Language challenges faced by multilingual students at the University extend far beyond the classroom. As Xiaoman Gan, a first-year student from China, writes: “Fast speed and strong accent sometimes make the content of conversation a mystery for me…. It is also not easy to find a way to express my idea precisely and colorfully, which I can easily complete with my first language.” In an essay for Writing 120, Xiaoman describes how lack of confidence in spoken English can inhibit students’ social lives and navigation of daily tasks.
To address these challenges, this fall Xiaoman is taking part in Chat Cafe, a Sweetland initiative begun in 2014 to help multilingual students develop confidence in their conversational English. Chat Cafe arranges casual conversation groups of up to five multilingual students with an experienced upperclassman. In weekly meetings, participants discuss everything from American football to Hollywood values, as well as day-to-day experiences and cultural differences. In its second semester, Chat Cafe has doubled in capacity to serve more than forty multilingual undergraduates.
Chat Cafe leaders enroll in Writing 302: Global Communication to help prepare them to be effective facilitators. Students in Writing 302 receive practical advice from experienced conversation leaders, gain understanding of the various challenges faced by international students, and explore theories of conversational practice in multicultural contexts. By implementing these ideas in their weekly meetings, Sweetland’s Chat Cafe facilitators create a space where students like Xiaoman can build confidence in English for success inside and outside the classroom.