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Question of the Month: October 09

burning questionEnglishClub members ask many interesting questions about learning English. The EC team will feature one of your “burning questions” each month. A burning question is one that you really, really want an answer to. Please help us answer the question by adding your own suggestions in the comment section.

Question: I want to practise speaking with native speakers, but I’m nervous and I don’t know what to say. Do you have any advice for me?

Answer: Yes! I hear this question so often. My first question is, are you in a foreign country? If yes, this should be easy! Talk to people at bus stops, in grocery store line ups, in doctor’s offices, and in coffee shops. If no, try to visit places where foreigners frequently travel. Believe that you will find English speakers to chat with and you will.

Here are 10 tips:

  1. Relax and smile. You will not get a grade for your conversation. Don’t think too hard about what to say next. Be a good listener, and enjoy the moment.
  2. Learn the native speaker’s name and ask if you are pronouncing it correctly. Find a way to remember this name, such as thinking of a famous person with this name or using a word association (Jen with the jewellery or Ben with the beard). You can even ask the native speaker to spell his or her name out for you (write it invisibly on your hand). When the conversation is over use the person’s name. “Thanks for chatting, Jen.” OR “It was great to meet you Ben.”
  3. Ask about the other person’s day or their weekend. People like to talk about themselves. I always ask my kids this question after school: “What was the best part of your day?”
    You could also ask:
    “Did anything exciting happen today/this week?”
    “How was your weekend?”
    Then, describe something memorable or funny about your day or week.
    “You’ll never guess what happened to me…”
  4. Discuss a current event. It’s a good idea to stay on top of the world news!
    You can use these starters:
    “Did you know…”
    “Did you hear…”
    “I just heard…”
    “I just read…”
    “Is it true…?”

    For example:
    “Did you hear about the bus strike?”
    “I just read that the recession is officially over.”
    “Is it true that gas prices are going up again?”

  5. Discuss your surroundings. Is there something worth discussing nearby (art on the wall, music in the background, children playing)? Try to find something positive. Nobody wants to talk to a complainer.
    For example:
    “The garden is so nice, isn’t it? I wonder who takes care of it.”
    “I can’t believe how many buses stop here. Is it always like this?”
    “I can’t believe how many students live around here.”
    “There sure are a lot of dogs here. Do you have a pet?”
  6. Discuss travel. Tell the person where you are from and ask if he or she has been there. This could lead to a conversation about travel.
    For example:
    “Where have you travelled?”
    “Where would you like to travel?”
    “Have you ever been to…?”
    “You should go to …” (offer reasons why this is a good place to travel)
    “Have you lived here all your life?”
  7. Ask for advice.
    For example:
    “What is there to do around here?”
    “Where is a good place to eat/have a coffee?”
    “Is there anywhere to go swimming in this town?”
    “I like to watch English movies. Can you recommend a good one?”
  8. Ask about the native speaker’s interests (and share your own). If possible, try to find a common interest, such as movies, television shows, or sports.
    For example:
    “What do you get up to in your spare time?”
    “Don’t laugh but…I’m into reality TV shows these days.”
    “Do you play any sports?”
  9. Ask your own burning question about English.
    For example:
    “Can I ask you a question about English? I often hear people at the coffee shop say ‘double double’. What does that mean?”
    “You said you were ‘crazy busy’ this week. What exactly does that mean?”
  10. If all else fails…talk about the weather.

Here are some Conversation Starters. These will help you strike up a conversation in many different places, such as at the bus stop, or in a line-up.

Written by Tara Benwell for EnglishClub | October 2009
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials and articles for the ELT industry.

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