Let’s Speak English (LSE) is a semester-based program offered by ANU Library Academic Skills where international and English as a Second Language (ESL) students can practice English conversation. These sessions are facilitated by casual student employees – Conversation Group Leaders – and supported by ANU+ volunteers.
LSE provides a crucial outlet for ESL students to engage in non-academic English language practice through discussions, games and friendly interaction, providing social, personal and academic benefits to participants. LSE consequently serves the imperatives and values of the ANU by 2025 Strategic Plan, notably ‘Delivering a student experience equal to the world’s best’ through contributing to an ‘outstanding campus life’ and an ‘inclusive, nurturing, and supportive’ campus environment, and serves the values of ‘Respectful Collegiality’ and ‘Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity’.
Communicative language teaching
Although an extra-curricular, non-teaching initiative, LSE is underpinned by TESOL theory, specifically Communicative Language Teaching. English fluency is developed through conversations involving communicative functions, e.g. information-sharing, exchanging opinions, expressing likes and dislikes, introducing oneself, and providing explanations (Richards, 2006; Richards & Rodgers, 2001). LSE participants engage in these communicative functions, with sessions prioritising experience over accuracy, e.g. errors in pronunciation are not directly corrected, but Leaders model pronunciation in their responses.
A history of LSE
LSE was established by Dr Vivien Silvey in 2016 and is a SSAF-funded (Student Services and Amenities Fee) initiative. Sessions were delivered solely in-person from 2016–2019, pivoting online in 2020 due to COVID-19. Since 2021, delivery has been multi-modal, with both in-person and online sessions each week. This pivot online and subsequent multi-modal delivery have been instrumental in reaching students during lockdown, sustaining the program, and engaging with students interstate and offshore.
Conversation Group Leaders
Without the excellent Conversation Group Leaders, there is no Let’s Speak English. Recruited from the ANU student population, these exceptional Leaders develop ‘menus’ for each session – with themes, questions, conversation prompts, activities and games—then facilitate delivery, encouraging conversation and interaction among attendees. They are supported by volunteers recruited through ANU+, who contribute to discussion and stimulate participation in group exercises. Sample menus can be viewed on the Academic Skills Appointments Wattle site. As noted, these are not ‘teaching’ sessions but sessions which engage communicative functions, whether exchanging opinions on Disney and Marvel, expressing food likes and dislikes, or information-sharing about topical concerns.
Students’ perceptions of the program
LSE participants were surveyed in late 2021 to gauge motivation for attendance. Both social and educational incentives featured prominently: 26% of respondents attended to meet new people, 26% to improve English for general purposes, 22% for stress relief and recreation, and 17.5% to spend time with friends. Regarding the program’s impact on their English language development, increased confidence and better speaking skills were highlighted, e.g. “More confidence to talk”, “It improved my speaking and boosted confidence”, and “I can speak more fluently”. Regarding LSE’s impact on their social relationships, friendship and connection were recurring themes, e.g. “I made many good friends from this activity” and “I made a few new friends, it is one of the best social groups in ANU”. Leaders also highlighted the social benefits of LSE during the COVID lockdown in 2021. One Leader noted, “A lot of them [attendees] are overseas, and maybe they have conversations in tutorials but they find it quite stressful or very brief, so LSE is their social interaction”. Another observed, “There are a lot of barriers to meeting domestic students … really this is their only casual space to make friends”.
Leaders’ and volunteers’ perceptions of the program
LSE benefits not only attendees, but the volunteers and Leaders supporting the program. Surveyed volunteers cited meeting new people, stress relief and professional development as reasons for volunteering. Regarding LSE’s impact on their university experience, meeting new people and connectedness to community featured prominently. Respondents commented that LSE “made me feel more engaged with the ANU and other students”, “helped me to meet new people”, and provided opportunity for “taking a short study break … for mental health!” Facilitating LSE sessions also enhanced the Leaders’ university experience, with one noting, “it’s been great because my Masters involves a lot of one-to-one, so it’s nice to have this social interaction”.
Key findings and future
The student-led LSE program has provided Communicative Language Teaching-informed opportunities for English language development and social activity for ANU ESL students. Attendees, leaders and volunteers alike highlight confidence, community, social connection, and increased English fluency as benefits of attendance. These carry further deducible benefits for students’ academic performance – such as enhanced English expression and greater confidence to interact in tutorials – and wider University experience, illustrating LSE’s contribution to the University’s strategic vision.
Let’s Speak English runs weekdays 1-2pm during semester. Please promote the program to ESL students in your programs and Colleges. For further information, visit www.anu.edu.au/letsspeakenglish or contact email@example.com.
Dr Benjamin Kooyman, Learning Adviser, ANU Library Academic Skills.
Richards, J. C. (2006). Communicative language teaching today. Cambridge University Press.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2001). Approaches and methods in language teaching (2nd ed). Cambridge University Press.