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English Language Institute Empowers Students for Success

by Alexandra DeMarco

English Language Institute staff members pictured in downtown Knoxville in front of the UT Conference Center Building

English Language Institute staff members pictured in downtown Knoxville in front of the UT Conference Center Building

The Center for Global Engagement’s English Language Institute is a unique member of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville campus. Located in the UT Conference Center in downtown Knoxville, ELI’s mission is to provide English-as-a-second-language instruction not only for prospective university students, but also general community members and professionals.

Em Chitty, interim director of ELI since 2020, has been teaching languages since 1979. She first taught English in Italy for two and half years before returning to the U.S. to teach French. After briefly working as a journalist, she later transitioned to teaching English as a Second Language and worked at Pellissippi State Community College. In 2011, she joined UT part-time.

“I think for most teachers of English language, the reason we do it is that we love to travel, and we love to be in contact with people from other cultures,” Chitty said.

As an ESL educator, Chitty strives to supply her students with the communication skills necessary to succeed and compete in their respective fields. It’s rewarding to see a student finish an ELI program and go on to lead a successful career using their English skills, she says.

“It’s a kind of personal mission to empower students — no matter who the students are or what I’m teaching — to empower students to do what they want to do in their lives and to help them toward whatever their goals are, and English language, as the most current universal language, is really important for a lot of people’s life goals and career goals,” Chitty said. “So I get a sense of satisfaction when I’m able to help people along that road.”

ELI courses are available to general community members looking to improve their English skills, in addition to academics and students. The institute offers three regular English learning programs: Intensive Academic English, the General English Program and Saturday Workshops aimed at working professionals.

“A lot of people live here and are not really in American culture. They live in little bubbles, and that can be really lonely,” Chitty said. “So it’s exciting when I see members of the community improve their command of English and really become more able to live their lives happily here.”

This semester, ELI also has a new online program, Friend Across the Sea. Funded through a Department of State grant, Friends Across the Sea is a six-week partnership course with Japan; 21 Modern Foreign Language and Literature Students from UT are paired up with 21 Japanese students learning English.

“It’s been really, really an adventure because we had to do the whole thing online. … It’s really quite intensive. It’s an hour or two of English everyday for these students from Japan,” Chitty said. “It includes classes and conversation hours and two panel discussions with professionals here who have connections with Japan or with Japanese industries.”

Chitty hopes to continue Friends Across the Sea past this semester and encourages any universities interested in partnering with ELI for an online program to reach out with inquiries.

Additionally, ELI is open to making connections with all students and for volunteering.

“As members of the CGE, we’re really interested in connecting people, Americans, with our students,” Chitty said.

ELI holds weekly conversation hours on Tuesdays at noon. Participants are welcome to come and eat lunch with ELI students. For more information and to volunteer at ELI, visit


Jason Moody (865-974-5752,