A student of mine is going to teach American students this summer. She wanted to know some subjects that she can talk about with her students, or ways to start talking. Although her English is okay, she feels pretty unsure about it. Sounds familiar? I could give her a list of subjects, but she could probably think of those herself.
What she needs most is ideas of which questions to ask. I don’t know if you noticed this yourself, but when you ask a question it’s the easiest way to get someone talking. That way you don’t have to do the work; you can just listen. But as a bonus this other person will also like you, because you are interested in them. The worst thing you can do when you get to know new people is tell stories about yourself… So ask as many questions as you like. Don’t forget to say “hm” and “aha” and “interesting” while you’re listening.
Here are some ideas for great questions (not in any particular order):
Have you lived here long?
What do you like/dislike about this city/town/village?
Do you have family living here?
How do you keep in touch with your family and friends back home?
What kind of telephone and software do you use?
What college are you from? How did you like it there?
Did you notice any difference between the students/college here and in America?
What do you think of the people here? Many Americans say the local people are rude/distant/friendly/not friendly enough/hypocritical/empty-headed/nosy. What’s your opinion?
Where do you like to go out?
Do you have any hobbies?
Have you been reading any interesting book lately? Do you read regular books or E-books?
Seen a good movie?
Seen a good TV show last night?
Do you have a pet? Do you prefer cats or dogs?
Do you have any ideas how to improve this course/presentation/class/session?
What professional issues are you interested in?
Have you met many local people?
How do you get around? (by bus, car, walking, etc.)
What do you usually do for the holidays? What’s your favourite holiday?
Have you studied/travelled in any other foreign country? What did you like/dislike there?
What are your plans for the weekend?
Where did you go to school? What kind of school was it?
What would be your ideal job in the future?
Which countries would you like to visit?
Do you like cooking?
Who do you look up to? / Who’s your role model?
Do you have any regrets that you chose this profession?
Do you speak our local language? Do you speak any other languages?
What do you do when you’re tired at work?
Do you sleep easily?
What’s your favourite charity?
Do you play video games?
What do you prefer: the city or the country?
How are you with the climate in our country? What’s your favourite kind of weather?
Do you have a car/bike? How is the traffic where you live?
Did you have any amusing misunderstandings with the locals?
Have you done any shopping for souvenirs?
Have you discovered any good restaurants in town?
Be careful! Don’t ask the wrong questions.
Questions not to ask:
Don’t get into the subjects of money, politics and religion, unless you know the person really well and you’ve become close friends. And another tip: don’t ask too many intimate questions about family and relationships. Not everyone appreciates them. If there’s any subject that you notice that people don’t want to talk about, don’t ask them any more about it. Wait for the other person to begin talking about this subject themselves.