English Conversation Group wins human rights award
Susan Anderson says the International Centre’s English Conversation Group is about more than just helping foreign students practice English.
“You hear laughter and people greeting each other. It’s not a class, it’s a group of friends who met to explore conversational English. We provide the opportunity to learn in a supportive and friendly environment,” says the centre’s assistant director.
This attitude helped the group win the Queen’s Human Rights Initiative Award which is given annually in recognition of initiatives that advance equality and human rights on campus.
The English Conversation Group, which started in the mid 1980s, has volunteer English speakers from Queen’s and the Kingston community meet weekly with international students and their families to improve participant’s grammar and pronunciation. Through small group discussions and structured group activities, they learn about and begin to understand each other’s culture.
“It’s fabulous to have the recognition of this award. The program is heartwarming; it lifts my spirits,” Anderson says. “We will ask an opening question like ‘Tell us something your mother used to say to you.’ That question taps into people’s culture and allows insight into one another’s world view. Everyone has something to contribute and, in some way, everyone can relate to the answers.”
An international student may be able to read English in a text book but trying to talk to a fellow Canadian student who uses slang can be difficult.
“International Students and new immigrants don’t have a ready community to slip into so there is a sense that this program is about something more than the academic side of things. This is about personal growth and development,” Anderson says.
Nominations are evaluated on originality, positive impact on the university community, sustainability and breadth of community partnerships. Past recipients include the Reel Out film festival, Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre and the Queen’s Muslim Student Association.