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A Guide for Speaking Group Volunteers

What is Speaking Group?

Speaking Groups are hour-long weekly meetings in which international students and scholars converse with fluent English speakers (i.e., you!) to practice their language skills. We meet every Friday from 3 to 4 pm, either on Zoom or at the FedEx Global Education Center. See the schedule here.

What happens at a meeting?

Participants receive an email earlier in the week with a suggested topic for Friday. An English Language Specialist from the Writing Center introduces the topic at the meeting. Participants break into pairs or small groups and discuss. Pairs/groups rotate after 30 minutes. Occasionally, we play games instead of discussing a particular topic.

Who attends?

Anyone affiliated with UNC can attend – undergrads, grad students, post-docs, visiting scholars, etc. Attendees have a wide variety of English language proficiency.

Sign up here to volunteer

General Guidelines

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 draw international participants into the conversation by asking questions and follow up questions. Don’t talk so much that you dominate the conversation. Also, don’t sit there silently waiting for someone to say something. Find a balance.
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 just a little more slowly.
  • 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.