IN a stylish suite in an office building in the middle of Sydney, the computers are busy, and eyes and headphone-covered ears are concentrating on the finer points of English pronunciation and sentence structure in the language laboratories. In another room, nine students are chatting with a film crew from Taiwan which is making a video, and from the students' lounge comes the sound of laughter as another group of students shares a joke with their teacher about the food to be prepared for a party to celebrate Lunar New Year. This is a TAFE English-Language Centre, and is an example of the professional and fun way that Australia's Technical and Further Education sector has approached the challenge of teaching overseas students how to speak and write English. The teachers are a motivated team, each with postgraduate qualifications in English teaching. The students are dedicated to work hard to learn English as quickly as they can - while making new friends, and enjoying the exciting experience of staying in a new place. The course combines class work with computer-enhanced learning and instruction using language laboratories. There is a strong emphasis on good pronunciation, phrasing and intonation, and there are also plenty of opportunities to talk in a more casual environment, without the pressure of performing in a classroom. There is a large network of English-language centres throughout Australia, offering full-time language courses for overseas students. Some of them are private schools and others are run by government institutions such as TAFE and the universities. They are called ELICOS (English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students). Each is registered and monitored by the government to make sure it maintains its standards of teaching quality and facilities to a nationally acceptable level. ELICOS centres offer courses for beginners and for advanced students. The centres help overseas students speak, read and write English to enable them to undertake further study in Australia or to improve their career prospects in their home country. English-Language training ranges from A$1,800 (HK$9,540) to A$2,200 for a 10-week course. Many people from Hong Kong who decide to study in Australia are recommended to attend an ELICOS course - its length depending on the student's fluency. Not only do the courses give students a head start in the kind of technical vocabulary they will meet in their chosen academic study, they also give them confidence in their own abilities and an early experience of living in Australia. Before being accepted to study in an institution in Australia students have to complete a language test, called the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This grades students' ability on a level from one to nine, where a score of six or seven is usually adequate for enrolling on a course of study. Some students are deterred from even trying to go to Australia, because they fear their English will be inadequate. ''Sometimes they are pleasantly surprised to find out how good they really are at English,'' said the manager of the Australian Education Centre, Jandy Godfrey.