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In The Classroom:

ESL students stay on topic

May 11, 2010|By Michael J. Arvizu

A college classroom can be intimidating for students learning English as a second language.

Responding to ESL students’ requests, Roxanne Rafii, an Equal Opportunity Placement Services counselor, created the Conversation Club at Glendale Community College.

Students can join any time, and the club is meant to make participants feel comfortable practicing their English skills while learning about different topics.“It’s not just meeting the conversational and listening and speaking needs of students,” Rafii said. “We are taking care of some cultural events that are going on and things that you want to discuss, but you’re not sure in what venue to discuss them.”


For Iran native Arosek Baghramian, the club lets her speak and debate in the same language she speaks in class.

“I learn about different countries and their cultures, habits, things that happen in their world,” she said. “Good things.”

During discussions, the rows of desks are positioned so students can see one another; politeness and courtesy are encouraged, and all points of view are respected. Although just a handful of students have joined, Rafii sees the club growing to the point where her students will split up into groups to debate.

Topics up for discussion are chosen by Rafii, along with GCC professor and club facilitator Hoover Zariani.

A meeting held on campus last week began with a video from Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera on the controversy surrounding Arizona’s new illegal immigration law. When the video was over, Rafii opened the floor to comments and questions.

Before long, the group of five students went from discussing the law in Arizona and how it might affect illegal immigrants and their families, to an intense debate on immigration issues affecting each of the students’ respective countries.

“The students just take it where they need to go with it,” Rafii said. “I think it’s great because it’s a lot more than just conversation. They are discussing topics of interest to them.”

Other topics have included the nature of success, raising children, childhood obesity, the over-medication of children, racial profiling and terrorism.

“If I hear the news, I really don’t understand the news,” said club member and GCC student Sevana Dilanchian, who is from Iran. “I’m new here. That’s why we started to come here to learn a little and feel as comfortable about speaking English.”

Club member Rina Alkasani, also from Iran, agreed. “I feel better, because I learn more things about other countries, about my friends’ problem[s].”

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