Speaking Partners: Learning From Each Other

March 4, 2014

Writer: Kelsey Petersen

“We want each person involved to feel and act on a sense of commitment to someone else, to broaden their understanding of the people and rich cultures of the world, and to improve their English-speaking and teaching abilities.”
—Josiah Carlson

Pathway started out as three sites in the cities of Nampa, Mesa, and Manhattan, but it has now grown into 156 operating sites, 60 of which are outside of the United States and Canada. The number of students with the desire to improve in their speech and understanding of English is on the rise as Pathway expands across the globe.

Pathway's L version is designed to help students improve their English comprehension as they study math, writing, and life skills. The Speaking Partner Program was established so that these students could interact with native or near-native English speakers for thirty minutes each week.

Speaking Partner specialist, Josiah Carlson, believes that the Speaking Partner Program is a vital aspect of the Pathway experience. He says, "We want each person involved to feel and act on a sense of commitment to someone else, to broaden their understanding of the people and rich cultures of the world, and to improve their English-speaking and teaching abilities."

Although it was originally established strictly as a volunteer program, the Speaking Partner Program now welcomes all native English-speaking Pathway students enrolled in ENG 106 to participate, since the speaking partner experience is now an active part of their curriculum. While Pathway strives to be affordable for every student, ENG 106 students now have a chance to give back to the program by serving their fellow classmates in various countries. Brother Carlson believes that this change is beneficial for both the English learner and the English speaker. He says, "Since both speaking partners are currently enrolled in Pathway, it creates a unique situation where they can relate insight and experiences based on the same curriculum but from a perspective a world away. The ENG 106 students are a welcome addition to the Speaking Partner Program and they complement well the strength that volunteers continue to bring."

“I learned the importance of being accountable and responsible, especially when someone is relying on me for help.”
—Brandon Bednar

The English learners have the valuable opportunity to speak with students who are fluent in the language, and this gives them the chance to apply what they are learning to real conversations. This aspect of Speaking Partners really helped Citali Luna, a resident of Nealtican, Mexico, and native Spanish speaker.  She says, "For me, speaking in English was really hard.  I used to feel very nervous about it, but after one year of speaking in English with native English speakers, I have overcome those feelings. It is still hard, but now I know that I can communicate my ideas. I know that I am able to do it."

Elvis Aruhor of Delta State, Nigeria, was also impacted by the opportunity he had to practice English. He says, "I think the Speaking Partner Program is one of the most important experiences of Pathway because it affords students the opportunity to hear a native English speaker pronounce words the way they ought to be pronounced. Though I was born and raised in an English-speaking country, my diction has tremendously improved all thanks to my wonderful speaking partners."

Native and near-native English speakers are also impacted by the chance to learn about other cultures.  The weekly thirty-minute meetings increase faith and build relationships. Brother Carlson says, "Speaking partners take initiative to better themselves by building up others. They overcome the barriers of politics, distance, and foreign cultures to create an atmosphere that builds both skills and testimonies."

Twenty-three year old Andy Nefuro found fulfillment as she helped her speaking partners polish their English skills. When she came with her family from El Salvador to Alabama for a year, Andy found herself immersed in English. She knows the struggles of learning a foreign language. She says, "The first time I learned English, I really struggled with reading, writing, and speaking." When Andy found out about the opportunity to speak with English learners through the Speaking Partner Program, she jumped at the chance. "I realized that these people need someone who can help them. My involvement with Speaking Partners has been the greatest experience I've had in Rexburg so far."

“For me, speaking in English was really hard. I used to feel very nervous about it, but after one year of speaking in English with native English speakers, I have overcome those feelings. It is still hard, but now I know that I can communicate my ideas. I know that I am able to do it.”
—Citali Luna

Andy really enjoyed seeing the improvement that her speaking partners had throughout the semester. She's remained in contact with each of them, and she still offers them encouragement from time to time.

Brandon Bednar participated in the Speaking Partner Program in the spring of 2013, and he enjoyed making friendships with Pathway students in other countries. Although Brandon wasn't the one learning English, he was able to grow from his experience. "I learned the importance of being accountable and responsible, especially when someone is relying on me for help."

Brother Carlson's wish for all English speaking partners is to simply enjoy their Speaking Partner experience. "We would emphasize that YOU are the 'authentic English-speaking experience' that our English-learning students have been looking forward to. Be yourself and have fun talking with your speaking partner. Your influence and attention here can be felt literally around the world."