A New Way to Learn Foreign Languages

Zhe (Mia) Wang

It’s difficult for foreign students to find someone who speaks English to practice their language and communication skills with. Jacob E. Larsen thought of a win-win solution for the problem

Larsen, the Language Studies Resource Center (LSRC) director, said the language students from the world languages and cultures department (WLC) don’t get enough opportunities to have daily conversations with native speakers of the language they are learning.

The LSRC is part of WLC. LSRC offers a program called the Language Exchange Partners Program to connect students who want to practice and improve their foreign language speaking skills.

The program can also help students understand other cultures and appreciate diversity and inclusion. Students get paired up and have a minimum of one hour per week conversation.

“In the beginning of the program, we just paired up students who were leaning the same language. Since May of last year, I’ve been trying to get more international students involved,” said Larsen. “We pair speakers who want to practice some of the language we teach here with native speakers, so they can practice their fluency and get the culture aspect at the same time.”

Sign up for the Language Exchange Partners Program is the first three weeks of each semester. This semester’s program attracted 42 participants.

“Students can talk about anything they are comfortable with. We want everyone in the program to feel comfortable, so I encourage them to have their weekly meetings in the LSRC center,” Larsen said. “We had a kick-off party at the beginning in week four, after everyone was paired up. We had food and drinks; students had about 45 minutes to get acquainted with their new partners.”

Students who get paired up can continue their partnership for as long as they want; however, if they want to change partners or find students who speak other languages, they can sign up at the beginning of next semester.

WLC teaches Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Russian and Spanish. Nonetheless, if students who do not speak one of these languages want to participate, LSRC is willing to accommodate them if they can.

Two of the program participants are the LSRC student employees: Jonathan Landeros, junior in anthropology, and Amal Aldosari, sophomore in linguistics.

Landeros is originally from Michoacán, Mexico. His family moved to San Jose, California when he was six years old.

They came to Iowa when Landeros was in middle school.

“Spanish is my first language. I would speak only Spanish with my parents back home, but I don’t speak it as much here in Iowa State,” Landeros said. “So, If I can practice my Spanish and help others learn the language, I feel like that’s a good opportunity.”

Landeros thinks the program is also a great way to meet new people and spread cultural knowledge.

“Language is part of a culture. I feel I can spread the Spanish-Latino culture through the language,” Landeros said. “People who are not native speakers try to learn another language. That gives me admiration, because it’s not easy to learn a foreign language. The fact they are doing it, gives me motivation to help them.”

Landeros has two partners. They both have a minor in Spanish and English is their first language.

“We meet up every Thursday in LSRC center. During our meetings, we only speak in Spanish,” Landeros said. “Next week, we plan to go to a Mexican restaurant where we can chat over food and have a more casual setting.”

Aldosari is from Saudi Arabia, and she teams up with a student to practice French.

Aldosari said her partner’s French speaking level is a bit higher than hers. They try their best to converse in French. If they run into a word they both don’t know, they will look it up and continue the conversation using the new information.

Aldosari said the only way to truly learn and understand a foreign language is through practicing, because practice makes perfect.

“I like to practice speaking language. I don’t agree with the idea of studying a language,” Aldosari said. “Sure, I study the grammar, but to be able to really use the language, you have to speak with people. And people would not give you papers or test you. They’ll speak normally to you.”

Grant Sincox, freshman in electrical engineering, is one of Landeros’ program partners. He learned Spanish in high school and reached a level of fluency.

He decided to learn the language at a college level and make Spanish his minor.

Sincox joined the program because he wanted to be more comfortable when speaking the language. He said he is a pretty good Spanish reader and writer but gets tongue-tied when actually speaking.

Landeros stated he wanted to bring the culture aspect to the program and spread Spanish culture to more people. Sincox totally agrees with that.

“I learned a lot about Spanish culture from my partner,” said Sincox. “He was born in Mexico and immigrated here. We talked about the immigration process, the food his parents cook for him and how he grew up in Mexico. All the traditions and Spanish sayings are able to connect the culture and the language it self.”