ELI Chat Room Teaches English Through Conversation



UB's English Language Institute is giving its international students a chance to learn English from an old-fashioned but highly interactive educational tool: other students.

The Learning Center, located in 209 Baldy Hall, hosts ELI's "chat room," where Monday and Thursday evenings casual conversations gradually translate into a better understanding of the English language. The room is staffed by native English-speaking student volunteers.

"The students were not integrating into American culture because they lacked basic conversational skills . [but] this new program has helped to alleviate some of those problems," said Kathy Curtis, associate director for the institute.

UB's ELI has struggled throughout its 30-year existence to teach its students the intangible, invaluable skills of conversation, according to Curtis. "We have tried many programs in the past, but none have had the level of success that we are experiencing now."

Yae Imai, a visiting UB student from Japan, said the student tutors have been "a great help. ... They will talk about anything with us, family, friends, current events . sometimes they even play games with us that help us to learn English better."

"I come three times a week and everybody is always so nice. I have noticed a great improvement in my speaking," said Mimsu Som, a visiting student from Korea."

The program has also given American students a chance to learn aspects of unfamiliar languages and cultures.

"It has been a great experience for me," said Autumn Howard, a sophomore biology major who volunteers as a language tutor for the chat room. "I have had the opportunity to speak with many different people that normally I would not have had the opportunity to interact with."

Julia Smith, a sophomore international studies major who also serves as a tutor, emphasized the two-way nature of the cultural exchange facilitated by the chat room.

"At first I thought that the students would be so different because of the obvious cultural differences, but once you start talking to the students I realized that we are all alike. We really have a lot in common," said Smith.

The institute offers language tutors two credits on a pass/fail basis, but Smith advises potential tutors that it is a "significant time commitment." Tutors make their own schedules, but are required to be in the chat room for 30 hours per semester.

Applications are now being accepted for next semester. The only qualification tutors must possess is "the ability to carry on a conversation," said Curtis.

"We plan on continuing this program and possibly expanding on it," said Curtis, because the "program really enhances the experience of our international students."