Taking a foreign language class is something that most college students are required to do, but it’s very seldom that students become fluent in the language and continue using after they graduate.
This is not an option for foreign students who come to America to study at English language centers, such as the one that is housed in ETSU’s Hutcheson Hall.
ELS Center Director Cheryl Jones said the center is in need of ETSU students and community members who are interested in serving as conversation partners for the English students.
ELS hosts students from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Spain, Taiwan, Brazil and many more international locations, and students who are involved will be able to learn about a variety of different cultures.
“Right now we have fifty-seven students, which changes every session—our sessions are four weeks long—and so some students may leave us [after the session] and some new ones might come in,” Jones said. “We have just a handful [of conversation partners] but a majority of our students would really like to have a conversation partner so we would love to have more people involved.”
Jones said the center will help set up the introduction between students and partners, but once the initial contact is made, students are free to meet whenever and wherever they would like.
“It’s good if they can meet about once a week over coffee, at the center, or even if they want to go out and do something together,” Jones said. “The purpose is to get our students meeting Americans, learning more about the culture and having a chance to practice the language.”
Jones said ELS conversation partnerships are also a great opportunity for students needing to fulfill service learning hours.
Rachel Fields, a teacher at ELS, said she sees a difference in the work of students who engage with native speakers on a regular basis.
“[Students] are more fluent and native sounding, and that’s important,” Fields said. “Their goal is to sound and fit in like a native, and with having a conversation partner, they get to hear language that we don’t teach them in class. We are teaching them language to help them succeed academically, and what they learn with their conversation partner is going to help them succeed socially.”
Fields also said all the teachers at ELS encourage students to get involved with conversation partners.
Murad Alwusaybie, who is in his last session at ELS, said students considering becoming conversation partners should “not miss this chance!”
He has been meeting with his conversation partner for about five months, and said he has learned so much more about the language and culture as a result of their meetings.
“Some phrases and words cannot be looked up,” Alwusaybie said. “They need a native speaker to be explained.”
Alwusaybie said he and his conversation partner share traditional beverages from Saudi Arabia when they meet, like special teas and coffee.
“Usually we meet in the Culp to talk about our day, our studies and recommendations for places to see and visit in the area,” Alwusaybie said. “We talk about culture and religion, too, and learn about different holidays that we each celebrate.”
Becoming a conversation partner for ELS is a great opportunity for students interested in helping international students improve their language, sharing American culture and partaking in their partner’s culture as well.
Those interested in applying should contact Cheryl Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 423-439-7147.