5 Questions You Should NEVER Ask a Native Speaker (Unless you know them really well)

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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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23 thoughts on “5 Questions You Should NEVER Ask a Native Speaker (Unless you know them really well)

  1. Hi, Aiyshah, yeah, those are good tips for ESL students… I’ve faced such situations many times and there are other DON’T questions I teach my students when teaching Business English. Let’s share ideas 🙂

    • Yes I agree, but I think not everyone is as open as you. That’s why I think it’s good for the students to know that you need to get to know the person first…then you can ask.

  2. Thai people seem to have the idea that Westerners are blunt and just say things straight out with no sense of tact, but they themselves will ask right off the bat if you’re married or have a girl/boyfriend or significant other; also, they have no compunctions asking you about your personal finances. So it’s all cultural what’s permissible to ask and what’s off-limits (or highly sensitive) — one of the many fun things about encountering a world that thinks and feels and perceives differently than you do.

    Anyway, greetings from a neighbor to your north…. 🙂

    • Hello up there….!

      Yes I’m sure you face the same kinds of comments that native speakers in Malaysia do, perhaps you are right that they perceive the westerner as someone who will tell you or do anything any time without any questions asked. I guess we come across in the media as quite brash, so they take it the wrong way. I also deal with Somalis, and their culture is different again, they just simply won’t ask you a single question about anything to do with you or your family…..I always feel much more comfortable with that, but then if I ask them a simple conversation starter like….how long have you been in Malaysia? I get their entire life story…..You’re right….it’s all about culture.

  3. I have never heard of a problem with anyone asking questions 1 or 3 to any American, even on the first meeting. These are legitimate questions, which most Americans have absolutely no trouble answering. Question 5 might be awkward at a first meeting. Questions 2 and 4 are, indeed, quite personal and would be better not discussed at all until a close relationship is formed.

    • Fair enough. I think the only reasons why 1 and 3 are there is because 80% of the time they lead into 2 and 4 and I know a lot of native speakers who teach English don’t even want to get the conversation going in that direction.

  4. Yes, it’s always difficult not to make mistakes while asking questions that could hurt someone’s cultural sensitivities.

    • hahaha….like your answer to No. 5. The only reason why 1 and 3 are annoying is because I find they often lead onto 2 and 4. Thanks for the feedback. It’s more of a cultural thing I think…

  5. I went 5 for 5 in one of my first classes. It’s a bit of a shocker at first, but a I found a bit of humor helped me dodge some of these questions. Thanks for checking out my blog, if you read my post you know I have much to learn. It looks like I could learn a lot here. I’m always looking for helpful new perspectives, and tips from the pros

  6. Yeah! Lost count of how many times I’ve been asked all of those questions in China. Now I’m used to it so I just accept it I suppose. At my university we have a thing called English Corner where the students can come and practice their English. And yes, those questions tend to feature on a regular basis. I guess it’s a cultural difference. In China it’s perfectly ok to ask those things (and ‘how much do you earn?’) so now I tend to let it wash over me. I think the one about practicing English is the worst, as you say, it makes you feel as though you are a walking English lesson.

    • Well stated. We also get students telling teachers that they are fat or have got fat, which as you can imagine doesn’t sit well with the female staff in particular! However this question is more likely to come from our Asian students rather than Middle East. Yes I agree, I personally hate also No. 2, 4 and 5. I even asked someone from the Middle East who I know well about whether it is appropriate to ask these kinds of questions in their culture and he said NO! So there you go, I guess they are just trying to squeeze every last cent of tuition fees out of you….

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