Dr. Julia Stakhnevich, SLS Director at the Academic Achievement Center
The purpose of the program is to develop conversation skills of BSC ESL students through interactions with native speaking peers; to enhance BSC ESL classes through discussions of the topics assigned in ESL classes; and to assist BSC ESL students in adaptation to American culture and to college life through individual discussion sessions on issues of cross-cultural communication. The major goal of the Program is to engage all of its participants in meaningful discussions of cross-cultural similarities and differences, raising the level of intercultural sensitivity on campus.
1). Be patient: many students you will be working with are still in the process of learning English. They are also going through a lot of stress as they adjust to living far away from home in a different cultural milieu. Imagine yourself trying to go to Japan to study. Be empathetic.
2). Don’t be afraid to ask questions: some ESL students might be too shy to initiate a conversation on their own. The goal of this program is to increase their conversational fluency. Your role is that of a peer and a language/cultural consultant. It is absolutely okay to be the first to ask questions and/or start a conversation with a short story that might promote a response from the student. Use topics that are of interest both to you and to the students you are working with, for example, cultural differences, college life, traveling, foreign cultures and traditions, national celebrations and ethnic festivals, popular books, movies, cartoons, concerts and other cultural events. If you are interested in a specific aspect of the culture that your conversation partner is from, it might be good to let him/her know about it. It is always reassuring to know that the person you will be talking with has some interest in your culture. If you don’t know anything at all about the cultures of the students you will be working with, please let me know and I will recommend a couple of sources. Certainly, encyclopedias and the web come first to mind, but depending on a particular culture, I might have a book or an article that might be especially useful. I might be also able to connect you with another student from this culture so that you can talk to him/her to get more information. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. This is a learning experience for you, too and you should always remember that there is a support system available.
3). Remember that one of the purposes of this program is to enhance BSC ESL classes. Thus, discuss topics related to what students are doing in their ESL classes. This semester we will cover two units: the first one is on cross-cultural differences and the second one is on discrimination. Students will read a number of texts on these topics, see several TV clips, make oral presentation and write journals. My syllabus is available for you to look at in the first drawer of my desk. It is in the blue plastic folder, labeled “Announcement File”. Please feel free to look at it. Also, when you meet with your conversation partners, remember to ask them if they have any oral or written assignments from their ESL classes and if they need help.
4). Be sensitive to mistakes in English grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation: try to correct some mistakes, but don’t correct all of them. The purpose of this program is to increase their language fluency. Look for mistake patterns (e.g., missed articles, wrong tense usage, wrong word order, wrong word choice, etc.) and concentrate only on correcting one or two patterns at a time. The basic rule here is to pay more attention to the mistakes that confuse you as a native speaker and prevent you from understanding the meaning that your conversation partner is trying to express. For example, with a lot of Japanese students one of the common mistakes is mispronunciation of [r] and [l] sounds. Thus, in one of your sessions, it would be beneficial to concentrate on correcting just this mistake pattern. It would be helpful to let the student know the language focus of the session; in this case these two sounds.
5). Be persistent: if you don’t understand what the student is trying to say, don’t give up. Instead use one or several of the following techniques:
*ask the student to paraphrase what was said before;
*ask the student to use the dictionary;
*ask the student to write down what was said before on a piece of paper in one or two sentences or, if necessary, in a paragraph or two;
*model good English by giving your students several interpretations of what you think the student is trying to say and ask which one is closer to the original meaning.
6). Remember to be respectful and model good speaking practices in English. Swearing and off-color slang should not be part of your vocabulary during your sessions.
Last Modified: March 18, 2008