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English Training and Certification

A group of four international students walking down the south oval in graduation regalia.

English Training and Certification Services


ETCS Mission

ETCS trains, certifies, and supports international graduate scholars, postdocs, and non-tenure-track instructors across OU's campuses.

ETCS Support Options

Explore this site for ETCS training options and remotely-accessible resources for English communicative competence. 

Contact ETCS with Questions

Contact the ETCS Team to find out more about the certification process and with any questions.

For Faculty & Staff

Pre-arrival English assessment options are available below for academic unit personnel.

 

When To Be Certified?

ETCS Tests and Deadlines

ETCS administers two tests - the English Communication Capacity (ECC) Test and the WRITE Test - for determining the readiness of international scholars to use English to instruct, in the last 6 weeks of every semester.

There are exemption possibilities for the WRITE Test as well as for the ECC Test.

ETCS offers various, free training options for all candidates, both before and after testing.

Note that ETCS certification cannot be substituted for English proficiency for admission to OU. Please see the international applicants webpage for options for satisfying English proficiency to be admitted to OU.

Contact the ETCS office for questions and/or to get the certification process started.

WRITE Test

The WRITE Test can be taken twice per semester, during the following months:

  • February - Early April
  • June - Early August
  • October - Early November

Cost: Free
Format: Zoom/Computer-Based

ECC Test

Candidates may take the ECC Test once per semester*, during the following months:

  • Late March - Early May
  • Late July - Late August
  • Late October - Early December

Cost: $50
Format: In-Person, Except for Special Cases


Who Should Be Certified?

The University of Oklahoma defines a "first language" or "native" speaker of English as someone who has completed all requirements for and graduated from an accredited high school (i.e., secondary school) in one of the countries listed to the right. Such individuals do not need to be certified for English capacity to instruct an OU course.

There are additional English certification exemption pathways below, for individuals who did not graduate from high school in one of the listed countries.

If an international graduate teaching assistant or instructor (adjunct, visiting, non-tenure-track) has not completed highschool in one of the exempted countries or does not qualify for an exemption pathway,  a state law requires the certification of their English proficiency in order to serve in an instructional capacity at institutions within the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education. Read the law here - Oklahoma State Statute §70-3224. This English proficiency certification is in addition to admissible English proficiency test scores for studying at OU.

Approved English-Speaking Countries

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua & Barbuda
  • Australia
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize (British Honduras)
  • Bermuda
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Canada (except Quebec)
  • Cayman Islands
  • Channel Islands
  • Dominica
  • Falkland Islands
  • Fiji
  • Grenada
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Jersey
  • Guam (U.S. Citizens)
  • Guernsey
  • Guyana (not Ghana in Africa)
  • Mauritius
  • Montserrat
  • New Zealand
  • Singapore
  • St. Kitts and Nevis (St. Christopher and Nevis)
  • St. Lucia
  • St. Vincent and the Grenadines
  • South Africa
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Turks & Caicos Islands
  • United Kingdom (England, Wales,
  • Scotland, Northern Ireland)
  • United States of America
  • U.S. Virgin Islands

Alternative Certification and Exemption Pathways

Assessment of language skills will inevitably impose testing requirements on some candidates who are clearly proficient in the language. The alternative certification process and exemptions pathways detailed below are designed to accommodate such candidates. 

Achieving one of the following sub-score sets on an English proficiency test accepted for OU admission.

  • iBT TOEFL: 28 speaking sub-score AND 28 writing sub-scores
  • IELTS: 8.0 speaking AND 8.0 writing sub-scores
  • DET: 145 conversation AND 145 production sub-scores
  • PTE: 80 speaking AND 80 writing sub-scores

Completing bachelor's AND master's degrees in the U.S. AND moving directly into a graduate degree at OU OR having continuously worked in the U.S. between finishing prior degree and beginning a graduate degree at OU.

Completing a Ph.D in the U.S. with at least one year of teaching experience in the U.S. during or after the Ph.D degree.

Providing proof of  7+ years of continuous academic and/or professional experience in the U.S.

Candidates who do not meet the exemption criteria mentioned above but believe that the English certification process provided by ETCS should not apply to them because of their particular experiences and/or education may request alternative certification by doing the following:

  1. Email the ETCS Director, explaining why the regular English certification process should not be required and include a CV/resume to indicate relevant experience and/or education.
  2. Request the graduate liaisons of the candidate's academic unit to send a letter of support for alternative certification to the ETCS Director.

ETCS should receive the request for alternative certification before the candidate has begun teaching at OU.

Upon receiving the alternative certification request, the ETCS Director may then conduct an interview with the candidate to confirm whether English certification is necessary and will notify the candidate, the academic unit leadership, and the Provost of the decision.

Adjunct and visiting faculty for whom English is an additional language are often exempt from completing English certification, via the exemption pathways mentioned above. If the exemption pathways do not apply, they can complete certification via the appropriate ETCS assessments.

Another option for adjunct and visiting faculty is for the hiring academic unit to have its College Dean certify in writing to the Senior Vice President and Provost that the adjunct or visiting faculty is proficient in English (see Faculty Handbook, Section 3.31.2.D).

Tenure-track faculty members for whom English is an additional language should obtain English proficiency certification through their academic unit's hiring process (see Faculty HandbookSection 3.31.3 and below) not via ETCS.

The English proficiency of applicants for all faculty positions must be closely scrutinized and evaluated during the interview stage of the faculty recruitment process, taking into account the language proficiency level and students the faculty member will be expected to teach.

For all newly appointed tenured and tenure-track faculty for whom English is the second language, the following steps must be taken to certify English proficiency:

  • The chair or director of the academic unit must certify in writing to the Senior Vice President and Provost that the instructor is proficient in English.
  • A copy of a letter of evaluation based on classroom observation (see Faculty Handbook Section 3.31.4) must be submitted to the Senior Vice President and Provost no later than the end of a new instructor’s second semester of appointment.

How To Be Certified?

Certification Process

Who Must Take the WRITE Test?

Candidates whose written English proficiency test scores for OU admission match one of those listed below are required to be screened for written English proficiency before being certified to instruct in English at OU. Candidates with English proficiency test scores above those listed below are exempt from writing screening. 

  • Below a 20 on the writing subsection of the iBT TOEFL
  • Below a 6.0 on the writing subsection of the IELTS
  • Below a 55 on the writing subsection of the Pearson Test of English (PTE)
  • Below a 105 on the production and literacy subsections of the Duolingo English Test (DET)

WRITE Test Logistics

  • The WRITE Test is proctored and conducted on a computer via Zoom
  • Candidates have 90 minutes to complete 2 writing tasks
  • No outside sources are allowed

WRITE Test Tasks

There are two tasks that comprise the WRITE Test - 

  • An Email : Candidates compose an email to a student about several information items likely to be sent from a TA / instructor (125-200 words); the information items for the email are given to the candidates as part of the test prompt.
  • Summary + Response: Candidates compose a summary and response/opinion (150-250 words) regarding a short, general academic article (400-500 words) given to the candidate as part of the test prompt; paraphrasing is required. 

WRITE Test Scoring

This WRITE Test tasks is assessed on a Qualify/Not Qualify scale. The following criteria are used to determine the proficiency of a candidate's writing:

  • Varied and accurate sentence structures
  • Relevant response to the prompt/task
  • Organization and cohesion of the content 
  • Range and accuracy of vocabulary
  • Appropriate and accurate paraphrasing / use of sources

The ETCS Director will evaluate the WRITE Test according to these criteria using the analytic rubric provided to the candidate on the test day. A qualifying score is 80/100.

Candidates who qualify may have occasional mistakes in all the above criteria. The frequency of these mistakes and their impact on the writing's efficacy determine if a candidate receives a qualifying score. 

Examinees may review their WRITE Test with the ETCS Director, to discuss ways to improve their writing. Reviews are strongly encouraged for examinees who do not qualify on their first attempt.

ECC Test Purpose

The ECC Test assesses a candidate’s ability to communicate with undergraduate students successfully in English, as an instructor. 

ECC Test Logistics

Candidates present a 15-minute, lecture-based lesson on a simple topic from their field. 

  • Lesson topics are created by academic unit faculty and are emailed to candidates 24 hours prior to their chosen ECC Test date. There are at least two topics for candidates to choose from.
  • The location of the test is an OU classroom; the precise location information will be emailed along with the topics. 
  • Candidates will have a white board / black board to use for visual aids.
  • The ECC Test is performed before and evaluated by a panel of trained raters–an undergraduate student, a graduate student, a faculty panelist (depending on academic unit preference and availability), and the ETCS Director.

The fee for each ECC Test is $50.00. 

  • This fee is used to pay the student panelists for each test.
  • Academic units often pay this fee for candidates or the candidates pay themselves via cash, credit card, or check.

Candidates can take the ECC Test one time per semester. These tests are offered toward the end of each semesteras specified below.

  • Late March - Early May
  • Late July - Late August
  • Late October - Early December

ECC Test scores are valid throughout a candidate's degree program at OU. The score does not expire within that timeframe.

Skills Evaluated by the ECC Test 

Because the ECC Test is a performance test of the ability to successfully communicate using English teaching speech, candidates are evaluated for the following relevant language competencies: 

  1. Oral Competence: Ability to speak fluent, comprehensible English
  2. Listening Competence: Ability to understand questions and comments from students
  3. Interactional/Strategic Competence: Ability to interact/dialogue successfully in the performance context (i.e., an OU undergraduate classroom)
  4. Discourse Competence: Ability to coherently and cohesively sequence language

Below are links to documents containing a variety of tips for ECC Test candidates.

In Person ECC Test Tips (PDF document download)
Remote ECC Test Tips (Word document download)

  • To retake the the ECC Test, contact the ETCS Office before or during the next test cycle.
  • Candidates must complete a free ECC Test review with ETCS staff before registering for another ECC Test. 
  • We recommend taking a free ETCS training course before re-testing, if possible. 
  • Note that those with Level D certification are required to take an ETCS training course before re-testing. 

Certification Requirements and Instructional Capacities

Each level of certification corresponds to a candidate's performance on the ECC Test and to a particular instructional capacity, as described below.

An ECC Test Score of Level A means a candidate can fluently and flexibly produce English teaching speech. While there may be a few non-systemic, minor limitations in the candidate's language production, communication is listener-friendly and completely comprehensible throughout.

Level A certification indicates a candidate has the English ability to be the instructor of record for any course in any OU department, including stand-alone, lecture-based courses. No supervision or co-instructor is required.

An ECC Test Score of Level B means a candidate produces adequate English teaching speech. There is some lack of fluency and flexibility in the candidate's language production, but these features are not sustained enough to inhibit or delay successful communication. Clarification is sometimes needed but is complete when given.

Level B certification indicates a candidate has the English ability to be the instructor of record for ancillary courses in any OU department. Ancillary courses (i.e., labs, discussion sections, activity classes, individual music lessons) are those in which there is a faculty who is also delivering content to students in a lecture section and/or is responsible for the course/curriculum overall. Level B also indicates a candidate has the English ability to co-teach a course with a faculty or Level A-certified instructor.

WRITE Test Score
ECC Test ScoreTraining/Support Suggestions
At least 80/100 or ExemptionC

An ECC Test Score of Level C means a candidate demonstrates occasional hesitation and lapses when producing English teaching speech. Communication is approaching competence, but consistent pronunciation or fluency limitations and/or difficulties with interaction or coherence sometimes distract from or delay successful communication. However, communication never breaks down completely, and necessary clarification can be negotiated. 

Level C certification indicates a candidate has the English ability to support an instructor of record in any OU department. This means the candidate can hold office hours, tutor, grade, answer student questions, substitute teach for the instructor of record on occasion, and assist generally in the classroom Candidates at this level cannot be listed as an instructor of record, lecture routinely, or deliver extensive new content to the whole class. 

An ECC Test score of level D indicates that there is a systemic lack of automaticity and clarity in speaking and listening abilities. There are communication break downs during the lesson that make it difficult to dialogue with the candidate and/or follow the lesson content.

Free ETCS training is required for these candidates before re-testing. This training must occur in one of the two subsequent semesters following the Level D assessment. 

Level D certification means an individual can hold GTA appointments that involve the following:

  • Grading assignments or tests for an instructor of record but having no discussion of the grades with students
  • Preparing labs, classrooms, and/or Canvas materials for a course

*ETCS follows the OU Graduate Admissions policy of not accepting "My Best" TOEFL or IELTS scores. Higher AND more recent English proficiency  test scores can be used in lieu of the scores submitted for an OU application.

**See the assessment schedule for the current testing cycle dates. To register for a test, contact ETCS.

Training Options

Training before testing is recommended!

These training options are only available for current OU graduate students, visiting scholars, post docs, and adjunct faculty. Enrollment preference is given for teaching assistants and instructors.

Those interested in enrolling in this course should contact the ETCS Director, Jessica Reynolds.

Advanced Communication Skills for International GTAs and Graduate Students

This free, non-credit training course specifically develops participants' English communicative competence for academic situations in U.S. universities through instruction and practice in the following areas:

  • Targeted Vocabulary Development
  • Fluency Building Activities
  • Prosody Training (Prosody = The melody and rhythm of a language)  
  • Stress Timing Awareness and Practice
  • Sound Decoding and Articulation Practice
  • Listening Fluency Training
  • Teaching Speech and Presentation Skills (e.g., Communication Pragmatics, Compensation/Clarification Strategies, Verbal Coherence Cues)
  • Speaking Experiences (e.g., Confidence-Building Activities During and Outside of Class)

This course is customizable so that any participant can build a robust academic fluency for academic communication in graduate programs and teaching speech situations for GTA appointments.

The course meets for 4 hours per week for the first 10 weeks of each Spring and Fall semester, with individualized practice tools provided. There is a strict attendance policy in this course.

Academic Writing for Multilingual Graduate Students

This free, zero-credit academic writing course, offered in collaboration with the OU Writing Center, invites participants to explore and practice rhetorical approaches for producing written work within U.S. graduate programs. The course is designed for graduate students with multilingual backgrounds at various stages of their master's or doctoral degrees.

Participants will investigate and practice U.S. academic writing conventions and discipline-specific moves, developing their written coherence, individual style, accuracy, and synthesis of sources. Participants will also complete language-focused discussions and analyses of texts, with individual writing time provided to apply learning to authentic writing tasks. Another element of the course is receiving individual feedback from writing consultants on writing projects (i.e., a dissertation proposal, thesis methodology chapter, conference paper, etc.).

 

Writing Course Details:

  • This course is usually offered in the Spring and/or Summer semester of each year, depending on instructor availability. 
  • The course meets for a total of approximately 35 hours, with some homework required.

Individual Test Reviews

ETCS offers individual reviews of WRITE, and ECC Tests for candidates who will take these tests again and/or who want additional feedback after taking a test.

  • The ETCS Director conducts the review sessions which focus on specific English elements to practice and strategies for improving communicative competence for a classroom setting.
  • Reviews last approximately 45 minutes and can be scheduled by contacting the ETCS Director, Jessica Reynolds.

 

 

Classroom Observation and Coaching

The ETCS Director can observe and coach any international instructor, who would like to have feedback on their English communication in a classroom context.

  • Coaching sessions can be scheduled, as needed, before and after the observation has occurred.
  • Note that the observations and coaching sessions will be focused on language-specific content and clear communication strategies, rather than on discipline-specific content or pedagogical methods. 
  • Coaching can also occur independently of a classroom observation, if needed/desired.

Language Development Resources

Speaking Fluency and Articulation Clarity

Resource LinkDescription
Blue CanoeThis app has free and paid versions and uses brain science and a virtual AI teacher to help users learn the sounds and rhythm of English with the Color Vowel® method. This is the ETCS Director's most recommended program for improving comprehensibility - just 10 minutes a day!
Elemental EnglishThis channel is a free collection of instructional videos about pronunciation, connected speech, prosody and grammar topics, with a focus on everyday English use in North America.
ELSA SPEAKThis is a personalized mobile application, first released in 2016, that provides targeted pronunciation and sound articulation practice for $3.99 per month or $29.99 per year.
Home Speech HomeThis free site has extensive word lists for each North American English sound as well as countless exercises for discriminating sounds.
PronuncianThis free site offers minimal pairs, word lists, and lessons for all North American English sounds. 
Rachel's EnglishThis free site contains a plethora of videos, exercises, and examples of North American English pronunciation and connected speech features.
Speech Sounds VisualizedThis app, developed by a speech language pathologist, uses a combination of x-ray images, audio recordings, and written instructions to guide users in forming standard North American English sounds. The app costs $9.99 and only works for iOS.
Perfect English GrammarA free and thorough English Grammar site covering many of the accuracy issues common in complex language use; worksheets, quizzes, and helpful handouts are available for download.

Listening Fluency

Resource LinkDescription
English CentralCustomizable listening and pronunciation exercises are provided on this free site, via hundreds of short videos.
TED TalksA free, searchable website full of many interesting lectures on a plethora of topics; transcripts and subtitles can be enabled for listening, prosody, and pronunciation practice.
VoiceTubeA free, customizable site that allows users to listen to and repeat various level-appropriate videos on different topics 
YouglishThis free site allows users to search words or phrases in English and see videos of these words/phrases being used in real contexts.

Interactional and Discourse Competence for Teaching Speech

Resource LinkDescription
Texas A&M Video about Communicating with a MaskThis 15-minute video from Texas A&M Univerisity about teaching with a mask is an informative, research-based explanation of issues with and strategies for wearing masks while teaching.
MIT User-Friendly ClassroomFive short videos (2-9 minutes) that include advice from undergraduates and international TAs as well as examples of TA-taught classes, all with interactive transcripts and analysis questions. This resource is completely free.
Utah State University International Teaching Assistant Training VideosA series of helpful videos of pragmatic tips from international teaching assistants and faculty for teaching courses in the U.S.
Common Student QuestionsThe University of Minnesota staff have created this free resource for international TAs to become familiar with common student-asked questions and typical teacher responses. 
University of Washington's Resources for ITAsThis comprehensive site contains insightful articles that give tips, tools, and expectations for teaching in the U.S.
Vanderbilt University's Guide for International Teaching AssistantsThis site is another free, in-depth resource for expectations, norms, and strategies for success as an international teaching assistant in the U.S.

Early English Evaluation Options for Academic Units

Procedures for Early, Remote Testing for High Priority Applicants:

  1. Department graduate liaisons/graduate faculty admissions committee members can nominate their top 2 international applicants* for early, remote English certification via a Slate electronic form. 

  2. The direct link to the form for early, remote testing nomination is as follows: 
    https://gograd.ou.edu/register/ETCSEarlyTesting

  3. In the form, faculty will be prompted for a short rationale for why the particular applicant should be considered for early, remote certification.

  4. These forms can be submitted for international graduate applicants on Slate within the following date ranges each year:

        March 15th – May 1st
        October 15th – January 1st   
     

  5. Department graduate liaisons/faculty should communicate with their nominated applicants that they will be contacted by ETCS about early, remote English certification to secure a GTA offer. 
     

  6. After receiving the form data, ETCS will contact the applicants and set up advising appointments and ECC Tests via Zoom as soon as possible.
     

  7. Departments or host faculty will be responsible for paying the $50 ECC Test fee, to compensate the test panelists.

  8. After assessment/certification is complete, ETCS will communicate the applicants’ English certification levels to the department and the applicants.
     

  9. The departments can make their GTA position offers according to the level of certification that the applicant achieves. 

  10. If the applicant chooses OU and begins their GTA appointment, the department must assign a faculty member (not the applicant’s advisor) to complete a classroom observation of the GTA instructing in their first semester and provide detailed feedback to the GTA and to ETCS on the communication success of the GTA.
     

*To qualify for an early, remote ECC Test (i.e., the English certification assessment) to determine GTA appointment eligibility, the applicant must meet the following criteria:

  • Be admitted by the department (i.e., be academically admissible). 

  • Be one of the top applicants for that admission cycle.
  • Need GTA funding.
  • Be likely to choose OU, based on the department’s interactions with the applicant.
     

Note: 
There are 25 early, remote testing slots available for each Fall and Spring semester.

Preliminary English proficiency evaluations by the ETCS Director can be requested by academic units during their admissions cycles for international graduate applicants who meet the following criteria: 

  • Have high admissions potential
  • Will likely serve in a GTA appointment in order to be funded
  • Can complete a live/recorded interview for the ETCS Director's preliminary assessment of their English proficiency for teaching speech.

Purpose: To support academic units in evaluating the English proficiency (in particular, the potential teaching speech capacity) of international graduate applicants, prior to admission. This information can also assist units in admissions decisions and planning GTA appointments.  

Academic units' admissions committees can request these preliminary evaluations by emailing the ETCS Director, Jessica Reynolds.

Note: These evaluations will not take the place of the regular English certification process required by Oklahoma state law.

There are two main data resources that ETCS routinely generates for academic units.

  1. Dashboard of Active International GTAs and Their Current Certification Levels 
  • ETCS uses the GA Dashboard on the Power BI application to communicate international GTAs' certification statuses to academic units.
  • Unit faculty and staff who need to view English certification information for international GTA appointments can email Lindsey Johnston for access to the GA Dashboard. 
  • This dashboard's information is updated within 24 hours of an international GTA's certification.
  • ETCS encourages academic unit faculty and staff to contact us if there are any updates regarding international GTAs to add to this dashboard.

       2. Reports Correlating English Proficiency Test Scores (e.g., TOEFL, IELTS, etc.)
            to ECC Test Initial Scores

  • These reports correlate individuals' initial English certification level achieved (A, B, C, D) via the ECC Test with ranges of TOEFL and IELTS composite scores and speaking sub-scores. 
  • The reports' data has been aggregated for all graduate degree programs’ international graduate students who have been certified.
  • The report data only shows the initial score/certification level of the examinees; many level up on subsequent attempts.
  • Graduate Liaisons, Chairs, and Directors can request this report anytime (e.g., before the admissions cycle for an upcoming academic year), and it is updated after each testing cycle. 
  • Note: Each certification level corresponds to a specific instructional capacity.
  • Purpose: To provide units with data-driven predictions regarding international applicants’ likely English language abilities for teaching upon arrival to the U.S. This information can assist units in admission decisions and planning GTA appointments.