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Facilitators, Participants Sought for English Conversation Partners Program
International students and other non-native speakers of American English can practice speaking and gain fluency and a better understanding of the language through the Graduate School’s English Conversation Partners program.
The concept is simple: through informal, one-to-one conversations about any subject, learners can become more accustomed to speaking English while learning nuances of American culture and customs as well as college and campus life.
“The program is literally conversation; there is no formal instruction provided by the partners,” says Shawn Loner, Graduate School assistant director of professional and career development, who manages the program. “The facilitator and participant work out the goals, topics and focal points for a session or sessions. Some international students want feedback on aspects of their language; others just want a place to practice their speech.”
Facilitators and participants typically meet once a week for at least an hour, although they can agree to meet longer or more frequently, according to Loner. Sessions usually begin at the start of the semester and run through the end of classes and may also occur during breaks if desired. Meetings are held in public spaces such as campus libraries, cafeterias or the Marshall Square Mall. Some conversation pairs also meet online via Zoom.
Law student and program participant Renata Maximiano Chaves says she highly recommends the experience. “Beyond enhancing my language skills, my [conversation partner] has offered valuable life advice, helped me adjust to American culture and provided campus life tips. This partnership has evolved into a precious friendship and their kindness and competence have boosted my confidence in improving my English-speaking skills.”
Conversation facilitator Elizabeth (“Lisa”) Sasser enjoyed her part in the program, too. “I worked with three fellow grad students during the fall semester on Friday afternoons. It was a low-key way for them to focus on their goals for the program—whether to be a teaching assistant or to polish conference presentation skills. I really enjoyed our conversations and hope they enjoyed them, too.”
“With the start of a new semester, the Graduate School is seeking new conversation facilitators and participants,” Loner says. Both undergraduate and graduate students can work in the paid, hourly facilitator positions. They receive some guidance on identifying typical non-standard language features and on how to conduct conversation sessions, but otherwise, they work independently. While facilitators meet individually with each participant, most work with multiple students. Partners are matched based on their schedules and the time each can devote to the program. Both facilitators and participants are welcome to stay in the program for as long as they wish. Last semester, about 95 international graduate students participated and were paired with 30 conversation partners.
Interested participants can fill out the request form online. To apply for a position as a conversation facilitator, contact Loner at 315.443.3431, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit him in person at 304 Lyman Hall.