to, so each week is an opportunity for me to figure out how to address these issues. I have a lot of freedom in how I teach my class, and I try to make it very student-centered. I take suggestions on what to teach and how to divide up class time to best accommodate everyone's needs. As this is such a practical class, and students will use what they learn in their day-to-day life, I want to make my lessons as useful and beneficial as possible.

For example, a few of the more experienced students know many words in writing, but don't know how to pronounce them correctly. As a result, I've been recording pronunciations and including them in my presentations. Eventually I hope include accommodating phonetics in my presentations.

My students come from all over the world, with completely different sets of cultural norms from each other and me. Therefore, I often work humor into my lessons.

Another challenge I face is creating a class that's worthwhile to students with all levels of experience with English. I can't teach too many simple words; otherwise the more advanced students lose interest. At the same time, I can't teach too many sophisticated words because it would leave the more inexperienced students confused. I often show pictures or play movies and sound clips illustrating English words.

My students don't have a lot in common. Though they are all hoping to learn English, they don't share a common native language, cultural background or a level of experience in English. As a teacher, this provides a unique challenge, pushing me to get creative.

All of my course materials and other information about me and my class can be found at my website