By Kathryn Kelman/editor-in-chief
ESOL students get extra English practice
SE Campus’ Conversation Partners program aims to help speakers of other languages learn English and develop their skills by pairing them with other students to practice outside of class.
SE’s English Speakers of Other Languages has offered the program for almost five years, ESOL instructor Mary Cinatl said.
“The goal is to increase the ESOL student’s level of confidence in using their new language,” she said.
Cinatl worked with Phi Theta Kappa to provide her students with conversation partners for the first four years. She now works with the organization and other SE professors to allow more students to take part, she said.
Around the third week of classes, students fill out an application, and Cinatl pairs them based on availability and areas of study.
Once the students are paired, Cinatl sends them each an email and takes herself out of the equation unless the students contact her. The students coordinate and start meeting around the fourth week of classes and meet every week until the last two weeks of the term, which they take off to prepare for finals, she said.
“Where, when or how often they meet is their decision,” she said. “However, a minimum of one hour per week is required.”
The students meet for no less than 30 minutes each time. The meetings aren’t supervised, and the students can discuss anything they want so long as they do so in English, Cinatl said.
“It is not meant to be a tutoring session, but an opportunity to use their new language in an authentic conversation with a native speaker,” she said.
Because the goal is for the conversations to be natural, Cinatl said the students don’t meet in a classroom, but instead in places like the commons or in the ballroom for lunch.
“It really has helped their [ESOL students’] confidence,” Cinatl said.
SE student Idararosa Ekong is one of the conversation partners.
“Learning a foreign language is not easy at all, but the casual conversations help the ESOL students to speak their minds and explore different concepts rather than what they hear in the classroom,” Ekong said.
In class, ESOL students learn topics pertaining to English, but the program gives them a place to apply what they learn in class to real-world situations, she said.
Ekong learned about the Conversation Partners program when Cinatl came to a Phi Theta Kappa meeting and told them about it, she said.
Her experience as a partner has had a positive impact on her because it allowed her to hear different perspectives of life. Her partner told her stories of his childhood in Vietnam and the country’s education system. Ekong, who grew up in Nigeria, said she was fascinated because their home countries have similar processes.
SE student Diana Avila also recommends other students get involved with the Conversation Partners program. Her native language is Spanish, and her second language is English.
“If English is your second language, like myself, I think that you should consider being a support system for another person who should feel welcome to a community college like TCC,” Avila said.
When she first arrived in the U.S., she couldn’t speak English and didn’t have friends because she was too shy and embarrassed to speak to people until she made a friend who taught her English, she said.
Avila has worked with two students, and both made her more open-minded about their cultures, she said.
“We had so many things in common that made our discussions interesting and enjoyable,” she said.
Avila said she looked forward to talking to the students each week because it felt amazing to talk to someone interested in her stories.
Cinatl said she is considering opening up applications for the program to all SE students next fall.
“It truly is a win-win program for all involved,” she said.
Contact Mary Cinatl at email@example.com.