Pathway is the larger educational program that offers LDS members around the world the opportunity to receive a BYU-Idaho education through lowered barriers of cost and admission. Speaking Partners is a sub-program that accompanies and enhances the English language learning component of the Pathway education for international students during Academic Start.
Speaking Partners FAQ
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What's the difference between Pathway and Speaking Partners?
Do I need to know a foreign language?
No. If you do know the student’s first language, please do not use that language to explain English vocabulary or grammar concepts. By pushing the student to use only English to try to communicate or work through difficulties, the students will improve their language skills.
How long do speaking partnerships last? What is the commitment?
The speaking partner activity for Pathway students lasts for a duration of 12 weeks each semester (starting the second week and finishing in the next to last week); the partnerships typically last for this duration. The commitment is simply to be available once a week, for 30 minutes, for the 12 week period.
Can I have more than one speaking partner?
English-speaker partners and volunteers may have multiple partners, and many do, although each additional partner equates to an additional 30 minute commitment each week for the semester. Simply select the times you are available, and wait for a partner request from additional students if you want more! English learners, however, are limited to the equivalent of one speaking partnership per semester.
Where do speaking partner participants come from?
All over the world! In the beginning, our English speakers and volunteers came mainly from the BYU-Idaho campus, but today are scattered all around the English-speaking world. As for the English learners, students are located in countries ranging from Albania to Peru to Zimbabwe!
Do I need to have teaching or tutoring experience?
No. Although it can be helpful to have teaching or tutoring experience, the main purpose of a speaking partner is to provide English interaction opportunities where students can practice their speaking and listening skills. Therefore, you only need to be able to speak English at a native or near-native level to converse with the students. Those looking to improve their teaching skills may read through the Volunteer Guidelines for advanced teaching tips.
What do we talk about, and how much preparation is required before each visit appointment?
English speakers/volunteers should not need to prepare material or discussion topics. The English-learning students have an assignment for each visit, which includes discussion questions and language practice activities related to the course topics that they are studying during the corresponding week. The students are expected to come prepared and to lead the discussions. You will see each assignment on the website and you can briefly review the topics/activities prior to each session to anticipate questions.
May I practice my Spanish, Russian, etc. with the student?
No. The speaking partner visits are focused on the student’s English language learning and fulfilling the assignment; it should not serve as a language exchange. You should interact only in English for the duration of the visit to help the student understand their course content and to improve their ability to communicate. However, if you do know the student’s first language, it may help you to understand some areas where they struggle with English and be able to focus on improving those areas.
How do I use Skype? How do I get it on my computer? Can I use other video chat software?
Skype is a free software program you can download to your computer for video chat capability. Once you have downloaded it, you can use it to speak with people, either with audio only (like a telephone) or with video as well. Use this link to download Skype. If you need help, try using these tutorials from GSFlearnfree. You are welcome to use other video chat software (e.g. Google Hangout, Facebook Chat, etc), but you will have to arrange this individually with your partner.
Is audio chat enough, or do we need to use video?
If at all possible, it's best to use video as you talk with your assigned student since non-verbal, visual cues can be a great help in understanding what is being said (both by you and by your partner). However, if you have slow connections, or if you're simply having trouble with the video component, you may use audio only.
Do I have to have a webcam?
It seems like my/their Internet is too slow. What do we do?
In this situation, you may want to use audio only, rather than the video. If you need help doing this, see this page of tutorials from GCFlearnfree.org, and watch the video called “Making Calls with Skype.”
I / my partner missed the appointment. What should I do?
If you know you can't make an appointment, do everything in your power to reschedule beforehand. If you forgot or missed your appointment, send an email to your partner to apologize for missing the session; if you are participating as part of a course assignment, you will have to forfeit the points for failing to show up. If it was your partner who missed the appointment, you are not obligated to meet again that week; however, if you are participating as part of a course assignment, refer to your instructor or syllabus for instructions on completing a reserve or alternative assignment for that week.
What if my partner can’t understand me?
The spoken language in your meetings should be as authentic and real as possible. If your partner doesn’t understand, then slow down slightly, enunciate the words more, use a simpler vocabulary, restate things in more than one way, or even type some of your key words, phrases, or sentences into the chat function. Using hand gestures and other non-verbal cues can also help. Rest assured, the English learner will improve and become more accustomed to native English speech over time.
Do participants need to be a member of the LDS Church, or can I share this as a volunteer opportunity with members of other faiths?
All volunteers should be members of the Church or BYU-Idaho students as several of the discussion topics are focused on gospel material, which is one of the great benefits of the discussions.