Writing Lab Hosts Conversation Circles to Aid Students Learning English

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Whether English is someone’s second language, they are not a native speaker or they simply find it challenging, the University of Indianapolis Writing Lab’s Conversation Circles provide a supportive resource on campus to practice conversational skills, as outlined on the Writing Lab’s website. The site says they intend to create a space where students can practice the English language, learn more, ask about UIndy and meet native English speakers they can rely on around campus. With various meeting times for the second semester, students can meet on Google Meet with one of the English-speaking facilitators who host the meetings after an appointment is requested.

According to Associate Director of the UIndy Writing Lab Dawn Hershberger, the writing lab has been hosting Conversation Circles since 2015. She said she felt international students were at a disadvantage in the classroom if they struggled with the English language. While they moved to Google Meet due to the pandemic, the writing lab has continued to use Google Meet for safety and inclusivity.

“ … We kind of kept things online,” Hershberger said. “It also allows us to have other people participating in the community and things too. We’ve had students from Belize who’ve participated, we’ve had some students from Mexico who participated. They just kind of found it online and asked if they could join. … It also expands the program a little bit and lets people be able to take advantage of it who wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

While the sessions are there to help promote understanding and comprehension of the English language, junior criminal justice major Jenna Taghikhani said they can do so much more. As a previous facilitator for Conversation Circles, Taghikhani said more than learning occurs during meetings

“…It allows newer students and students that don’t know English as well … to be able to get together and just practice conversational English with each other,” Taghikhani said. “I think this also helps them form friendships with each other. And even with me, as someone that facilitates the circle, I think just overall it promotes togetherness and learning. There’s a lot of learning that gets done.”

Additionally, Hershberger said that another point of emphasis can be placed on cultural exchange. Those attending Conversation Circles can ask questions and learn from and about each other, according to Hershberger, and it also allows the facilitator to learn about the cultures of the people requesting aid.

“ … We’re hoping it’s a way of promoting friendship and kind of a feeling of inclusivity on campus for these students who might feel maybe a little lost,” Hershberger said. “I mean, I can’t imagine going to a whole other country and being stuck in the middle of a whole other thing and having to learn. So, it’s kind of just to help out with that. It’s not about acclimation—it’s about inclusivity. So it’s about sharing cultures, and letting them  feel comfortable being themselves and being able to promote who they are.”

The Writing Lab’s site says the lab and facilitators strive to offer a space that is relaxed and fun for those who would like to participate. Taghikhani said a benefit of the space is how non-judgemental it is.

“ … The English language, obviously, it’s something that needs to be practiced and used and that’s like the best way to practice and use it—just with other people,” Taghikhani said. “And because it’s such a non-judgmental space, it makes it easier for people to just learn.” If you or someone you know is interested in attending a session, then find a time on the website that works and contact Dawn Hershberger at hershberger@uindy.edu.

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