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As a speaking partner, you are providing language input as you interact with the student. In order to improve second language skills, a learner needs to receive lots of input that is comprehensible—that is, just a little above the learner’s current skill-level in the language (see Mitchell & Myles, 2004; see also Krashen, 1982, 1985).
Speaking at either too simple or too difficult a level does not allow the student to progress in his or her English skills. In addition to this input, the student also needs to produce output. In other words, the student needs to practice speaking and writing in the language he or she is learning. Since the ultimate goal is for the student to communicate effectively in the new language, the student needs plenty of both meaningful input and meaningful output. This means that you should give the student ample opportunity to initiate or lead discussions.
As a speaking partner, you should encourage your Pathway student to take the lead in your discussions and provide opportunities for him or her to do so.
Most Pathway English Language students have little exposure to native or fluent English speakers —or at least, not enough to really progress in their language skills. For this reason, you are providing the best opportunity for these students to both listen to and speak English.
Remember the following points about your language interaction:
A typical conversation between two native speakers would not include language correction. This is therefore an important difference between truly authentic conversation and a speaking partner's conversation with a Pathway student. Language learners need to be able to test out the language they are learning. This means that learners should be able to speak freely without having to pause with each word and figure out what word they need next. At the same time, they should feel comfortable asking language-related questions of their speaking partners so that they also gain accuracy-using the right word (and the right grammar) at the right time.
Keep the following things in mind as you decide whether or not to correct something in the student’s speech:
Rather, do the following:
Offer feedback and corrections at the following times:
When you meet for the first time with the Pathway student, you should begin a brief discussion on how you will give feedback. For example, you might explain that you will write down their
mistakes while you are talking (so as not to interrupt the flow of the conversation) and that you will discuss some of these errors at the end of each meeting.
If you write down complete sentences, you will be able to remember where a specific error occurred; however, do not try to write down more than five sentences in a session. Likewise, you should only address five mistakes (or fewer) per session. If you try to address every error the student made,
the student can easily become overwhelmed and confused. As you work with a student, adjust your correction methods until you find a method that works well for both you and the student; always communicate this method with the student so that he or she will know what to expect.
How the student reacts to your feedback will depend partly on how you present it and partly on the student’s attitude and motivations. However, you can also affect those attitudes and motivations by presenting yourself and your intentions in a positive way (see Deci, 1975, p. 23).
The following list will help guide your interactions with the learners:
Make sure to take notes after each session in order to keep a record of areas the student can improve. Note areas of weakness, especially those that you notice most often. Refer back to the notes to see how the student has improved.
Two times during the semester, you will receive an email or notice requesting that you submit an evaluation for your assigned Pathway student
based on the student's attendance, preparedness, and noting areas of weakness and improvement. These evaluations will help you remain watchful of how the student is doing and will help the instructor know which areas to focus on in helping the student further.
The purpose of the Speaking Partner Program is to provide English speaking and listening practice for the Pathway English Language students. It is not appropriate for you to use this occasion to practice your foreign language skills. Also remember that you are not the student’s instructor, nor are you trying to meet your eternal companion. In fact, the best way to look at your role is to consider yourself as meeting with a friend to discuss what they are learning about in their course.
The “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlet provides counsel on how to be a good friend, which speaking partners should strive to follow while working with the student. It states: “A true friend will encourage you to be your best self. … Show interest in others and let them know you care
about them. Treat everyone with kindness and respect” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2011). The perfect example of this type of friend is the Savior. President Eyring (2010) explained that we also “become His friends as we serve others for Him. … His motives are pure. … The perfect friend, Jesus Christ, is completely selfless in offering happiness to others” (Eyring, 2010; see also D&C 84:77, Matt 25:40). Let the Savior be your perfect guide to building this relationship with the students.
If any serious problems do occur, or if, for some reason, the relationship is not appropriate, please contact us so we can guide you as to the procedure you should follow.
It is important to understand that the situation of your speaking partner might be very different to your own; they likely have grown up with a different approach to education, in a different socio-economic environment, and with very different values, standards, and norms regarding time management, what is considered polite, etc. Therefore, it is necessary to be patient with your Pathway student, as they too are being patient with you as they strive to learn.
This cultural exchange is one of the major joys and purposes of the Speaking Partner Program—learning to communicate across cultures is just as valuable, if not more so, than just learning the English language. Thus, it is important to note that culture is not simply sombreros, bowing to superiors, or a July 4th parade; culture runs deep into the minds and lives of every human being and differs according to one’s exposure to varying world experiences.