Now Enrolling: Center for English as a Second Language (CESL)

Joy Xiao, Director of CESL, softly smiles with her long black hair hanging over her green sweater.

The University of Cincinnati's Center for English as a Second Language offers both oral and written classes to currently enrolled international students wanting to improve their English language abilities. Not only do these classes prepare students in language proficiency, they provide them with the skills they need to be successful in academic and professional endeavors—building real communication confidence. What’s more, the courses are open to all international students, both graduate and undergraduate.

Joy Xiao, Director of CESL since 2014, is deeply passionate about watching her students grow and succeed. She even designs some of the courses herself.

“Our program initially began in order to support the increasing international graduate student population,” says Joy. “We started by offering the oral English proficiency test for international teaching assistants... Then we expanded based on the student needs, by offering oral communication courses. We gradually added the academic writing courses.”

Because CESL courses attract such a wide range of both graduate and undergraduate students studying many different disciplines, students bring whatever they are currently working on in their individual programs to their CESL classes. Manuscripts, dissertation drafts, thesis writing, projects—any kind of written homework they may need extra help with.

Catarina Figueirinhas, a book conservation specialist at UC Libraries, is originally from Portugal. Wanting to improve her writing skills because of the extensive reports her job demands she write, she took an interest in CESL courses. “At first my brain would switch the verbs. I’d be writing in English but thinking in Portuguese,” says Catarina, “And getting my undergrad degrees from Portugal, I had never encountered APA style before CESL… Now, I’ve learned so many new words and new skills. It’s been great.”

Wen Long, a doctoral student in civil engineering, has nothing but good things to say about his CESL experience. “It’s a great course. It helped me revise my manuscript,” says Wen, “And it’s not only the writing skills we learn in the class, but the writing habits. How to use your time well. How to track your daily writing times.

“But the biggest change for me has been my attitude change towards writing,” says Wen, “Previously, I was very reluctant to write and a little bit afraid of writing. But now I think it’s not that hard, if I can follow the basic frame of a paper.”

Beyond the meaningful courses, the point of CESL is to actively build the communication confidence of their students, manifesting the ability to write and speak without an ounce of self-doubt. When one learns to write and speak well, their confidence grows, and their communication abilities flourish. This confidence is an essential life skill, benefitting academic and professional aspirations in countless ways—presenting at conferences, networking, developing soft skills, effectively explaining and documenting research—and doing so in well-learned and smooth language. In summary, the benefits of CESL are immeasurable.

“So many students told me they wish they had heard about the courses earlier, because it’s so easy to struggle with research writing, even the basics,” says Joy. “In a very short period of time, one semester, 15 mere weeks, very amazing progress can be made. At the end of this time period, a number of students will have published academic papers.

“We want more students to benefit from our courses,” says Joy. “I just want as many students as possible to know about us.” 

CESL is actively enrolling new students. If you have questions about CESL courses, please contact Joy Xiao, Director of the Center of English as a Second Language, at, or 513.556.3590


Written by Danniah Daher, Graduate Assistant to the Graduate School Office