Campus Forges Friendships through Second Languages

Every couple of weeks in the courtyard outside the O’Keefe building behind the Women’s Softball Complex, people of all ages take part in a language development exercise reminiscent of the biblical Tower of Babel.

Students Participate in Friends Beyond Borders
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Students participate in a Friends Beyond Borders session during September 2011.

“If you come over here during a session, you wouldn’t think you’re in Georgia,” said Adria Motiwalla, student services coordinator at the Georgia Tech Language Institute. Those participating in these multilingual conversations are part of the Language Institute’s Friends Beyond Borders Language Cafe. This conversation program provides an opportunity for students, faculty and staff from around the globe to socialize and brush up on second language skills.

The Language Institute hosts recent high school graduates, college students and professionals from abroad who come to the United States either on short-term scholarships or to spend time learning English before applying to an undergraduate or graduate program stateside.

“I think there’s a lot of credibility with the name Georgia Tech, so students want that on their transcript,” Motiwalla said. “We have students transferring in from all over the planet saying they’re not getting quality English elsewhere.”

College students and business types also use the center to hone English skills for a professional environment. The largest cohorts speak Arabic, Korean and Spanish, but other languages heard at the Institute include French, Portuguese, Chinese, Thai and Japanese.

What the Language Institute needs more of is English speakers. 

“We’d love to have staff who travel for Tech and maybe want to brush up on a language,” Motiwalla said. The program welcomes all students, faculty and staff who want to improve and practice a second language.

For those looking for a more in-depth conversational experience, the Language Institute also offers a conversation partner program that matches speakers through an online system.

“It’s a tool to meet somebody on campus and develop a friendship, with the goal of hopefully meeting a speaker with whom you can do a language exchange,” Motiwalla said.

Part of Tech’s strategic plan is to produce global citizens; the Language Institute offers a place to begin that global journey without even leaving campus. Those interested in attending Friends Beyond Borders events may sign up online at esl.gatech.edu. Attendance is open to anyone with a GTID. The next Friends Beyond Borders Language Cafe meets on Friday, March 16, at 1 p.m., with subsequent events on March 30, April 13 and April 27. The Language Cafe will also participate in the upcoming 2012 Culture Fest on April 2.