- Associated Press - Sunday, June 15, 2014

FAIRBORN, Ohio (AP) - International students at a southwest Ohio college are getting help with conversational English from retirees.

A Wright State University initiative called Conversation Partners matches retired faculty, staff and spouses with students seeking extra practice to improve their English. It’s part of an intensive English program that helps non-native speakers develop language, academic and social skills meant to help them be successful at a U.S. university.

“When I started to speak to them, they helped me to improve,” said student Ali Alshehri, from Saudi Arabia. “We talk about everything. I describe for them my country. I show them pictures, videos. We talk about Europe, America, their culture.”

Alshehri arrived at Wright State from Riyadh last fall to pursue a master’s degree in microbiology and immunology. He has been connected through the program with retired professor Robert Wagley and his wife Lorraine Wagley.

The conversation idea came from Wright State’s Jim Sayer, who says it provides the students with valuable practice, while giving retirees another way to contribute to the school.

The Wagleys say it’s a learning experience for them, too. They meet weekly for 60 to 90 minutes, in their home or at the campus library.

“You hear about Saudi Arabia, and then you start studying about it and try to learn more,” Wagley said.

Abe Bassett, a retired former chairman of Wright State’s theatre department, was also matched up with a Saudi student. They used iPads to help communicate, pulling up maps and translation applications.

“He had a lot of questions about how things work in America,” Bassett said. “Practical things.”

Wright State’s international student body has been growing. There are 170 students in the intensive English program, up from about 25 in 2002.

Wagley said he’s proud that Wright State has made such an effort as the conversation program.

“It shows that it is a student-centered university,” he said.

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