Learning from the source
AJ Thurman | Collegio Reporter
Channing Solon and Maria Goydy Rios sat down in the Gorilla Crossing for some challenging small talk.
“So, how was your weekend?” Rios, from Paraguay, asked. Only she asked it in Spanish.
Solon meets with Rios once a week to talk in nothing but Spanish.
Rios, one of several conversation partners at Pitt State, spends seven hours a week helping students master Spanish. She speaks with a total of 14 students every week, Solon being one of them.
The two are part of the Conversation Partners program, in which students meet with a native speaker to practice for half an hour to better their confidence in pronunciation and accuracy.
Solon says her meetings with Rios don’t necessarily affect her grade but the weekly chats definitely don’t hurt.
“I think my grade in class reflects my work when I meet with my conversation partner,” said Solon, sophomore in Spanish.
Solon says she likes speaking with a native speaker because they can catch her mistakes and tell her how to fix them, something that isn’t easily done on her own.
“She corrects when we talk,” Solon said. “I like it. It helps out a lot.”
When conversing with the student, Rios says she focuses on asking questions that will get a longer response.
“We don’t have a topic every day; I have to ask them many, many question about everything. I have to try and get a responsive answer out of them,” said Rios, sophomore in music. “I don’t ask them yes or no questions; they have to talk a lot.”
French students also have conversation partners. Antoine Bailly, from France, has the task of assisting students.
Bailly says he had a student who showed the benefits of the conversation program.
“The first meeting we had it was nearly impossible to speak French,” said Bailly, graduate student in business administration. “I wouldn’t say she learned French in two months but she learned a lot during our talks.”
While Rios has 14 partners, Bailly only has three. Since there are so few native French speakers in Pittsburg, Bailly says he was approached by the international office to become a conversation partner.
Neither Bailly nor Rios had native English speaking partners when they were in the process of learning English.
“When you speak with someone who isn’t a native speaker it’s different,” Rios said.
Myriam Krepps says when someone is learning a new language, it is crucial that they have a native speaking companion to practice with. Krepps says she can see students becoming more secure with speaking.
“Their confidence in the classroom does certainly improve and they become more comfortable speaking the language,” said Krepps, associate French professor.
Krepps says she wishes she had a native English speaking associate to consult with when she learned the language.
“I think the students here at PSU are very fortunate to have the opportunity to talk with a native speaker,” Krepps said.
Krepps says every student who has the opportunity to have a conversation partner should take it, because it helps their language skills and builds a connection.
“It creates relationships with the student and their conversation partner that can continue later on,” Krepps said.
Micah Black says having a conversation partner for her French class gives the student a way to apply what they learned in class that usually isn’t seen in other classes.
“The more often you can meet, the better,” said Black, junior in French and political science.