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Talk Like An American: Ecuadorian Teachers Find Another Voice At NIU

Scholars from Ecuador are wrapping up a seven month stay at Northern Illinois University. 

The 37 teachers came to the United States to study English.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa is pushing the importance of higher standards for education. He is investing in teachers to build a better education system in his country. And that means sending teachers to the U.S.

“You have the best high education system in the world. So we have to learn a lot for the state in this subject.”

That’s from his 2010 interview on Illinois International from the University of Illinois, where he received his doctoral degree in economics.

Northern Illinois University is taking part in shaping the teachers from Ecuador.

James Cohen directs the ESL/Bilingual Education program at NIU.

He says, the teachers are here as part of the president’s vision to teach their students to communicate in English naturally.  

“He’s putting a lot of money into the education of teachers from across the country. His goal is to educate 5,000 teachers of English. Spreading English and making Ecuador a tri-lingual country not just Spanish and Quichua but English.”

Lori Lawson is the assistant director of NIU’s Go Teacher program. She helped the scholars feel at home. Lawson says she grew fond of the scholars and expects great things for their future. “Their ability to adapt and respond to those multiple challenges has been remarkable.”

The scholars I spoke with say they wanted to be a part of this program to improve their English speaking skills.

Heidy Matute is one of the teachers in the program and says the application was very rigorous. She says the process was more than showing their credentials.

“It’s a kind of psychological test. You are videotaped and you have to answer some questions. If you can deal with some changes; for example the food, cultural differences, that you would find or living with another person, that is completely strange for you.”

Diego Carera is also one of the scholars. He says he was excited when he arrived at O’Hare Airport.  But he was not prepared for the northern Illinois winter weather.

“I wanted to imagine that cold and I opened my fridge and refrigerator and I was like, is that cold? That’s not cold. I wanted to feel that. I wanted to see the snow, touch the snow, play with the snow. That was the best part, the snow.”

Of course weather wasn’t the only difference.

There are so many aspects of social language the scholars learned in their seven months of study at NIU.

Gladys Chicaiza says the American English language was fun to learn.  She plans to use it often to help her students feel good about themselves.

“American people use compliments to people like, I love your shoes. Oh, your hair is gorgeous, thing like that. We don’t do that more often there. But here it’s definitely, it surprise me. I’m going to encourage my students to do that. Because it makes feel people confident, and comfortable. I really like it.”

So what’s a good way to learn to speak like an American?


For the first five months the teachers spent a lot of their free time at the theater. This helped Maria Lopez use the English language socially.

“I have learned a lot, speak expressions, idiomatic expressions, sayings, everything.”

So what’s Maria’s favorite phrase?

“I have many, I don’t know, but it’s not good one.”

But it wasn’t all fun and bad language. The scholars had a great deal of curriculum to complete.

NIU’s James Cohen says, they had more than five hundred-thirty hours of materials and concepts for their program. He says it was an intense experience.

“Working with the Ecuadorian scholars this past seven months has been an absolutely fabulous experience for all of us, for my whole team. We’re all exhausted, because it’s much more time intensive than we had ever imagined, to be honest. However, I would do it again.”