Welcome to the Conversation Partners Program at Central Michigan University. Below you will find some tips as well as topics to get conversation started!
Conversation Partner Tips
As a Conversation Partner, your main role is to facilitate conversation between you and your partner. Because of this, you are not expected to act as a teacher. The main purpose of the program is to give international students ample speaking practice as well as confidence while speaking.
Though your time with your partner can be very informal, it may be best to do a little preparation before meeting. You may find that you want to bring along a list of speaking topics for your meeting to facilitate conversation (see topics at right). These can be a great tool to get conversation started. Also consider the following tips. (Adapted from Colorado Sate University)
- Speak at a Natural Pace
Slow down only when absolutely necessary. Your student will probably not understand everything, which provides an opportunity for the student to practice asking for clarification. If you are asked to repeat something, repeat your exact words. Then you can offer a paraphrase if there is still misunderstanding.
- Check Comprehension
Many students will nod as you speak even though they don't understand what you're saying. They may be hoping that you will eventually say something that connects the bits and pieces they have managed to absorb, or they may be signaling that they heard your voice. If your student nods a lot, gets a blank look, or becomes silent, directly ask whether he or she understands. If not, you may need to slow down or at least simplify your grammar and vocabulary.
- Bring Objects to Stimulate Conversation
This is great for shy students. Try family or vacation photos, cookbooks with pictures, board games, library books about your student's country or other topics with lots of pictures, and short, current newspaper or magazine articles.
- Avoid Correcting Homework
Students may bring their homework and ask you to check the answers. Not only does this take away time from developing conversation skills, it can potentially force you into the role of a teacher explaining why an answer is right or wrong. If you are willing to provide this service to your student, try to do it before or after your allotted conversation partner time.
- Minimize Error Correction
Constant correction slows down conversation and hinders the development of fluency. Correct only those errors that block communication.
- Vary the Scenery
Unless you must meet at a fixed location; occasionally vary your meeting place. Try meeting at other locations on campus such as the library, a coffee shop, or the University Center.
- Refer Problems to Qualified Program Personnel
As you develop trust, you may find your student confiding in you about serious problems (medical, legal, landlord, family, etc.) which you may not be qualified to handle. If you aren't trained as a counselor, resist the urge to be one. Express compassion, but refer the student to the Director of The English Language Institute or to the Counseling Center. Counseling Center, Foust Hall 102, (989) 774-3381. ELI, AN 002, (989) 774-2567.