Become a Conversation Assistant and learn another language

By: Jake Solochek

Advice for Parents
The Falling Dollar and "the Greeter."

When I was a teenager, I looked forward to traveling in Europe. I heard about other young people who had spent a summer learning French or Spanish. The dollar bought 4 Swiss Francs back then. Now the dollar is worth 1.2 Swiss Francs. What should this information tell a parent?

1. Visiting the USA is cheaper for international visitors. Expect more tourists in Florida. This is an opportunity for your child to learn another language here. You just need the right circumstances.

2. It's very expensive to send your child to study in other countries. Back in the 1970s, my parents didn't push me to learn another language in school because they knew I would be living or studying abroad. "He'll pick up some French eventually." That laid-back attitude worked for me. I signed up for French classes in Aix en Provence and picked up a lot in six months of intensive immersion. But with the dollar at 1.40 for a euro, learning French in France is out of reach for many families.

3. Become a Conversation Assistant. Language schools are popular in Florida. Put beach, sun and English speaking population together and that's why Europeans, Asians and South Americans are flocking to South Florida to improve their English. The typical language school runs morning programs (9 to 1 pm) and sometimes an afternoon class (2 to 3:35 pm). You and your child have two opportunities every weekday to meet an interesting person from another country.

As a greeter or conversation assistant, your child can exchange practice in English for lessons in another language. It's quite a boost in confidence when a visitor tells you that "You have a good American accent, but I prefer to talk with your son because he knows how to talk rap." Your teenager has what 3 billion people want: an understanding of U.S. culture with a U.S. accent.

What training do you need to assist a visitor in speaking better? I give a short course that includes the following elements:

a) Know when to make a correction. When the student is telling you a story or trying to explain something, don't interrupt the train of thought by making a correction. "Yesterday I go to the beach and I try found a parking spass." If you make the corrections immediately (Yesterday I went to the beach and I tried to find a parking space), you will stop the person's story. Write the errors and after the story is finished, show what you wrote and let the student find the errors.

b) Carry a map of the local area and paper. When a student walks out of the school, introduce yourself as a "local volunteer" who is welcoming visitors to the community. "Where are you from?" and "Can I answer any of your questions?"

c) Carry an atlas. Show interest in another country. Study the maps a bit before making remarks that international visitors will remember: "You're from Buenos Aires? Wow, I've always wanted to visit Brazil!"

d) Bring your child. Let your child see how to be confident and welcoming to a stranger. I have never met a mass murderer or a thief at a language school. It's safer to walk into a language school than to walk down Collins Avenue in Miami Beach.

I hope you are motivated to learn more about how you can benefit from meeting international visitors.
For a list of language schools where you can volunteer as a conversation assistant, look in the yellow pages or contact me at [email protected] I can use some help welcoming my students to Florida.

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Steve McCrea Language teacher Fort Lauderdale FL 954 646 8246 cell

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