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Tandem tips

Great Conversation Starters for Language Learners

The easiest way to speak any language is by making friends. How do you make friends? By finding things in common and starting a conversation! You’ll notice that on Tandem we have some suggested Topics. These are essentially conversation starters; an easy way to find people who have similar interests to you. It’s the first thing other members will read about you when they are in the community stream. You can also search for topics that interest you on the app.

When considering how to start a conversation, the most important thing is to avoid “yes” or “no” questions - e.g. “Do you like cheese?” Once you find out if they like cheese or not, that could be the end of the conversation! Instead, you should be asking something that will start a discussion - e.g. “Which cheeses do you prefer?” or “Which country has the best cheese?” It’s a good idea to follow up these questions with a “Why” to ensure you get the conversation flowing quickly. You should also avoid making conversation starters too personal or inappropriate - remember this is the first impression you’ll give to a potential friend, so make it a good one!

girl in conversation with friends at table

If you’re stuck for ideas, we’ve come up with 10 twists on classic Topics as conversation starters for the new year. We’ve written them out as questions, but feel free to customise them in the way that seems best for your profile. Remember - Tandem Topics are searchable. So make your conversation starter something that is both interesting to you, and likely to be interesting to other people!

1. "Where did you grow up? What was it like?"

No doubt you’ve already discussed with your partner where they come from, but people like to talk about the past, and this is a great way to lead into that. Ask them to describe their childhood home or school, the town in which they lived, and compare with your own experiences. You’ll be surprised by the differences - and what you have in common!

2. "What's your dream job?"

It’s normal to ask your language exchange partner about their job. But a dream job is often a much more interesting discussion point. It combines hopes and fears with a bit of imagination. It can also lead to an interesting discussion about values and what is really important when it comes to your working life.

3. "What's your favorite time of year?"

You can learn a lot about a person from the time of year they like the most! The nice thing about discussing seasons is that there are plenty of pros and cons of each to talk through. Think about all the things you like to eat, drink and do during the different seasons. You may have some special events and festivals in your country at certain times of year that you can talk about.

4. "What makes you laugh out loud?"

A shared sense of humor is something integral to many friendships. So, sussing out what they find funny early on is a good way to judge if you’ll work well together as language exchange partners! Rather than making an unexpected joke that falls on deaf ears, ask them what they usually find hilarious. Perhaps you like the same comedy shows, or have a penchant for slapstick humor. You may even end up getting a unique insight into how humor works in a different culture!

5. "What do you think of this song?"

Open up Spotify or YouTube and share your favorite (or least favorite) song… and wait for the reaction! Music brings people together and it’s always interesting to get an insight into what’s popular (or unpopular) in another culture. Most people love to rant and rave about the songs they love and hate. You can always go for an iconic song from your country that they might not have heard before.

6. "What’s the weirdest thing about your language?"

When we learn to speak our first language as small children, we aren’t really paying attention to the ins and outs of how the language actually works. That’s why it’s nice to see your native language in a new way as you teach it to your partner. Everyone likes to talk about the strange things they have observed in their own language - why not share something weird from your language too? It could be a strange idiom, grammar rule or adjective that makes your language unique!

7. "If you could be an animal, what would you be, and why?"

Even if your language partner is not an animal lover, asking which animal they most identify with is bound to get the conversation flowing. Usually there is a fascinating reason behind their animal choice, and will tell you a lot about what your language partner considers to be important. You might find out that your chosen animal has different symbolism in your partner’s country, or vice versa…

8. "What’s your favorite idiom or slang word?"

Having a language partner is a great way to get special insights into your chosen language that you would never get from a textbook or exam. The good way to start is by finding out what their favorite idioms or slang words in their language are. You’ll start learning instantly - and will have something unique to impress the next person you speak to in that language with.

9. "If you opened a business, what kind of business would it be?"

This is an obvious one for budding entrepreneurs, but actually this is also a great conversation starter for those who aren’t interested in starting a business, at least on the surface. When we imagine opening our own business it’s usually for one of two reasons - to fulfil a need that is not being met elsewhere, or to pursue a true passion. Either of these reasons are fascinating to learn more about. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to set up a business together someday!

10. "Where’s the most beautiful place you’ve ever been?"

Tandem gives you the opportunity to learn more about new places around the world. Make sure you ask lots of questions to find out more about your partner’s country - and keep things positive by asking about the best aspects of it. Perhaps they will want to complain about the things they don’t like once you know each other better, but you should never start a conversation that way.

Want to practice these conversations in your target language? Find a new friend for language exchange on Tandem. Download the app today!

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