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.
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 contact Caitlin Hamstra at email@example.com.
Sign up for Conversation Partners here.
Conversation Partner Tips
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
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
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
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
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
- Avoid Correcting Homework
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
- Minimize Error Correction
correction slows down conversation and hinders the development of
fluency. Correct only those errors that block communication.
- Vary the Scenery
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
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,
- For more Tips and Conversation Ideas, click here, compliments of University of Michigan Conversation Circles.
- What's your favorite food/drink/dessert?
- What are comfort foods in your culture?
- What are traiditonal foods in your culture? How do you make them?
- What American foods do you like/dislike?
- 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?
- How much do you know about ___________________?
- Compare/contrast cultures.
- Politeness, personal space, punctuality, body language, etc.
of passage (births, important ages, getting a driver's license, moving
out of the parents' home, becoming an adult, weddings, funerals, etc.)
- Making phone calls, phone etiquette
- Making, accepting, declining invitations
- Asking for clarification, directions, help, advice