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From offline to online language volunteer

Helen has been a language volunteer with Civic Amsterdam since 18 months. She has had various jobs in education and wanted to stay active following her retirement. As a language volunteer she can make good use of her experience in education. As a language buddy Helen works a lot on a one-to-one basis, but she also gives language lessons to a group of refugees with residence permits.

The physical meetings can no longer take place due to the coronavirus measures. How did you react?

‘It wasn’t nice at all, of course,’ Helen tells us. ‘You have less direct contact with course participants and you miss the non-verbal signs. These often give an idea whether or not the student understands something. As a language buddy I therefore have to ask more questions to check. I already had to be creative when working in education. Each group is different, so teaching always requires a tailored approach. This corona situation is improving my online creativity, by forcing me to discover what can still be done!’

What does being an online language buddy entail?

‘A student for example messages me via WhatsApp with pictures of the texts they don’t understand. I help and explain via WhatsApp. Together we look at what it says and what needs to be done. I also use video calls. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work, as not everybody has a mobile phone with video calling. We need to improvise a bit, but we do carry on!’

What is the difference between online and offline (in the classroom)

‘Explaining something is sometimes more difficult. The difference between the Dutch words lying, laying and laughing I normally tend to just quickly act out. I lie down on the floor. I lay a book on the table. And I laugh out loud. To act this out online takes more effort. It is a challenge to film yourself while acting this all out. It’s also a bit slower and less direct.’

Do you have a language tip?

‘We often use the computer and the Leef & Leer (Live and Learn) exercises, but there are various websites that offer language exercises tailored to the desired level. One tip to easily remember websites (or other things) is to make a photo of it. You can send a photo via WhatsApp. You can take photos of websites you really like, but also of words you don’t understand. A photo is easy to show to someone else.’

Would you like more information on language lessons?

Zdenka and Mavis would love to tell you more. In some language lessons homework is set and checked by the teacher. Other lessons use an online environment and a digital whiteboard. This depends on the level/group.

Amsterdam Oost, Zdenka Mijic 
Amsterdam Noord, Mavis Kathusing


by Civic Amsterdam


Soundtrackcity Het huis van Amsterdam met dank aan: Gemeente Amsterdam West