students for conversation partners in ELI at the university of akron.

Tips and Techniques for Conversation Partners Program

Become an effective conversation partner!

As a Conversation Partner, your main role is to facilitate conversation practice, not be an ESL teacher or tutor. You should not assist the international students with their classroom assignments. A natural and personable conversation is more important than accurate English usage.

Tips and techniques

  • Speak at a natural pace. Slow down when you feel it is necessary to help your partner understand.
  • You can repeat or paraphrase, as well as ask your partner to repeat if you have trouble understanding.
  • Keep a normal volume to your voice.
  • Elaborate topics instead of answering “interview” questions, short yes/no questions, unrelated topics.
  • Bring “props” such as pictures of your family, books that are of interest, magazine articles, etc.
  • Use gestures, non-verbal cues, and facial expressions to explain your question or topic.
  • You can ask your partner to write down their question or repeat “I’m sorry but I don’t understand”.
  • Discourage native language use as much as possible.
  • Don’t be too serious.
  • Encourage “small talk” and try to use new vocabulary.
  • Be patient and sensitive to their cultural perspectives.

Remember! Don’t categorize students or assume cultural/background knowledge. Don’t judge the student’s English skills on their speaking ability. Encourage them to make friends outside of class.

Prepare for your conversation

It is helpful to prepare a list of questions/topics ahead of time. Some people may feel shy or worried about their English skills, so think about ways to extend a topic if your partner appears to have little to say. Ask your partner what topics they would like to discuss as well.

Conversation topic ideas:

  • Get acquainted
    • What brings them to The University of Akron
    • Where do they live?
    • Do they have family here in the U.S., etc.
  • Compare the differences between the U.S. and their country
    • Work, climate, educational system, cuisine, etc.
    • How are prices compared to the U.S.?
    • What types of clothes, cars, homes, do they have?
  • Traveling in their country
    • Attractions, holiday destinations, they're favorite places to go, etc.
  • Music
    • Favorite type of music, singer, what type of musical instruments do they play, do they sing, etc.
  • Cuisine and traditions
    • What are their favorite foods in their country and the U.S.?
    • Do they cook?
    • What restaurants do they like here in the Akron area?
    • Share your favorite places to eat.

Remember to have fun and enjoy this experience. It is a wonderful learning experience for both of you!


If you have any questions or want more information contact Nicola Kille, Student Services Counselor in the English Language Institute at