Becoming A Conversation Partner
When studying a foreign language it is important for students to gain exposure to their new language outside of the classroom. A good way to do this is to get a conversation partner. A conversation partner is someone who will sit with a student for a specified amount of time and speak with them in the language they are studying. I have used conversation partners for my language studies and I have also been a conversation partner for students learning English and both experiences have been very rewarding for me. For anyone interested in becoming a conversation partner, there are often volunteer opportunities in ESL schools or on college campuses. Here are a few tips on how to be a good conversation partner.
First of all you have to be open to interacting with people from other cultures. Your students may come from anywhere in the world and depending on your situation you may not be able to choose which country they come from. Next you need patience. You may have a student who has been studying English for nine weeks or nine months and you have to adjust to whatever level they are. Depending on the student's level you can decide whether you should speak slowly or at a normal pace.
The most important thing is to let the student do most of the talking, after all, they are the ones who need the practice. For a student at a very low level, pen and paper are often useful for drawing pictures when the student is at a loss for words or when you need to convey an idea. Electronic dictionaries or translators can be helpful as well, but their use should be kept to a minimum to maximize speaking time. Once you get to know your student more, you will be better able to decide which methods work best for you. On the flip side, you need to be a good listener. Something a student tells you one week can be a great conversation starter the next week.
One thing to remember is that some students like to be corrected during their speaking and some don't. You should discuss correction methods with your student at your first session. If your student does like to be corrected try to work the correction into the conversation without it being a huge disruption to conversation. For example if a student says, "I seen Mr. Smith yesterday" you can affirm his statement by saying something like, "Oh, you saw Mr. Smith yesterday?" and the student is likely to pick up on the misused verb and correct his own speech.
Being a conversation partner can be a very rewarding. In my experience as a conversation partner, I met many great people and learned things about certain countries that I never would have known about before. For example, I learned about the corruption in the Congolese government from one student who was a political refugee. I also learned about the rigorous class schedules of Chinese high school students from another. In addition to me learning, it was a pleasure to see my students' progress. My shy, Chinese student who barely knew a word of English when we first started meeting was expressing complex ideas about her country and government after just ten weeks together. I also became a confidant for my Congolese student as we began discussing more of her family and personal issues.
In addition to making new friends and learning about other cultures, being a conversation partner can be a great addition to your resume, especially when going into fields such as education and working with international students. If you would like to become a conversation partner, you should check with ESL schools and colleges in your area. You can also try volunteermatch.com or even meetup.com to connect with other people who need to practice English or another language. Using a conversation partner to practice Spanish helped me to be a better conversation partner because I got a chance to see what it was like on the other side, but no matter whether you are the teacher or the student the experience will be enriching for both parties involved.