Conversation Starters

Starter Tips

Most international students enjoy the opportunity to speak with Americans and to have the chance to practice their English-speaking skills. The sincerity, patience, and understanding of your communication is a very important part of building a new friendship. These guidelines, while basic, have proven to be helpful to many Americans as they form friendships with international students.

Jump-Start Your Conversations

  • Geographical Questions

    Where is your city?
    What would you like to see while you are in America?

  • Photographs/Family

    Do you have family photographs that I could see?
    How large is your family?
    What is your extended family like?

  • Languages

    What languages do you speak?
    Ask how to say various greetings & other common phrases in his/her language.
    Offer to help with any expressions or concepts in English with which he or she is having difficulty.

  • Money

  • Socializing, Dating & Marriage

    In your culture, how do young men and women get to know each other?
    Are marriages arranged?
    What are some of the wedding customs?

  • Family Life

    What are your important holidays?
    How are children disciplined?
    What is the average number of children in a family?

  • Men's and Women's Roles

  • Recreation

    What games/sports are popular in your country?

  • Education

    What are some differences between your educational sytem and ours?
    What degree are you pursuing?
    NOTE: if you are a homeschooling family, be aware that this is a very new and different concept to most foreigners.

  • Transportation

  • Food

    What was your first reaction to American food?
    Are your foods highly seasoned?
    What is a typical breakfast like for you?

  • Spiritual Topics

    Please remember that proselytizing is not acceptable within CAIF, but most internationals will freely discuss spiritual topics. Be respectful as opinions vary widely across cultures.
    I'd like to know more about your religious beliefs.
    What is your perception of religion in this country?
    What do you think is the meaning of life?

Some Basics

  • Listen attentively
  • Speak carefully to be understood
    Remember to articulate well, speak slowly and clearly. (But not LOUDER--they're not deaf!)
  • Avoid using idioms and slang in conversation.
    These terms can be fun to discuss as a conversational topic, but make it clear to the student that it is a teaching time.
  • Use jokes and humor sparingly. Often the joke gets lost because of lack of cultural context.
  • Explain words and phrases patiently.
  • Respect differences of opinion.

Non-Verbal Communication

  • Be aware of body language

  • Touch

    Be careful and sensitive in this area. Some cultures are very "touchy" with greetings (kisses, hugs), while others almost never touch

  • Personal Space

    The amound needed varies drastically from culture to culture

  • Formality & Informality

    Americans tend toward a more informal lifestyle. In other cultures, formality in dress, in language, and in greeting another shows respect for the host or declares one's social status

  • Time Perception

    Western culture runs by the clock, but other cultures are not as "time conscious"





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