BTF English Empowerment Program

BTF youth leaders in the U.S. participate in online conversational English sessions with BTF college students in Turkey to help them practice their speaking and understanding of the English language through the English Empowerment Program.

Lucas Ancieta
Jan 21 · 5 min read

By Lucas Ancieta and Pelin Blanton

The BTF English Empowerment Program is a new BTF program to help Turkish students gain English proficiency to obtain high quality jobs and opportunities in the global economy.

The program brings students in the US and Turkey together to engage in online English conversation practice sessions to help Turkish students practice their speaking and listening skills through casual discourse. The pilot program started in June 2020, completed it’s 7 month pilot in January 2021 and we are now formally expanding it nationwide.

In the spring of 2020, once Covid-19 hit, our BTF Youth group couldn’t meet with each other face to face and work on new fundraising projects. We wanted to create a program that helped students in Turkey improve their English, as well as to engage our BTF Youth members in the US since we were no longer doing in person projects, traveling, or attending summer camps.

In Turkey, English is highly valued in all areas of society, including business, technology and medicine. Speaking English fluently can greatly improve quality of life and create new job opportunities. Most students and adults spend years learning English grammar, comprehension, and vocabulary. Unfortunately, due to a lack of access to native English speakers, students in Turkey struggle to find opportunities to practice speaking and listening.

Turkey is the world 16th largest economy and globally connected, but English proficiency in Turkey is low compared to more developed countries. In 2020, Turkey ranked #69 of 100 countries in the EF (Education First) English Proficiency Index.

Our Program is intended to be the modern equivalent of a “pen pal program”, but instead of writing to each other, the students talk to each other with the goal of improving the Turkish students’ English speaking. High school students in the US are paired up with one or more university students receiving a BTF scholarship through local NGO’s in Turkey. The participants connect through video conferencing applications and schedule conversational video calls with each other once a week (2 sessions of 30 minutes or 1 hour a week). The students are paired based on career interests. As a result, the high school students in the US are also able to learn about a particular field of study by talking to a college level student in Turkey.

This might be the first time the students in Turkey hear a native person speak or talk to a native person in English. Native speaking English teachers are rare in Turkey and most families can’t afford private English lessons. Our weekly conversation classes are free and built on mutual engagement to help provide the same access to native speakers for everyone.

The BTF English Empowerment Program started in June 2020, with 10 participants in Chicago, US and 10 students in Kocaeli, Turkey. After a promising two quarters, BTF Program Sponsors have decided to expand it nationwide as it has garnered interest from Boston and San Diego BTF Youth. As of now, the program is running in New York, North Carolina, New Orleans, Boston, and San Diego.

We have seen the impact of the pilot program very clearly. When we first started speaking with the students, they lacked confidence in their English and were quite apologetic. Over time, through weekly conversations, they gained a newfound confidence, expanded their vocabulary, and have significantly improved their English skills. They are very thankful for the opportunity to practice their conversational English.

Through this program, students in both countries also foster international friendships and cultural exchange. Most of the BTF Youth group members are Turkish-American, whether 1st or 2nd generation, or Americans interested in learning about other cultures and the program provides them an opportunity to learn more about Turkish culture and day to day life. This program has not only greatly benefited the Turkish students, but we have fostered international friendships as well. We are excited to expand it!

Here are the guidelines of the program:

  • High school students in the US and college students in Turkey who are interested in participating in the program can contact a BTF Program Leader to be paired.
  • The program requires the college students in Turkey to know basic English.
  • The program runs on a quarterly basis with each quarter requiring ten weeks of participation.
  • The sessions must last an hour per week, minimum. Program participants in the US can be paired with as many Turkish students as they wish.
  • Prior to enrolling in the program, participants in both the US and Turkey must attend a short information & onboarding session.
  • Participants can receive suggested weekly conversational topics to use at their discretion.
  • Participants must have appropriate attire and be at a quiet location during the online sessions.
  • The students in the US record the attendance (date of each session) and can count these towards high school volunteer/community hours and use this opportunity to differentiate themselves in college applications.
  • At the end of the quarterly sessions, participants in Turkey and the US are asked for an evaluation and feedback to improve the program. Any issues can be shared with the BTF Program Sponsors to be addressed.

If you are interested in participating, please contact
btf-chicago@bridgetoturkiye.org.

The BTF English Empowerment Program was founded by Lucas Ancieta and Pelin Blanton and executed through BTF Youth Group.

See Wikipedia EF English Proficiency Index 2020 Rankings for reference.

Bridge to Türkiye Fund (BTF) is a US based, volunteer run, charitable non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. Contributions made to BTF are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by IRS. BTF’s tax identification number is 58–678580.

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