The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s Speaking Center is breathing new life into a program for students learning the English language after a hiatus.
The “Let’s Talk” program is meant to help English learners develop cultural skills and learn American-English. It is lead by the Speaking Center consultants, and occurs every Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.
“[Let’s Talk] gives the language learners a safe place to practice English conversation,” said Kim Cuny, the director of UNCG’s Speaking Center. “We provide a judgement free place for them to practice American-English out loud. We also don’t use value statements, so that while there is value in the work that we do, we don’t put value on their speaking.”
Let’s Talk serves English learners who are at UNCG through the Interlink language program. According to its website, Interlink is a service on campus that promotes a “rigorous curriculum” in order to help students learn English and be able to speak, write, and understand it more fluently.
“The ‘Let’s Talk’ program is very beneficial due to the fact that it allows Interlink students, who are students that are not from America, actually interact with Americans in order to learn our language and customs,” said UNCG senior Kev McBride. McBride works at the Speaking Center as a consultant and has participated in various Let’s Talk activities. “It is really important due to the fact that it gives these Interlink speakers a chance to talk to one another with other Americans.”
Let’s Talk used to be a required module for Interlink, but Interlink has since stopped using modules. Despite this, many students continue to go to Let’s Talk.
“They aren’t required to come here, but it does count,” Cuny said. “The program still lives on. It’s very popular, and there are always people here on Tuesday afternoons.”
The program is not just for Interlink students, however. Consultants from the Speaking Center who participate in the activities gain professional development, as well as an increased intercultural competence. International and study abroad students are also invited to join.
“The setting is not in an average classroom setting. It is in a space that has comfy chairs and plenty of open space for everyone to move around in,” McBride said. “It really helps the students open up about different topics they would like to discuss with the group. We create a safe space for them to ultimately be themselves. We are all equal. Everyone’s main goal, even the consultants, is to go, interact with one another, and ultimately learn something new about each other.”
During the hour that Let’s Talk takes place, students and consultants often play games and take part in improvising activities in order to further their communication skills. They also start every meeting by sharing their good news.
“We give everybody the opportunity to share their good news,” Cuny said. “What we find…is that too often, people don’t ask them what’s new. That’s our tradition. We always start with good news.”
The Speaking Center is also starting a similar project in coming weeks for both Beyond Academics and the student group Spectrum at UNC Chapel Hill, which is made up of students on the autism spectrum.
“We’ll be giving them a safe space to practice, mostly conversation turn taking, eye contact, use of space…that’s sort of what the Let’s Talk people get too,” Cuny said. “They get to practice American English with Americans, so they get a feel for the proximity and turn taking, eye contact, and nodding.”
Though it is better for Let’s Talk participants to let the Speaking Center know if they will be attending, it is not required. The Speaking Center is also available for consultations for all students but has a two-day policy in place for making appointments.
“One thing people need to know about the center is that we are here to help you, not judge you,” said McBride. “We meet our speakers on whatever level they are at and help them. Anyone who wants to better their speaking or presenting skills can come and receive our services. This goes for students and non-students. We encourage our speakers to be imperfect because there is no such thing as a perfect speech.”