Our SPEAK buddies

A major feature of the language groups at SPEAK is the relationship that easily develops between the buddies and participants. Whether the participants are learning Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, German, or any other language offered by the program. The participants seem to genuinely like their SPEAK buddies, and to learn plenty from them.

This is not by accident, but we wanted to know how it happens. So, we asked “what makes good SPEAK buddies?”. Many people have been active at SPEAK as buddies, participants, or both. So they could base their answers on their own experiences and observations. Although they came from different backgrounds and had varying perspectives, they came up with mostly the same answers.


Make the language groups fun

“What makes someone an excellent buddy is that they love the language that they are helping others learn. Also, that they have fun doing it”, said Isa Parra, from Chile. She helps others learn Spanish and learns German and English at SPEAK Berlin. Silvia Batorii is a space software engineer from Romania who learned Spanish at SPEAK Madrid. She said, “I found out that jokes can make it a fun experience.”

“You need to get your participants engaged with the language they are learning. Make the whole experience interesting, fun and, obviously, educative. It´s not about just talking or just writing,” said Gabriel Amarista Rodrigues. Originally from Venezuela, he helped others learn Spanish and learned Portuguese and English at SPEAK Coimbra, where he graduated in intelligent systems. Gabriel added that testing language skills through competitions are always fun to do and watch. “I´ve seen SPEAK buddies using quizzes from Hadoop, and PowerPoint files with questions and riddles for the group,” he said.

Several participants and buddies noted that a sense of humour is very important. One of them, Lía Tabilo, is a Chilean who has learned Italian and helped others learn Spanish and Portuguese at SPEAK in Lisbon. She said: “A good buddy is someone capable of having a good laugh and don´t take themselves too seriously.” Christine Eamer, who’s from Canada, agreed with that sentiment. She has helped others learn German at SPEAK Berlin, and is a participant learning Arabic. “I appreciated in my buddy that he kept the mood very fun and light, while still helping us learn some basics.”


selfie of many people at SPEAK- fun and culture make good SPEAK buddies

Don’t forget about the culture

Isa noted that good SPEAK buddies “can transmit feelings through language, and they also present part of the culture during the session.” Roberto Primavera is a dental technician in Turin, where he learns Russian at SPEAK. According to him, “the buddy, first of all, transmits the language. But also transmits the kind of thinking and culture. For example, by showing films in sessions, the buddy gets the participants interested.”

Anna Khairullina is a Russian who’s studying for a master’s degree in international communication for tourism in Turin. She participated in an English language group at SPEAK there, but she gained a cultural understanding that went beyond the English language. “I had two buddies: a brother and a sister from Lebanon, and loved when we talked about some of the traditions and way of life they have,” she said. “I loved it because, even if it’s so different from my country, we actually have so much in common. For example, it is so important to pass a lot of time with the family.”

Anna also learned about Italian traditions from a fellow participant. “One Italian woman explained to us that in Italy, on some occasions such as Communion or the birth of a child, they prepare bonbons and that the colours of the candies depend on the reason for the celebration. For example, if it’s the birth of a baby, it’s blue for boys and pink for girls. I didn’t know this, neither did the buddies from Lebanon.”


Learning about other cultures-SPEAK language groups

Are flexible on the approach to help others learn

“Always be open to new ideas, especially from the participants,” said Lea Keller. Lea is a native of Konstanz, Germany, who helped others learn Italian at SPEAK Madrid.

“The key is to adapt,” said Camila Mansilla Bruning, a Chilean who helps others learn Spanish and English and learns German at SPEAK Berlin. “Buddies need to organize the sessions and the entire language group based on the abilities and capacities of the group.” Christine agreed. “Flexibility to adapt to the participants is a big advantage of the SPEAK model. I think that a good buddy can work with the participants to find the best style for the group.”

“I liked the informality,” said Lynne Smith. She’s from Scotland and has helped others learn English and learned Portuguese at SPEAK Leiria. “If the topic changed, we ran with it rather than talking about the weather and shopping!”

Pierre Masci is from France and helped others learn English and French and learned Portuguese at SPEAK Lisbon. He also noted that buddies need adaptability and flexibility. Pierre defined it as, “whilst following a plan, allowing a space for participants to choose where the session is going. Choosing themes what they want to speak about, sometimes having a choice between a few activities, or even making their own activities.”

Pierre added that the participants themselves should also be able to choose what we will do in the next sessions. “For instance, one participant helped us learn some arts and crafts, and another shared with us a recipe.”


A SPEAK session with buddies and participants- patience and helpfulness make good SPEAK buddies

Are patient and helpful

“A good buddy is someone who cares for the participants and builds relationships with them,” said Christine Isabel Sofia, a freelance artist. She has helped others learn Portuguese and French at SPEAK in her native Lisbon. She said that a good buddy will “create empathy with the participants and reach or search for their needs.” Maria Picciolo, who’s from Italy, and helped others learn Italian and learned Spanish at SPEAK Madrid. Maria loves the fact that the buddies “were really friendly, young and caring!”

Gavin Petersen is an Australian who helped others learn English and learned German and Portuguese at SPEAK Leiria. He thinks that a good buddy is someone who is “patient and encouraging, perceiving when participants are managing to follow and when they´re having difficulty, and able of doing activities that involve the whole group trying to communicate with each other.”

Isabel noted that a good buddy knows what’s important and relevant when you’re learning a new language, and can help in different ways to facilitate learning. But an excellent buddy “has patience and makes you trust in yourself, knows what to correct in each moment, to generate a climate of confidence, in which you dare to make mistakes because you know that mistakes are part of learning, and that mistakes have made, well, because it means you´re trying.”

Silvia mentioned that her buddy, Cinzia Fenu, “was really friendly and made us feel comfortable and at ease. Especially when learning a new language, different situations and speaking in front of others can be really intimidating. We are all in this together after all.”


SPEAK session group photo with all the participants and buddies

The bottom line

So, what makes good SPEAK buddies? Penelope Lecuna, from Spain who helped others learn English and learned Italian at SPEAK Madrid, summed it all up alright. “A good knowledge of the language, a sense of humor, being open to other ways of thinking and seeing the world, and taking an interest in what others like.”

Be a buddy at SPEAK and Share Your World!


Author: Joanne E. Gerber

Joanne has been specializing has an editor and copy editor in international economic and social development for over a decade. She is fluent in French and proficient in Spanish.

3 Replies to “What makes good SPEAK buddies?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *