A Guide for Speaking Group Volunteers
What are Speaking Groups?
Speaking Groups are 50-minute-long weekly meetings in which English language learners converse with fluent English speakers (i.e. you!) to practice their language skills.
What happens at a meeting?
An ESL Specialist from the Writing Center introduces a topic. Participants break into pairs or small groups and discuss. Pairs/groups rotate every 15 minutes. Occasionally, we play games instead of discussing a particular topic.
Anyone affiliated with UNC can attend – undergrads, grad students, post-docs, visiting scholars, etc. Attendees have a wide variety of English language proficiency.
|Take a genuine interest in the people you’re talking to.||Don’t make assumptions. Even if two people are from the same country, they may have very different perspectives on the world.|
|Try to find points of connection and discuss things you’re sincerely interested in.||Don’t dominate the conversation so that your partner doesn’t have a chance to practice, but don’t make the other person feel as if she’s being interrogated, either.|
|Speak at a normal, comfortable volume and pace.||Don’t speak unnecessarily s-l-o-w-l-y or LOUDLY.|
|Remember that your partner probably has a different cultural background from you.||Don’t rely heavily on pop culture references or American tropes that your partner might have never heard of.|
|Speak in clear, grammatical sentences. Use an appropriate register.||Don’t use faux-foreign speak. See example below.|
Examples of different registers
Very high/Might be too advanced:
I suspect that I have an affinity for charcuterie. Have you ever tried your hand as a charcutier?
- Embedded sentences; advanced vocabulary; idiomatic expression
Appropriate for most speakers:
I might like to make sausage and bacon. Have you ever done anything like that?
- Colloquial; grammatically correct; common phrases
Too low/Not appropriate for anyone:
Me like to make sausage. You sausage-like?
- Grammatically incorrect; insulting to listener’s intelligence
What to do if…
you don’t know how to get started…
- Ask your partner’s name.
- Ask a general question about the day’s topic.
- Inquire about things you know she will have encountered – her apartment, the weather, things in the general surroundings.
- Ask what she’s studying or what department she’s in.
- Ask about her stay – How long has she been here? When will she return home? What does she like/dislike about Carolina?
your partner is having trouble understanding you…
- Be patient.
- Repeat yourself.
- Rephrase using more common vocabulary and/or simpler sentence structure.
- Highlight important/focus words. These are usually content words, which you judge to be the most important ideas in the utterance.
- Use gestures or draw pictures.
- Use shorter and/or grammatically simpler sentences.
- Ask for help. Maybe someone else will have a better idea about how to communicate.
you’re having trouble understanding your partner…
- Be patient.
- Politely ask her to repeat herself.
- Re-state what you think she said and leave time for her to correct you.
- Ask clarification questions, e.g. Your cousin… Do you mean your mother’s sister? So your aunt?
- Ask for help.
your partner says something you find offensive…
- Consider why she might have said it. Is it just a matter of miscommunication or limited vocabulary? Try to assume best intentions.
- If you feel comfortable enough, try to explain why the statement is offensive and offer suggestions for other ways of expressing the same idea, if appropriate.
- If you do not feel comfortable addressing the situation, ask for help.
- Inform the facilitator at the end of the meeting.