The University of Iowa

In the news: Community Conversations help non-native English speakers learn in relaxed environment

April 4th, 2018

By Brooklyn Draisey, The Daily Iowan 

People who speak English as a second language are becoming more confident while meeting new people through an Iowa City language program.

At MERGE, 136 S. Dubuque St., voices drift over one another, broken apart by happy greetings and laughter. Hands gesture to mime words in a language not yet mastered, but conversation ebbs and flows as naturally as those between native speakers. Language isn’t a barrier here.

Community Conversations, events put on by the Friendship Community Project and the University of Iowa Conversation Center, provide an environment for those in the community learning English to practice with volunteers in a small-group environment. The partnership began in the fall, and Community Conversations take place on Tuesdays throughout the year.

Both the Friendship Community Project and Conversation Center are fairly new, founded in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

Conversation Center Director Ben Hassman said students, actually, brought the idea to the Rhetoric Department faculty. Students now can volunteer for Community Conversations in Conversation Practicum, a course offered by the Rhetoric Department, and they can work in the Conversation Center.

“The students saw a gap between them and many international students … international students mainly only spoke to each other, and domestic students only spoke to each other, so students brought the idea to the Rhetoric faculty, and they created the Conversation Center,” he said.