TEFL Activity: Instant Interpreter

TEFL Activity Instant Interpreter.png

This one is a personal favourite. One student is a two way interpreter, and two other students have a conversation via the interpreter. Here are example instructions to set up and run the activity, and some example scenarios to use.

This activity is great for accuracy of language and meaning, and I also love that it brings the learners’ first language (their ‘L1’) into the classroom.

I’d suggest giving the ‘interpreter’ role to stronger or more confident students to begin with, before rotating later.


  • Language focus: any

  • Skills: speaking, listening, accuracy

  • Lesson Stage: controlled or free practice

  • Interaction Pattern: groups of three, turn-taking.

  • Limitations: needs groups of three. Students must share a language other than English.

Example Setup and Instructions:

Model the Activity

  1. Choose two strong students to volunteer.

  2. Line up at the front of the classroom, with you at one end, then a student, then another student. All facing the class.

  3. Point to yourself, “I’m ‘A’, this is ‘B’ [point to middle student] and this is ‘C’” [point to student at other end].

  4. “I only speak English. ‘C’ [point to student at other end of line] only speaks Chinese. ‘B’ speaks English and Chinese!”

  5. “I want to talk to ‘C’, but he doesn’t speak English. What can I do?” [Elicit that ‘B’ can help you and translate] Yes, well done! Ready?”

  6. [Wave at ‘C’] “Hello!” [C may answer, but remind them that they don’t speak English. Prompt B to translate if needed. Be prepared for laughter].

From here, B will translate and say ‘hello’ in Chinese to C. Motion C to respond to you, and they will say ‘hello’ in Chinese to B, who will say ‘hello’ to you in English. You can follow up with a ‘How are you’ or ‘What’s your name’, etc.

Instructions for Grouping Students

“You’re ‘A’ [gestures to a student], you’re B (ideally choose stronger students for ‘B’), you’re C. You three are a group” [gestures to A,B and C]. Repeat with rest of learners until all are grouped. Move learners chairs into a circle, if possible.

Gain attention

“’Look at me please. Listen.”

Check Grouping

“Who is A? Raise your hand” [Check to see that correct students put hands up]. Repeat with B and C. Clarify if necessary.


“Student A, put your hand up. You are a student visiting Shanghai, and you only speak English.”

“Student C, put your hand up. You live in the Shanghai, and you only speak Chinese.”

“Student B, put your hand up. You are friends with Student A and Student B. You speak English and Chinese, and will help them talk to each other”.

Instruction Check Questions

“Student A, which language do you speak? Student B? Student C?”

Running the activity

Once the activity is running, walk around and monitor the students. Listen to what they’re having trouble with. Error correct if necessary. If you have uneven numbers, you could make up a group of three, but not being able to monitor is a disadvantage.

After some time, switch the roles of the students. Move A to B, B to C, and C to A. Write this on the board, so students can refer to it as they switch. Ask the same instruction check question as before.

Finally, do one last rotation, so that everyone has a chance to play A, B and C.


  • Students often find this a funny activity, especially at the start when it’s common to make mistakes in turn-taking. Keep it light-hearted.

  • Match the language point to the context.

Example Contexts

Make sure that you match the scenario of the activity to the rest of the class context. Here are some ideas for contexts to get you started:

  • A tourist visiting students’ home city.

  • A business colleague in a different country is visiting, or on a conference call (could even try on the phone in a different room!).

  • Visiting your boy- or girlfriend’s parent for the first time.

  • Seeing a doctor in a different country.

  • Making a complaint in a hotel.

Ideas for more contexts? Tried running the activity? Tell me in the comments!