The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SMU students gather around a bucket of markers to write an encouraging note to put in “Welcome to the Shelter” kits at event in mid-April on SMU’s campus.
Dallas homeless recovery center, The Bridge, is a home
Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024

Conversation buddies program teaches what classrooms can’t

Language classes can teach vocabulary and grammar, but only immersion in a culture gives a student a true understanding of a language, something students in the Intensive English Program know very well.

“These are students who are here just learning English,” Linda Evans, lecturer at SMU, said. “It’s four hours a day, five days a week and they need a lot more help.”

Help comes in the form of the Conversation Buddy Program, a part of the larger English as a Second Language program, developed by John Wheeler.

“The idea for the program came from requests from out ESL [English as a Second Language] students who wanted to get informal conversational practice outside of the classroom with a native speaker of English,” said John Wheeler, director of the ESL program.

The goal of the program is to help ESL and Intensive English Progam students practice conversational English speaking and listening skills.

First run in Jaunary 2000, the program has helped many of SMU’s IEP students, including Ryan Basudan and Muhannad Alsaif, who are both from Saudia Arabia.

Basudan and his partner met several times a week to talk.

“I was afraid to speak with any American when I came to Dallas, however when I met with the conversation buddy for the first time, she taught me some new vocabulary and grammar,” Basudan said.

But it isn’t only the IEP students’ English that benefits, according to Wheeler.

“Oftentimes a friendship may develop, offering the ESL student personal support beyond language practice,” Wheeler said.

Besides teaching them grammar and vocabulary, the American students also teach slang words and phrases and give information about American culture.

“One of the best I things I learned from her is American culture, especially how I should talk to girls,” Alsaif said about his partner. “For example, she told me I cannot ask girl their age.”

Alsaif and his conversation partner, Rachel Marek, a music student at SMU, also discuss recent events in Dallas together.

“If anything happens in Dallas that I do not know about, I will just ask her,” Alsaif said.  “I heard people in Dallas talk about John Kennedy. She [Marek] explained to me everything about the assassination of John Kennedy in Dallas.”

Marek also enjoyed the program and the chance to make a new friendship.

“I loved meeting and getting to know Moh [Muhannad],” Marek said. “He is probably one of the nicest and most generous people I have met on this campus.”

Marek is impressed with how much Alsaif has learned in less than a year.

“He is curious about learning as much as he can while in the US,” Marek said. “He is hard working and determined.”

All in all, Marek believes she made a good choice in volunteering for the program.

“I know that I have made a good friend in Moh and I’m so glad that I volunteered to be a part of this program,” Marek said.

Basudan is also glad to have the program.

“The Conversation Buddy Program is a new experience for me, but a beautiful and nice experience,” Basudan said.

The program has become an important part of SMU’s ESL program and the entire SMU community, according to Wheeler.

“More than simply a ‘linguistic match-making service,’ I believe the program promotes understanding and tolerance of people of other cultures,” Wheeler said.

More to Discover