Speaking the language of friendship: the CELOP Conversation Partner Program

This semester, I decided to join the CELOP Conversation Partner Program. My initial intention was to improve my language abilities, but I’ve also gained something much more valuable: a close friend.

For those who don’t know, this program pairs Boston University students who are fluent in English with the BU Center for English Language and Orientation Programs students who are looking to improve their own English abilities. 

You spend time with your conversation partner as you would with any other friend — choosing when, where and how often you see each other. The program suggests spending at least one hour a week together, but that’s ultimately a decision made between you and your partner. 

CELOP students come from many different countries, so if you’re studying a language at BU and want somebody to practice with, chances are you can find a native speaker through CELOP. 

The partner matching process is very simple, actually. All I had to do was fill out a form with some basic information about myself and then indicate my first choice for what language I wanted my partner to speak. 

I just started learning Japanese this semester, so I requested a partner from Japan. While CELOP does its best to place you with someone who speaks the language you request, they can’t make any guarantees since it depends on how many CELOP students wish to participate in the program and what languages they speak. Luckily, I got my partner of choice.

I don’t know exactly what the application process is like on the other end for CELOP students, but I would imagine it’s pretty similar to the form I had to fill out, since the same sort of information I had given about myself was in the email I received about my partner. 

Her hobbies and interests were listed, as well as her contact information and a little note she had written in the comment section of her application. 

“Please be kind if [we] can’t understand each other at first,” her comment read. 

This made me a little nervous — not because I was going to get mad at her if there were communication difficulties, but because I had written in my comment section that I was a complete beginner and didn’t know very much Japanese at all. I had no idea what level her English was, and I worried that we wouldn’t be able to communicate very much.

Nevertheless, I reached out to her using the contact information I’d been given, and we arranged to meet in person at the GSU to get lunch together. I sat by the window at the Starbucks and texted her to let her know where to find me. A few minutes passed by, and suddenly, there she was. 

We sat down and introduced ourselves, asking basic questions to each other. At first it felt a little awkward, not because of a language barrier but because we both are quiet people. 

It’s funny to think back on now that we’ve grown closer and aren’t shy around each other anymore. At this point, I also realized that she was practically already fluent in English, which  was a big relief for me. Especially because I’d only been learning Japanese for a week and couldn’t even string together a basic sentence yet. 

CELOP asks that conversation partners conduct the majority of their conversations in English, and that’s what my partner and I have done this entire semester. 

I try to sprinkle in a few sentences of Japanese here and there using what I’ve learned in class, but I still have a long way to go before I can speak at a conversational level. So, if you’re interested in the Conversation Partner program, but aren’t confident in your language abilities, you can definitely still join.

As you’ve seen from my experience, by no means do you need to be very advanced.

While we were a little hesitant around each other for the first hour or so of meeting, those worrisome feelings quickly melted away. 

Since that first day, my partner and I have spent a lot of time together. We’ve gone ice skating, went to a haunted house, watched a movie, went to the North End and spent time with each other’s friends. 

Whenever we have plans, I start to feel excited to see her — even a few days in advance. Once we meet up, she always runs up to me — equally as excited as I am. 

Sadly, she’s going back to Japan after this semester, but she’s made me promise to study abroad so I can visit her in Tokyo. The Conversation Partner Program has helped me improve my Japanese, but more importantly, it has given me a lifelong friend. 

And for that, I truly cannot recommend this experience more.

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