Miami-Dade County

‘Conversation circles’ at FIU help people with English, Spanish language skills

Carlos Borges, 53, works at his desk after a recent tutoring session at the Florida International University's Center for Excellence in Writing. Borges says he writes notes about the tutoring session to use it for future reference.
Carlos Borges, 53, works at his desk after a recent tutoring session at the Florida International University's Center for Excellence in Writing. Borges says he writes notes about the tutoring session to use it for future reference. South Florida News Service

As a junior in high school, Carlos Borges broke his neck when he jumped into shallow water to cool off at the opening of Tropical Park in southwest Miami-Dade County.

The accident left him in a wheelchair and a quadriplegic.

“There was seven months in rehab, and I had to learn many things,” said Borges, now 53. “One of the things I wanted to do was learn to write again.”

More than 30 years later, he became one of the most experienced writing tutors at Florida International University’s Center for Excellence in Writing, helping many students improve their skills for the past two decades.

“Thanks to him, I can write a paper,” said Sharon Ochotorrena, 23, who was tutored by Borges when she struggled with essay assignments while working on her bachelor’s degree in early education. “After several sessions, I learned how to develop a story and edit my own papers.”

Now, after more than 20 years of tutoring, Borges decided to start leading “conversation circles” in English from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday at the center in the Modesto Maidique Campus.

The purpose of the circles is to help attendees improve their English conversation. It is free of charge and open to anyone, not just FIU students.

“Writing helps a person speak better and speech helps the person write better,” said Borges, born in Miami of Cuban parents.

Borges said he was often timid speaking in public and now wants to help people with similar feelings.

“I want to help others face their fears and thrive just the way I have done with myself,” he said.

Borges, who uses several techniques with the participants at the circles, talks about what others have been through while learning another language.

“The purpose of the stories is to show the participants that they are not the only ones making mistakes,” said Borges.

Alibek Rakhimov, 24, has attended the “Conversation Circles” several times.

“We talk about personal things, the current news, food, work, our different cultures, and I really like the fact that he is a great listener, but he also corrects us,” said Alibek, now preparing to start law school at University of Florida in the fall. “Every time I leave the center, I feel very proud of the improvement and the things I learn.”

Megan Bennett, 20, another participant of the “Conversation Circles,” agrees.

She recently discussed her family activities with the group.

“I feel like in terms of knowing the language, practicing with any topic is key to learn it,”said Bennett, a sociology major at FIU, who has been attending the circles for more than two months. “I have to respond back, and it maybe embarrassing at first, but that is how growth happens, so it has helped a lot to open up in society and professionally.”

Borges said that participants talk more and learn faster when there is a bigger number of attendees in the circles, which he hopes see an increase in the fall.

“I will be practicing a lot of vocabulary in English, and it will be very beneficial for my career,” said Leonardo Mancheno, 40, who is planning to join the circles this summer and go to law school after obtaining his bachelor’s degree in international relations and political science at FIU. “I did law school in South America, and I am trying to get the same degree here.”

Because of the reviews and continued participation of attendees on the English circles, at the end of 2014, the center opened Spanish conversation circles in the Modesto Maidique Campus and additional English circles at the Biscayne Bay Campus.

The Spanish circles are held from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursdays at the MMC Campus.

The additional English circles are held from noon to 1 p.m. Wednesdays at the BBC Campus, although times vary each semester for this session at BBC.

“[Borges’] story is very inspirational, and the participants respond well to him because they share at least one language in common most of the time,” said Charles Donate, 28, who coordinates the center and leads the Spanish circles at the MMC Campus.

Circle seats are available to the first 20 attendees.

If you go:

FIU - MMC Campus

What: "Conversation Circles" in English with Carlos Borges

When:From 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. every Wednesday

What: "Conversation Circles" in Spanish with Charles Donate

When: From 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. every Thursday

Where: The Center for Excellence in Writing,Florida International University’s Modesto A. Maidique Campus, 11200 SW. 8th St. Miami, FL 33199, Green Library 125

For more information:call305-348-6634

FIU - BBC Campus

What: Additional "Conversation Circles" in English

When: From 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. every Wednesday (times vary each semester for this session at BBC)

Where: The Center for Excellence in Writing,Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay Campus: Hubert Library, Second Floor, 3000 NE. 151st St. North Miami, FL 33181

For more information: call 305-919-4036

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