Minot State University's Dakota Hall resembled a mini United Nations on Monday afternoon, as students from all over the world gathered to practice their conversational English.
The Language Company offices have been open for three years at MSU, helping international students like Axel Cauneau, from France, and Niklas Ryelund, from Denmark, to improve their English.
Both Cauneau and Ryelund speak good conversational English, but they said their comprehension isn't high enough yet to let them enroll in a traditional American university program. Both men have plans to attend other colleges in the United States after they have completed classes at the Language Company.
The Language Company has a cooperative agreement with MSU.
On Monday afternoon Cauneau and Ryelund, along with classmates from other countries such as Gabon, South Korea and Saudi Arabia, met to enjoy popcorn and chocolate cakes and chat with American conversation partners Karn Lamon and Forrest Macy. Such a group is held a couple of times a week.
The group gives the international students a chance to get to know each other and Americans and to share interests, as well as to perfect their colloquial English. Macy and Cauneau are both musicians with a similar taste in music.
"We have so many things in common," said Macy.
The American conversation partners are paid a stipend for participating in the conversation groups, but Language Company director Bonnie Carrera said some of the Americans come even when they weren't scheduled to participate in the group.
Carrera said the schedule is a demanding one for the students, with full days on weekdays that include a focus on written English and academics as well as on conversational English and American culture. Signs on the walls remind the students that they are to speak English only, since they are there to learn English.
Carrera said students also regularly participate in cultural activities on campus or in the community, which gives them a chance to learn about the United States and to make friends. A large group from the Language Company attended Rock the Leaves this past weekend.
Some of the students live in dorms on campus or with host families in the community, who are paid a stipend for room and board and transportation of the students to classes.
There are currently 20 students enrolled at the Language Company and eight or nine others are expected for the next semester.
There are nine levels of English instruction at the Language Company. Students are given a placement test when they first arrive to determine what level of instruction they require, either beginning, intermediate, advanced or post-graduate. For instance, beginning English speakers can participate in a simple conversation with English speakers, convey written information in simple sentences, and read graded material at the 1,200 word level, according to a brochure. Post-graduate students have advanced proficiency and are required to write a research paper in preparation for taking college courses.
After they have completed the classes, which Carrera said can take about nine months, they may begin regular classes at Minot State University or at another university in the United States or return to their home countries to work.
Ryelund said his job opportunities will be greatly improved in Denmark if he is fluent in English. Carrera said former students at the Language Company have gone on to successful careers.
The Language Company has 12 different locations across the United States, but the one in Minot is the only one in North Dakota.