Every ESL student wants to meet a native speaker, if only for speaking practice, but there are some things you need to know about the kinds of questions you should and shouldn’t ask, as instead of building a friendship you may be doing the extreme opposite!
Here are 5 simple questions to NEVER ask a native speaker (Unless you know them well):
1. Are you married? Marriage in the western world for some native speakers is very complicated and their feelings about it may not be something you can understand. Best to not ask this question until they tell you themselves the answer.
2. Why aren’t you married? This question is even worse than the first one. The conversation may stop immediately here and you will get no answer at all. NEVER ask this one, even if you feel you know the person well. They will tell you if they think you should know.
3. Do you have children? This may seem a simple question to anyone, but some native speakers have some very different views on having children. Best to stay away from this one.
4. Why don’t you have any children? If you asked question number three, for sure this question will end all conversation and probably any further questions. This is a very personal question and most people prefer not to answer.
5. Can I practice my English with you? This makes the native speaker feel that you are only going to use them and have no desire to know them as a friend. Even if you say you want to be their friend also, never ask them this question as they feel you are not truthful about your friendship.
Okay I know a lot of these questions are questions you learn in your first few weeks of learning English. But they are not good conversation starters, they are only to help you if you are going through immigration or need to fill in a form. So I will tell you now 5 really good conversation starters with native speakers that could lead to some kind of friendship.
5 simple questions you CAN ask a native speaker (If you don’t know them well):
1. Where are you from? Most people are happy to talk about their home town or country.
2. Where do you live now? This is okay so long as you are happy to know the suburb they live in and you don’t want their street address, apartment number and phone number. Let them give it to you when they want to.
3. Do you play sport? Which sport do you like to play the most? A lot of native speakers enjoy all the same kinds of sporting activities you do and this may be a good chance to lead onto question 4.
4. Do you want to play a game sometime? Their reaction to this might be positive, and if so you may be able to get to the next level and meet not only them but some of their friends too. If they don’t want to commit to anything, don’t ask the question again.
5. What do you think is the most delicious food in this (your) country? Most native speakers will be very happy to help you with this. Get them to recommend somewhere for you to go too. You never know they may even decide to join you. But don’t push it, just say thank you.
So there are a few do’s and don’ts of starting a conversation with a native speaker. Remember, a conversation is a two way thing, so as much as you are trying to work out who they are, they will also be trying to work out who you are too.
Let me know how you go.
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