International students teach their native languages through new UNK program

UNK Communications

KEARNEY – For many international students, learning English is part of their education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.

They improve their language skills by communicating with faculty, staff and fellow students.

A new program reverses these roles, giving international students a chance to be the experts who teach their native languages to others.

Launched last month, the weekly Non-English Conversation Tables are a partnership between the UNK Department of Modern Languages and Office of International Education. Every Thursday from 4-5 p.m., members of the campus and Kearney-area communities are invited to stop by the Nebraskan Student Union food court to connect with international students from a variety of countries.

Each table has a specific designation – Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Russian or Spanish – allowing participants to choose the language they’d like to practice or learn. Approximately 20 international students are volunteering as table leaders who guide the conversations in a fun, laid-back environment.

Chris Jacobs, an assistant professor in the Department of Modern Languages, came up with the idea for the Non-English Conversation Tables after participating in a similar UNK program that allows international students to practice their English language skills.

“This is a great opportunity to turn the tables and provide another group of students/learners with an opportunity to practice languages all while bringing people from different countries and cultures together,” said Jacobs, who teaches French, Italian and Spanish.

The program has obvious benefits for students studying a foreign language, and it’s also open to beginners who want to learn the basics. There is no cost to participate, and preregistration isn’t required. Each week, a lucky participant will win a food basket representing one of the available languages.

The Conversation Tables are a valuable experience for international students, too. That’s why the Office of International Education “immediately jumped on board” when Jacobs pitched the idea.

“We’re always looking for ways to help our international students engage and interact with the campus and Kearney communities,” said Tracy Falconer, an assistant director in the Office of International Education. “This is an amazing opportunity for them to connect with other students and members of the community while sharing their language, culture and a little of themselves with the people they meet.”

The Non-English Conversation Tables will continue through May 5. For more information, email Jacobs at