When we speak to people who we don’t know, it can be difficult to know what to talk about.
Where do I begin? What do they like? What is right in this culture? These are the questions we often ask ourselves when we are in a new social situation.
I find the more I ask myself questions, the more confused I get. When I am confused, I don’t say anything at all.
So I’d like to give you an easy exercise so you can find something to talk about and build your language around that.
What do you want to talk about?
This is an exercise I often do with new students in our first lesson together.
It is very simple: draw a table – on the left write ‘good topics’ on the right ‘bad topics.’ Then write any ideas you have which can go in these two groups
What is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’?
Good question. ‘Good’ topics are things you can talk about with anyone. For example, the weather (very typical in England), where you live, places you travelled to, friends etc.
‘Bad’ topics are things that are too personal or controversial. For example, money, politics, sport (sometimes!), religion etc.
(Maybe there are some topics which are in the middle – for example family – it is OK to talk about your family but maybe you don’t want to talk about the argument you had with your bother last night!)
TOP TIP: If you are going to do business with another country, it is a good idea to research what are ‘good’ and ‘bad’ topics in their culture. You want to make friends in your first conversation, not enemies! It is important to be respectful.
Now you have your topics, choose one you really like.
For example, maybe you can take ‘where you live.’
Now, you need to become an expert in this topic. You can do two things for this.
First you can write all the words you know and then find more (by translation or online). You can write a list or draw a mind map. Whatever works for you.
Secondly, you can write all the questions you can ask about this topic. You could get your teacher to correct them for you and then you can practice them until you know them completely.
With these two steps, now you have at least one thing you can talk about with new people who you meet. When you become comfortable with this topic, you can choose a second topic and start the process again.
I find this is a really easy way to build your conversation skills because it gives you easy things to talk about and a structure you can use to learn them.
If you’re interested about learning other structures I use or if you want a teacher to support you in this, send me an email and we can arrange a trial lesson.
What topics will you choose? Share in the comments below.