If you make the climb up to the fourth floor of the Academic Building on any day of the week, you might be surprised by the constant conversation taking place in the hallway between students from America, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and Korea. These students aren’t just friends; they’re conversation partners.
Since 1974, the English Language Institute (ELI) at Texas A&M University has been equipping international students with the English skills they need to share their knowledge with the university and the world. While in the institute, students can take courses in Composition, Vocabulary, Grammar, Listening, Reading and Oral Skills. As a companion to Oral Skills, students are required to meet with a conversation partner to practice listening and speaking in English.
Once a week, international students meet one-on-one for thirty minutes outside of class with an ELI student worker. Conversation partners act as supplementary instruction to what the students learn in their Oral Skills class. If the students are focusing on a specific vowel sound in a certain week’s classes, during their conversation that week, the partners will discuss words with that sound and their meaning as well as work on pronunciation.
Not only do conversation partners help with class content, but they also give students a chance to practice speaking in a safe environment where they won’t be judged for making mistakes. The only mistake is not trying. Conversation partners encourage students to learn new words that they might not find in a textbook. “They learn everyday language from the students,” says ELI lecturer Sema Pulak. “They learn all the academic language in the class, but when they speak outside, they’re lost without the help from conversation partners.”
All of the student workers at ELI serve as conversation partners to both ELI-only and Texas A&M international students. One student worker and conversation partner, Christian Lowe, says, “International students benefit a great deal from the camaraderie and friendship they gain from conversation partners.” This rapport that the students and their conversation partners build helps the students feel welcome in America and like they are a part of the culture. This will benefit the students as they move on to further their academic studies or start their careers in the United States.
For some international students, their time at Texas A&M will be spent entirely at ELI learning English. Others are improving their English while also pursuing their education at Texas A&M in various fields, such as engineering, medicine, and physics. Conversation partners are an essential part of ELI’s mission to ensure that international students have the speaking and listening skills they need to succeed wherever they go in the future.