Conversation partners to help international students
Gannon’s International Student Office (ISO) wants to help our global community become accustomed to the English language through conversation partners.
Conversation partners serve to help students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program to practice their English. The program has been at Gannon for at least five years.
Suzanne Hawryliw, secretary of the International Student Office, pairs international students with native English-speaking students.
Hawryliw said she usually meets with the director from ESL to determine which students need the most practice with their English. They then meet with the international students to tell them that this program is not a dating service, but rather it is meant to help students in the ESL program practice their new languages.
There are usually more international students who sign up for conversational partners than English students, Hawryliw said. Most of the beginner level ESL students sign up for a conversation partner, but there are also some intermediate students who feel they need to keep practicing.
Once paired, Hawryliw said the students are asked to make appointments to meet with each other at least once a week. The students get to choose where and when they meet. The biggest problem that partners run into is running out of time to meet with each other.
Conor Grey, a biology major in the LECOM 4+4 program, had a conversation partner during his freshman year who was from Iraq. His partner, Hala Asfar, learned English as a second language to Arabic.
After he signed up for a partner and got the information about his partner, Grey said that he would meet up with Asfar every Tuesday to help her practice her English.
Asfar was still in the ESL classes and she was excited to start classes dealing with her major, respiratory science, with Americans.
Grey said that Asfar had a sense of proper English, but she had some trouble understanding slang. During the week, he said he would write down every slang word that he used and would teach her what it meant at her sessions.
At the sessions, Grey said that Asfar would bring her homework for him to help her with.
He would also look over the essays that were graded and explain why the professors made certain corrections. They would also discuss strange vocab words such as pomegranate.
Grey said that he liked the program because it gave him the opportunity to meet different people who wanted help with their English, as opposed to people who were learning the language because they have to.
The first few sessions were strange, Grey said, but after that, he and Asfar got into a routine.
Sometimes they would go to lunch and talk about the types of food they were eating, and he’d introduce her to his friends as they would walk by.
Grey said that his sessions helped him to learn broad ideas and generalizations about the Arabic language. One thing he says he remembers learning is that Arabic verbs are gender specific.
He also learned more about Iraq through their conversations, Grey said. She would show him some commercials from Iraq, or they would talk about the relations between the U.S. and Iraq.
Since she was catholic, a minority in her country, they also discussed the persecutions in Iraq.
The only things that Grey said he did not like about the program was that some of the international guys would treat the program as a dating service and that was weird for some of the girls who just wanted to help them with their English.
The other thing Grey said he didn’t like was the format of the program.
“The format was primarily one-on-one,” said Grey, “and I think that some of the sessions should have been in groups with some of the other conversation partners.”
Hawryliw said that this year, the ISO will be creating some specific programs for conversation partners where they focus on specific topics. She said she hopes that this will help people want to have a conversation partner.
“I would tell anyone who was on the fence about signing up for a conversation partner to try it,” said Hawryliw. “Meet someone new and expand your horizons. You won’t be sorry.”
If you are interested in working with a conversation partner, go to the ISO on the first floor of Zurn or contact Suzanne Hawryliw at 814-871-7015.
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