Conversation Partner Program

Would you like to learn more about another country?  Do you enjoy spending time with international students?  If so, then consider becoming a conversation partner!

What is a Conversation Partner?

A Conversation Partner is someone who is interested in cultural exchange with international students in the English Language Institute. As much as possible, Conversation Partners will be assigned an individual ELI student with whom they will meet with once a week for informal speaking practice. However, we typically have more ELI students requesting partners than we have American volunteers. In light of this, those who sign up for the Conversation Partners Program will be put into small groups.

Who can be a Conversation Partner?

Anyone! As long as you are an English speaker and have the desire to act as a host of the Mount Pleasant and Central Michigan University community.

What is expected of a Conversation Partner?

It is difficult for many international students to meet Americans with whom they can practice their English. Through the Conversation Partners program, you will meet with an international student at least once a week to discuss topics of mutual interest.  We ask that you spend at least one hour conversing in English.‚Äč

Where and when do Conversation Partners meet?

Meeting times and places will vary depending on what is most convenient for you and your conversation partners. We do ask that you meet with your partners near campus in a public place such as the library or a coffee shop.

Who do I contact if I have more questions about becoming a Conversation Partner?

Please email the English Language Institute or fill out the ELI Conversation Partner form.

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 and 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 below).  These can be a great tool to get conversation started.  Also consider the following tips. (Adapted from Colorado State 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, in simple language without idioms or slang, 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, Ronan 350, (989) 774-1717.

Speaking Topics

  • Food
    • What's your favorite food/drink/dessert?
    • What are comfort foods in your culture?
    • What are traditional foods in your culture? How do you make them?
    • What American foods do you like/dislike?
  • Family
    • How many people are in your family?
    • Who lives with you?
    • What does your family do together?
    • How does your family celebrate?
    • Compare/contrast family life in the US with the student's country.
  • Social Life/Activities
    • What do you do after school?
    • What do you do on weekends?
    • What sports do you play? What opportunities for sports are available on CMU's campus?
    • What are your hobbies?
    • Where have you traveled?
    • What activities would you like to try?
  • School Life
    • What is your major? Why did you choose that major? Are there any CMU social clubs for that major?
    • What is your motivation to learn?
    • How is school in the US different from school in your country?
    • Do you have a job while you're in school?
    • How many hours per week do you study?
    • Why did you choose CMU?
  • Culture
    • How much do you know about ___________________?
    • Compare/contrast cultures.
    • Discuss:
      • Holidays
      • Clothing
      • Customs/traditions
      • Friends
      • Politeness, personal space, punctuality, body language, etc.
      • Rites/rites of passage (births, important ages, getting a driver's license, moving out of the parents' home, becoming an adult, weddings, funerals, etc.)
      • Driving
      • Parties
      • Making phone calls, phone etiquette
      • Making, accepting, declining invitations
      • Asking for clarification, directions, help, advice