The Conversation Partners Program is designed to provide non-native speakers of English with the opportunity to practice English skills with a native speaker. If you are interested in being a partner, please complete an online application by selecting from the menu at the left.
A critical resource of successful conversation partners is their knowledge of the norms, values, and procedures of High Point University. These are essential, but there are also personal and professional characteristics that contribute to the effectiveness of a Conversation Partner. These include the following considerations:
A Conversation Partner…
- Values the English Language Learner (ELL) as a person.
- Develops mutual trust and respect.
- Maintains confidentiality.
- Listens actively both to what is being said and how it is being said.
- Asks open-ended and gender neutral, supportive questions and provides constructive feedback.
- Helps the ELL solve his/her own problem, rather than only giving directions.
- Focuses on the ELL’s development and resists the urge to speak constantly.
- Corrects errors as they occur by pointing out the error and explaining the reason why it is incorrect (or assists the ELL in finding the rule using internet resources).
- Remembers the specific skills the ELL is trying to improve as well as his or her own assessment of the ELL’s skills.
- Motivates the ELL to contribute more to the conversation than the Conversation Partner does.
- Contacts the Director of ESL for suggestions and better understanding of grammar points.
- Continues to improve his or her own understanding of English grammar.
GUIDELINES FOR CONVERSATION PARTNERS
- Commit to one semester term (renewable at the end of each term).
- Contact assigned LL within one (1) week of designation as CP.
- Set a specific time and place to meet for the first meeting. The lobby of Phillips Hall is a good place – you can relocate to one of the study rooms behind the fireplaces for your initial conversation. Slane Starbucks or the Bakery are also good options.
- Confirm first meeting with ELL via e-mail; copy message to the Director of ESL.
- Select a public space on HPU Campus for future meetings.
- If for some reason you cannot keep an appointment, contact ELL to explain the reason for your failure to show up and re-establish a new appointment; copy message to Director of ESL.
- If you need additional ideas/topics for conversation partnering, contact Director of ESL.
- Assist your ELL in filling out the weekly Conversation Report Form. This is a grade for the ELL, so please be sure that your part is complete. The forms will be designed by the ESL class instructors, and will require you to specify when and where you met and what topics were discussed, and also includes a section to comment on any challenges or obstacles, as well as how you plan on addressing the problem.
SUGGESTIONS FOR MEETINGS
- Meet for coffee or other non-alcoholic drinks.
- Eat lunch on campus together. Talk about the food, which can lead to a conversation about foods across the world.
- Ask your English Language Learner to teach you to cook something or do some other activity that requires a lot of articulation.
- Invite your English Language Learner to an activity where he or she has to explain the rules.
- Talk about differences in U.S. educational institutions, culture, and communications styles.
- Discuss any of the following:
- Cultural traditions and customs.
- Special holidays.
- Traditional food.
- Education Systems.
- Political structures.
- Favorite pastimes: films, outings, and other social functions.
- Art and/or artists.
- Culture shock.
- Current events.
- Places to visit.
- Family and social relations.
- Values and assumptions.
SAMPLE CONVERSATION STARTERS
- What did you do for fun over the summer?
- What surprised you when you met American people in the USA?
- What is your most difficult class right now?
- What is your favorite class right now?
- Are you a member of any student groups? Would you like to be? Which ones interest you?
- Do you have a best friend? Describe him or her.
- Who is your favorite professor of the classes you are studying right now?
- What are the qualities you like best in your professors?
- How do your classes here at HPU compare to those you took in your home country?
- How did you decide to come to HPU?
- What characteristic about yourself do you like or dislike the most?
- Describe your dorm/apartment/other living arrangement right now. What do you like about it? What would you change?
- Do you have a driver’s license? What is your dream car?
- Which political figures interest you the most? Why?
- Do you think a government should be allowed to execute prisoners? Explain.
- What are your life goals for the next five years?
- What are you most passionate about in your life? Why?
- Would you prefer to be a successful businessman or businesswoman or a successful father or mother? Why do you think you would choose one over the other?
- If you found a briefcase filled with cash, what would you do? Would you try to return it to the owner or keep it for yourself?
- If you saw someone being attacked in an isolated place, what would you do?
- Recently we have experienced quite a few public shootings in the US – several were on college campuses, some in public shopping areas, and two in movie theatres. Why do you think this happens, and what can be done to stop it?
- If your Conversation Partner visited you in your home country, but he or she only had one day to spend in your city (province, country), where would you take him or her? Why there?
- What is the most important lesson your parents taught you? Explain.
- Where do you like to spend time alone?
- Who is the greatest person of your nationality to live (in history)? Why?
- Do you have any personal heroes? Who are they? (Name both living and dead.)
- What film have you recently seen that you liked? Explain why.
- What is your favorite American tv show?
- Which foods have you most enjoyed in the US? Which do you not enjoy?
- What is a problem in your country that you’d like to see your government or people solve?
- What charities would you donate to if you had the money and time?
- Can you sing or play an instrument? What type of songs do you enjoy? Who are your favorite artists?
- Where would you like to go on your honeymoon? Why?
- If you were marooned on an island, what book would you want with you? Why?
- What makes you optimistic or pessimistic about a recent story in the news? Explain.
- What are some cultural practices in your country that we do not have in the US?
PITFALLS OF CONVERSATION PARTNERING
- Do not use this pairing to proselytize, (preach religion), or strive to convert the English Language Learner to any religious notion. It is not acceptable to criticize other religions or make negative comments. However, it is ok to ask questions about religion if you can be open and positive about unfamiliar practices.
- Do not use conversation time as a chance to practice your own second language. If your English Language Learner speaks a language that you would like to learn or improve on, it is ok to ask him or her to meet another time to practice that language, but do so in a manner that will allow him or her to refuse without feeling bad about doing so.
- Do not squeeze two hours (two weeks’ required meetings) into one meeting. This is expressly forbidden because the second hour is not nearly as productive as the first. If you choose to go beyond an hour, this is fine but you are expected to meet for a minimum of one hour EACH week.
- Do not fill every silence with words. Conversation Partners need to get used to some silence, especially early on in their meetings with the English Language Learners. As a rule, try to have the ELL talk at least twice as much as you. But be an active listener, asking for clarity, correcting surgically whenever necessary and pressing for more details when the ELL attempts to explain a lot in a few words.
POTENTIAL PROBLEMS AND WHAT TO DO
- If the match of Conversation Partners does not seem to work, that is, you have very different personalities and/or interests, contact the Director of ESL for a change as soon as possible. Understand that it might take some time to re-match with another ELL, but every effort will be made to do so.
- Inform the Director of ESL if your ELL fails to show up and does not contact you about it.
Presumably you will engage in this activity because you are interested in getting to know an international English Language Learner. Some domestic students might choose to participate in this program because they are seeking ways to fulfill educational, professional, or personal goals. This is fine, but be aware that there are definite expectations and responsibilities that must be adhered to if your participation is continued. The immediate and permanent goal of the program is to help your English Language Learner improve his or her control of language flow (i.e., fluency), pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and idiomatic expressions. The fringe benefits include making a new friend, learning about another culture, and knowing that you have made a difference in the life of another person.
Thanks for your interest in the Conversation Partner Program!
Dr. Marjorie Church
Director of International Student Affairs
336-841-4692 (o) 336-420-9720 (c)
Facebook: Marjorie Church Hpu