Students launch language exchange program

Julia Doran, Reporter

When Weinberg senior Kate McCarter learned Northwestern had no on-campus club where she could practice Spanish, she started Campus Language Connection, a student-led group that serves as an informal language exchange program.

Officially launched two weeks ago, Campus Language Connection aims to help students improve overall foreign language proficiency through conversation, while promoting cross-cultural friendship and understanding, McCarter said.

The club pairs native speakers of two different languages who want to learn the language of their partner, so the interaction is mutually beneficial, she said. Once matched, participants are given guidelines about the types of activities they should do, places they should meet and how much time they should spend together.

McCarter said although experience speaking a language is crucial to comprehension, real-life practice is difficult to get in a typical language course.

“In the classroom setting, you’re not really speaking colloquially and you’re also not really speaking that often,” she said.

The program allows students to practice their foreign language in a casual, stress-free environment instead of in the presence of a professor, which can be intimidating, she said.

The informal, non-academic nature of the program is ideal for those who want to maintain or improve their foreign language skills without taking actual language classes, said SESP sophomore Jack McCarter, Kate McCarter’s brother and vice president of Campus Language Connection.

So far, 165 students have filled out the online sign-up survey, including native speakers of 23 different languages and students interested in learning 21 different languages, Kate McCarter said.

“We’ve had a really good turn out,” McCarter said. “We are really excited about the support and interest we have gotten.”

Sponsored by the NU International Office, the program also receives support from various Northwestern language professors and the Global Language Initiative.

Ravi Shankar, director of the International Office, said Campus Language Connection provides an excellent opportunity for international students to enhance their English comprehension and conversation skills by allowing them to practice aspects of the language that are natural to native speakers, such as speech patterns, rhythms and intonations.

He added the International Office is pleased that the program will allow international and U.S. students to form meaningful connections with each other and that the cross-cultural interaction will make more students “globally prepared.”

“We’re really excited about this, and it fits into a larger strategy for us in terms of getting our international students engaged,” he said.

Campus Language Connection is open to undergraduate and graduate students, as well as PhD candidates, postdocs and spouses of Northwestern students.

Kate McCarter said she and her brother are planning a kickoff event for the near future so those interested in joining have an opportunity to learn more about the program and to start meeting the other members.

Jack McCarter hopes the group will continue to expand going forward and eventually incorporate even more languages.

“The more people we have, the better, so we would love to keep growing,” he said.

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