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Virtual Language Café Enters Second Round

Bringing the world into your own four walls: International Office seeks more language coaches to help international students improve more than just their language skills - Positive feedback from summer semester spurs on program.

The current Corona situation has left no one untouched. International students at Chemnitz University of Technology suffer especially under the contact restrictions. To support them, the virtual language café was launched at the university last semester. Here, classmates can meet in digital spaces, make contacts, and improve their language skills. In the winter semester, the initiative is also intended to create an opportunity for joint exchange. To this end, the group is currently looking for reinforcements.

Meeting with friends instead of cramming alone

The meetings in the language café are not dry lectures, but rather resemble hours spent together with classmates and friends. People talk, play games, drink coffee, and learn together. The only difference from "real" meetings in cafés, canteens, and the like is that the meetings do not take place face-to-face, but in digital chat rooms. Nevertheless, the situation remains almost the same, except that everyone must provide their own coffee.

Since April 2020, students and interested university employees have been meeting weekly in groups of six - digitally, of course. The courses are led by language coaches. 20 students and employees were recruited for this in the summer semester. The format was developed in cooperation between the university's International Office (IUZ) and the Chair of German as a Foreign and Second Language (Prof. Dr. Winfried Thielmann). "Personal contact for international students has fallen by the wayside due to the recent contact restrictions, which makes things difficult," explains Dr. Benny Liebold, director of the IUZ. "Last semester the concept worked very well; we got a lot of positive feedback. That's why we want to continue the virtual language café in the winter semester."

Encounters on a level field

The secret of success: "The international students and coaches meet on a level playing field," says Liebold. The coaches don't act as teachers but as conversation leaders; they provide topics to talk about in a relaxed round or come up with language games. What sounds easy, however, requires quite a bit of preparation. The coaches are specifically prepared for their task. Beforehand, the students and employees received a professional introduction by Coretta Storz from the Chair of German as a Foreign and Second Language. Thus, the coaches can also help with linguistic problems. "The nicest thing for us is when we observe that not only the language skills improve, but also real friendships develop," Liebold reports. "Conditions for that are not great right now, due to the situation."

International flair in your own four walls

Julia Haufe is in her 7th semester of elementary school teacher training with English as her core subject. Her internships planned for this summer were cancelled due to corona. Instead, the young woman got involved as a coach at the language café. "For me, it's a win-win situation: I can improve my own language skills, teach, and make new contacts." She is on board as a coach again this semester. The regular meetings in a relaxed atmosphere have become a highlight during difficult times for everyone involved. "I actually like to travel a lot, but that's not possible at the moment," says Haufe. "The meetings at the Language Café almost make it feel like I can bring the world into my own four walls. It's exciting what the international students have to report. It broadens my horizons enormously."

Committed students and employees wanted

Currently, more than 100 international students have already enrolled in the virtual language café courses. In order to continue and expand the concept, interested students and employees are always being sought who would like to become involved as language coaches. Currently, ten course instructors are participating, nearly 50 percent fewer than last semester. "We are very pleased about the interest and commitment. However, it would be great if we could recruit more students to join the virtual language café to support even more international students in these difficult times," Liebold said.

Students at Chemnitz University of Technology who are interested in participating can register on OPAL.

(Author: Isabel Möller/Mario Steinebach/Translation: Chelsea Burris)

Matthias Fejes

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