North Texas Daily

International and English-speaking students teach each other in UNT program

International and English-speaking students teach each other in UNT program

International and English-speaking students teach each other in UNT program
September 11
08:00 2013

Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

Many degree plans require students to take foreign language classes, but the conversation partners program lets native English speakers teach the language to international students and make new friends in the process.

In the program, part of the Intensive English Language Institute, English speakers meet with foreign students from all over the world for at least one hour a week to discuss mutual interests, how the week has gone and anything else that comes to mind, program coordinator Amber Hallberg said.

“You’re not just learning facts,” she said. “You’re not just learning statistics about a place. You’re hearing individual stories and seeing what their life is like through their eyes.”

Hallberg has been involved with UNT for five years and served as a conversation partner for a year before becoming the program’s coordinator. She said the program helps the students feel more at home in the U.S. and helps put them through the IELI program more quickly because they’re being exposed to the English language more.

The IELI program offers international students a chance to unofficially attend UNT while they learn English. Many of the school’s programs offer conditional enrollment to students who have graduated out of IELI. Of the 400 students in the program, about 100 are conversation partners.

“They develop their language skills much faster,” Hallberg said. “They have a more expansive vocabulary, they’re happier, they’re less homesick because they’ve built relationships here. They tend to do better in school as well.”

English as a second language instructor Barbara Hefka said she couldn’t measure this semester’s students, but the conversation partners program generally has a positive impact on her students.

“They often make American friends and obviously get more practice with conversational English,” Hefka said. “But I also think the students who are more outgoing are more inclined to join the program.”

Hallberg said it’s a way to make sure foreign students are comfortable in their new homes.

“For most of them, this is their first time away from home,” she said. “I think most freshmen can understand that, but it’s a little different when you’re a 24-hour plane ride away and can only afford to go home once every three to four years.”

For English learners like Thuy Dang, it can simply be a way to make new friends.

“I have a chance to live in the foreign environment,” Dang said. “It makes me very excited to work with new people every day and learn something new about them.”

Natural English speakers can sign up to be conversation partners through Friday, Sept. 13. Conversation Hour is a general, open-ended meeting of international and native English-speaking students, and meets 5 to 6 p.m. every Monday in Sycamore Hall 260.

Feature photo by Annette Arroyo / Contributing Photographer 

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