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College of General Studies student Hiro Gato had a problem. When Gato first came to the University from his native homeland of Japan, he wanted to improve his English-speaking skills. But, as Gato said, "you can't go in front of Van Pelt Library and ask someone to talk so you can practice your English." Now, as a second-year member of a University program called Conversation Partners, he has had the unique opportunity to speak with a English-speaking student one-to-one and has become virtually proficient in English. Conversation Partners, which has been in place for over a decade, also provides University students an outlet to practice their foreign languages and to learn about different cultures through social activities with natives of those societies. At their annual reception Tuesday, Conversation Partners matched University students with foreign students, all of whom are College of General Studies students in the English Language Program to improve their English speaking and writing skills for international business occupations. Students said this week that the program is important because it goes beyond classroom curricula by providing the informality of daily speech. ELP Language Specialist Joanne Mooney said that "a goal [of the program] is to have our foriegn students meet Americans and to practice conversation in social settings." "This is their real chance to go out and use the language in a very natural environment," she added. Partners in the program are expected to meet for at least an hour each week and to evenly divide the time between the two languages. Gato, a graduate of Meiji University, in Tokyo, praised the program as "excellent." Last year, he added, his partner and he worked together on their language homework, went to lunch often, and just talked. "My partner was very helpful," Gato said. "He had the patience to listen to me." Mimori Aoyagi -- a second-year program participant -- pointed out, however, that there are some minor flaws with the program. Last year, he had five partners simultaneously because there were more Americans than Japanese interested in participating. He added that it is hard to continue the partnerships saying that after meeting three or four times with some partners, "we would break-up because there were no common interests." "The goals of the program cannot be met when the Americans just want to meet [foreign] students," Gato said. "They're not interested in helping the [them]"

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