I’ve been teaching international students for a long time, and I get a lot of the same kinds of questions. One of the most common is:
How can I talk to Americans? I’ve been improving my English, but I just don’t know what to say to them!
It’s difficult, and not knowing what to say can make some students avoid conversations entirely, which isn’t good considering that they’re here to expand their horizons, not narrow them.
With that in mind, here are a few of the topics you can use with Americans in social situations as well as how you can make the conversation a little deeper.
Always a safe starting point. Americans, especially in casual social situations, will mention the weather, how nice it is, how cold it is, what it was like over the weekend and so on.
It seems like a dead end but can lead to good things. For instance, you can compare the weather here to what it’s like in your country or what you’ve been doing as a result of the weather.
For example, “yeah, it was so nice yesterday, I went hiking in the Presidio!” And then you’ve got a new conversation topic.
Where We’re From or What Part of the City We Live In
America is a large country, and there are cultural and regional differences that Americans enjoy talking about. East Coast vs. West Coast, Southern California vs. Northern California, etc.
You might not know any of this information yourself but ask about it. You’ll learn some interesting stuff, and then you can tell them about regional differences in your country.
If that doesn’t work or is too difficult, you can also talk about what part of ‘town’ you live in and what you like and don’t like about it. How good are the restaurants and bars? How’s the public transportation?
And you can compare it to your hometown. Again, your American friend will probably get curious about where you’re from at that point, and you’ll have a nice conversation going.
The Weekend or a Holiday
Americans will often ask each other how the weekend was or what they’re going to be doing next weekend. You can ask where they went, how it was, what they did, etc.
Same thing for the holidays. “So how was your 4th of July?” “Any plans for the holiday?”
From this topic you can easily springboard to any other topics that relate to it, i.e., travel, family, friends, etc. Ask questions about these things and from there it should evolve naturally.
Here’s an important thing to remember: just because you’re from a different country or a different culture doesn’t mean you have nothing in common with Americans. I’ve heard this a lot over the years from students, but it’s just not true.
Good luck, and in a future blog, I’ll let you in on some more advanced topics, as well as what to avoid. I’ll also provide some more tips on how to improve your communication with Americans in social and business settings.