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Helpful Tips

Additional tips on beginner vs. advanced students, correcting feedback, dealing with awkward silences, and cultural differences.

Beginner Speakers

When your buddy has a beginner to low-intermediate level of English, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • They may be intimidated to speak English for one whole hour. If they are struggling a lot, consider breaking the hour up into two 30 minute sessions a week.

  • Speak slower than you normally would in speaking with your friends (but don't exaggerate or "act dumb"!)

  • Enunciate words carefully. Be a good model for them!

  • Be more explicit in correcting errors, introducing vocabulary, or introducing idioms. View document below for correcting errors.

  • Keep in mind your use of language and idioms. Many students may not understand what an "all-nighter" is or that expression "I'm stuffed" means "I'm full of food," because they may not have learned this in school. Be clear in your use of language, and introduce new idioms slowly.

  • If they seem to be overwhelmed from talking too much, talk about your own experiences, opinions, etc. a little bit. This way they can take a "speaking rest," while listening to a good model English speaker too.

  • Prepare many discussion questions or activities. Their answers may be quite short, since they have not had as much experience qualifying their answers.

  • Awkward silences or pauses are more common. Be sure to encourage them and don't be totally silent during the call. Even a simple "mhmm" can reassure them that you are listening and value their contribution to discussion. Read section below for more help with silences.

  • Pro tip: Many beginners struggle with speaking and listening more than reading. If you find that this is the case with your buddy, try typing some questions or key words onto a Google Doc while screen sharing (or send into the chat) so they can visually see the words. Make sure this doesn't become a crutch, because we want to foster skills that will enable them to hold a regular conversation.

Advanced Speakers

Advanced to high-intermediate level speakers:

  • They can listen at a slightly faster pace. Still, slow down a bit so that they can hear your good grammar and pronunciation of words.

  • You can be more subtle in correcting errors or introducing expressions. View document below.

  • They will be more willing to talk and ask you questions, so you might get sidetracked a little with the flow of conversation. That's okay, and perfectly natural! Remember to ask follow-up questions. They generally require less preparation and questions because of this.

  • Be sure to challenge them by discussing more nuanced topics or sending them articles and videos to look over before the session.

Correcting Errors

The "Giving Feedback" document has some tips on how to correct student mistakes and giving feedback. Some other things to note:

  • When your student makes a grammar or pronunciation error, be sure to correct them when appropriate. If they continue making this mistake without correction, it may become habit and harder to change in the future.

  • Indonesia's language and dialect diversity can make it difficult to tell if they are making a pronunciation error or if it's one of the many accents.​

    • A mispronunciation is something that significantly affects the listener's understanding of the word; in this case, correct them and have them repeat a few times.

    • Note that many Indonesians learn under the British system, so you may hear British pronunciation of words. It may be good to mention the American pronunciation of the word as well.

  • If they forget how to say a word, or you introduce new vocabulary to them, make sure to use it a couple times thereafter and throughout the session. Encourage them use it too where relevant.​

    • For beginners, it may be useful to create a typed list (Google Docs) of vocabulary words to work on; be explicit and say "let's practice using [word] in a sentence" or "try say that again using the word we just learned!"

    • For intermediate-advanced students, incorporate the word smoothly in your discussion.

  • Another way to give feedback without interrupting the flow of conversation is asking them to do a short 2-3 minute presentation or speech where you make all your corrective feedback at the end. Let them know to prepare for it before the meeting. It does not need a powerpoint presentation or a written speech if they don't want to - a few notes or bullet points can suffice. Presentation ideas are in the Volunteer Materials page.

  • Remember to encourage your buddy often!​

    • Take note on the expansion of their vocabulary, use of more complex sentences, and talking without pauses to compliment their efforts.

    • Remember you are likely talking to someone your age, so don't sound overenthusiastic, or you might sound condescending.

Correcting Errors

Too many awkward silences can demotivate the student in English conversation, because they doubt their own skills and progress. Two common reasons for awkward silences are:

  • They are lower-level students who may not know how to answer your question or follow the discussion, so they don't answer for fear of misunderstanding you or making a mistake. They often give one-sentence replies.

  • They are intimidated or shy to speak to a stranger, especially in a language they are still learning. They may be hesitant to offer information about their life.

Some ways to deal with this:

  • Prepare more discussion questions or activities than you think, especially in your first few sessions. Make sure to pay attention to what they say and ask many follow-up questions.

  • Every time you change a subject or transitioning into an activity, state this clearly and explicitly so they don't feel lost.

  • Speak slower and mind your vocabulary and sentence structure. Beginners often struggle with sentences that contain "if," "until," double negatives, and idiomatic phrases.

    • Gradually, you can sprinkle in more advanced vocabulary and complex sentences to challenge your buddy. Make sure to explain with examples some common English sayings or idiomatic phrases.

    • Every time you increase complexity, remember to continue speaking at a slow, steady pace.

  • For beginners, structure your questions and lessons more. Instead of asking more open-ended questions, provide a "word bank" to direct the conversation.

    • Example 1: "What did the room look like? Describe it with some adjectives from this list:

      • Red walls or blue walls?

      • Pink doll or soccer ball? Or both?

      • Many pillows or few pillows?"

    • Example 2: "How do you feel about school? Do you like it or do you dislike it?"

      • Student: I don't like it.

      • Volunteer: Why do you not like school? Is it stressful or do you dislike your teachers?

      • S: It is stressful.

      • V: Why is it stressful?

      • S: Too much work.

    • Basically, give options, so it's more than just yes/no questions, but easier than "Why" or "how" questions.

  • For shyer students, open up and answer the question yourself first, particularly if it's a personal question. Even just listening to a fluent or native speaker can help improve their English conversation skills, especially if they have been making an effort to talk throughout the session. Still, make sure they talk at least 50% of the time.

Overall, don't worry! With time and effort, your buddy will improve much quicker than you would expect.

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