A SPEAK buddy does so much more than chat about their language. They connect eager participants to their culture, speak of their roots and home languages (whether native or not) and bring together a mini-community to their sessions. Which sounds great in theory! So you’re standing now, hours before your first session, with no idea where to start, with the textbook in front, shuffling the pages for an adequate game.

This is what we are here for! You will find below a few pointers to hopefully lift your confidence and leave you feeling fearless in tackling your new group! Ready to get down to the nitty-gritty?

1. Be clear with your goals

It may not be the pinnacle of entertainment, but setting a loose framework of what you want to achieve can help speed up the brainstorming by quite a lot! Do you want your participants to learn the alphabet of your language? Do you prefer them to be able to ask for the directions when they get lost in your city? Or maybe you have a conversational group, so you would prefer to bring their academic/professional terminology up to date? Once you figure out a few clear objectives, the session planning will slowly start to form by itself.

A bonus point: discussing individual goals is a good icebreaker. Ask your participants what they expect to know by the end of the sessions. You will get valuable tips on what could make your group work better and maybe gain a brand new point of view you have not yet thought of. Besides, once people will start thinking about their learning goals, it will be easier on their side to judge whether they are on the right track or not, then tell you about any possible obstacles or problems.

2. Make a game of anything

Games offer a good pretext for people to interact more, talk about themselves and get to know others. Plus, it’s so much more fun to play something rather than write lines in your notebook! It doesn’t have to be anything complex, with a lot of rules. Simply splitting people in teams, to work on a common task, can be enough to get them talking. The buddy manual has plenty of suggestions for activities.

A few basic tips to make any game a success would be to keep the rules as simple and as concise as possible; to make sure your participants understand the rules; to require as little control and as much interaction as possible. If you spend too much time explaining the rules, you risk not allocating enough for the game to take place, not to mention that you may lose people’s attention in the process. After all, they are the ones supposed to do the talking. Which brings us to the next point…

3. Talk that talk!

SPEAK creates connections between people, be it through language groups or events. This is why we keep the sessions informal and put chit-chat in the spotlight. The time spent with the group is equally about bonding as it is about learning. You can start your session by asking small things, to lure people out of their shell, then challenge them to reveal more in upcoming tasks.

For example, a large chunk of the SPEAK sessions start with a recap of what each participant has done over the week or how has the day been for them. Feel free to share bits of information or push for details. If one of them has been at a festival, you can ask them to talk about their favourite performance or tell them your memorable party shenanigans. You can also rephrase things they have said, and check with them if you have understood them right, in case of doubt.

When having a large group, splitting them and asking them to come up with a solution to a problem might be even more comfortable, as they will have conversation partners at the same language level and feel less judged. I have been in a session where we had to share our worst and best travelling stories and figure out, within the group, the worst of the worst and the best of the best. Such a simple premise got everyone hyped up and talkative.

4. A question a day keeps the doubts at bay

SPEAK’s forum, groups and social media profiles are a great place to seek advice. They include buddies who have earned a lot of experience or even professional teachers to help you get out of a pickle. Your situation might be common – such as participants having very different language levels. You can then check how other buddies did to switch the participants to a more appropriate group or keep them learning at the same pace as the others.

Besides, all your doubts and issues are a much-needed feedback for the organizers. This is how SPEAK finds out whether they need better rooms for the groups. Whenever you have a great idea for an activity, but you need just a bit of an extra hand organizing it, other SPEAKers will be there. The entire community is one post away from supporting you in achieving your goal, so never hesitate to ask away.

5. Beyond learning a language

The cultural component is a priceless addition to any session. Even between the borders of one’s country, there are many accents, traditions and differences that always manage to get a giggle or a “what the fudge?” from the audience. Imagine if you had a group from all types of backgrounds, united by their will to share bits from their walk of life!

On the same note, your culture is a source of fascination. We all heard about Dia de Muertos, but celebrating it with our peers? Now that’s exciting! What about a blind taste test or a cook-off competition with your group? The options are endless.

These are a few suggestions, which hopefully can help you better envision your sessions and enrich your experience as a buddy. It is by no means an exhaustive list of all the awesome ideas our buddies have constantly pulled off, so if you have some tricks up your sleeve and activity ideas that just swept everybody off their feet, drop us a comment!

Are you interested in reading more about what a buddy does? Read "What makes a good SPEAK buddy."

Author: Maria Cernaut

Maria is an Aveirense in the making, with a taste for Latin languages, unplanned journeys and dark humour. Additionally she found SPEAK when moving to Portugal and has been a low-key cult member since.

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