Inspired by his experiences as a French, Spanish and ESL instructor in three different states, Matthew Cook started the UT Language Partnership Program in August 2016.
LPP pairs students in the ESL program with English speakers to help them learn each other’s language. The program includes seven language groups, including French, Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin and Korean.
“I realized how segregated the students were from the language and communities which they were studying,” said Cook, program creator and coordinator. “I brought Americans who were speaking French to meet my refugees from Togo or Liberia. It was just remarkable … (how) they improved their linguistic abilities.”
Cook said the purpose of the program is to bring students together to engage in casual conversations without a teacher interfering.
“I try to interfere as little as possible,” Cook said. “The idea is that students are more inhibited around teachers, and they’re more relaxed when they are experts (in their own language) as well as learners.”
Hassan Alamoudi, an ESL student from Saudi Arabia, said he was interested in joining the program because he wanted to help others learn Arabic.
“I know how it’s difficult to learn another language that’s not your mother tongue,” Alamoudi said. “Other people trying to learn (my) language is, for me, something that I would like to help others (with).”
Psychology junior Sarah Wong said the Korean class she takes at UT helps her learn the language in an academic setting, but the program gives her an opportunity to interact with Korean speakers.
“The class itself was more memorizing,” Wong said. “The professor speaks to us, and we speak to the professor sometimes, but it’s not everyday language. This is different to learn because you have one on one time.”
Cook said his motivation in starting the program is to tell students he cares about them.
“I want them to see that even in this hostile, anti-immigrant (situation) that’s happening in the country, there are literally hundreds and thousands of people on campus who want to know where they’re from, want to know their language and want to know their culture,” Cook said.
LPP is open to all UT students who are learning a foreign language.