Language Exchange

100 Conversation Starters for Language Exchange

January 31, 2020

Working with a language exchange partner can be a wonderful way to hone your speaking skills and learn new vocabulary in your target language. If you’re lucky, you could even make a life-long friend in the process.

Making conversation with a complete stranger, half of the time in a different language, can also be a bit awkward.

It may go really well for a week or two, but once you’ve gotten the obvious ‘get to know you’ topics out of the way, you may find yourself running out of things to talk about.

The best way to avoid those long, painful silences is to have a few conversations topics prepared beforehand.

I’ve put together a list of 100 conversation starters that are sure to keep the dialogue flowing.

But before we jump into those, here are a few general points around language exchange to keep in mind:

  • Keep it open-ended – Nothing brings a conversation to a halt quite as quickly as a closed question. If your partner responds with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’, have a follow-up question planned to help keep the conversation going.
  • Make it about them – Show some interest in your language partner. Most people feel more comfortable talking about their own lives and interests. Have your say, but remember to bring the topic back to them so you don’t dominate the conversation.
  • Keep it light, at least at the beginning – Start off with a few ‘safe’ topics, like work, studies or the weather. Once you gotten to know your language exchange partner and have a better idea of what they are comfortable with, you can delve into the more juicy stuff.
  • Know what’s appropriate and what’s not – I’ve included a few topics in my list that can be considered quite personal. For example, talking about a past failure. Use your judgement here. Not everyone is open to discussing their personal lives with a relative stranger. Also be aware that there could be some topics or questions that may seem perfectly normal to you, but may be (culturally or personally) offensive to others.
  • Be kind – Your conversation partner may be a beginner, anxious or shy. Give them plenty of time to work through their responses. A bit of patience and empathy will go a long way.
  • Be prepared – Have a discussion with your partner about the type of topics you’d like to cover beforehand and prepare some vocabulary around it. It doesn’t need to be too rigidly scripted though. You still want to leave some room for spontaneity in the conversation.

Conversation topics

Right, let’s get to those conversation starters, shall we?

Getting to know your language exchange partner

  1. Where are you from?
  2. Do you live in an apartment or a house?
  3. What do you do for a living?
  4. Tell me about your family
  5. Do you have any children?
  6. Do you have any hobbies or interests?
  7. Why do you want to learn (insert their target language here)?
  8. How many languages do you speak?
  9. Do you play an instrument?
  10. Do you have any pets?

What’s your favourite…

  1. Book
  2. Movie
  3. Food
  4. Animal
  5. Holiday destination
  6. Musician/song
  7. Sport
  8. Celebrity
  9. Colour
  10. City

Have you ever…

  1. Broken a bone?
  2. Spent the night in hospital?
  3. Won an award?
  4. Been in the newspaper?
  5. Taken part in an extreme sport?
  6. Done something really embarrassing?
  7. Saved someone’s life?
  8. Flown in a helicopter?
  9. Met a celebrity?
  10. Experienced something really strange that you couldn’t explain scientifically?

If you…

  1. Won the lottery, what would you do?
  2. Could choose any superpower, what would it be?
  3. Could meet any person from history, who would it be?
  4. Had the ability to travel back in time, to what point in history would you return? Would you change anything?
  5. Had to eat only one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
  6. Were granted three wishes, what would you wish for?
  7. Could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
  8. Had the power to eradicate one negative thing from the world, what would it be?
  9. Could bring back any cancelled television show for one more season, which one would it be?
  10. Had the opportunity to live forever, would you take it?

Entertainment

  1. What’s the last film you saw? Did you enjoy it?
  2. Can you recommend a good book?
  3. Do you prefer reading fiction or nonfiction?
  4. What’s your favourite film genre?
  5. Did you see the latest episode of (popular television series)?
  6. Which sports do you enjoy watching/playing?
  7. Do you like playing video games? What is your favourite game?
  8. If you had to put together the perfect road trip playlist, which songs would you include?
  9.  I like to read Pride & Prejudice at least once a year. Do you have a book that you re-read often?
  10. What’s on your Netflix list/to be read pile at the moment?

Work

  1. Where do you work?
  2. What do you do at your job? What does your typical work day look like?
  3. What is the best part about your job?
  4. What is the worst part about your job?
  5. Do you like your boss?
  6. What is your dream job?
  7. Have you ever considered changing your career path?
  8. What is the strangest job you’ve ever had?
  9. Tell me about your co-workers
  10. Would you like to own your own business?

Studies

  1. What’s your major?
  2. What is your favourite subject?
  3. Do you have a favourite teacher/professor?
  4. What job would you like to do after your studies?
  5. Do you feel stressed during exam times? How do you prepare?
  6. If you didn’t study x, what other course would you be interested in?
  7. How do you relax after class?
  8. Have you ever considered studying abroad?
  9. Do you struggle with procrastination when you have to study? How do you overcome it?
  10. Does your school/university have any interesting clubs? Are you a member of any of them?

Country/culture

  1. What is the biggest holiday in your country? How do you celebrate?
  2. Do you have any interesting traditions in your culture?
  3. What are some of the famous landmarks you can visit in your country?
  4. What are some traditional dishes you like to eat in your country? Can you teach me how to make it?
  5. What’s the weather like in your country? Are your winters very cold? Do you usually get snow?
  6. Is it very expensive to live in your city? Is the standard of living high or low?
  7. If you had one day to show me the best parts of your city, what would be on your itinerary?
  8. What is the biggest challenge your country is facing at the moment? How do you think it can be overcome?
  9. Tell me about an interesting historical figure in your country. What did he/she do to make an impact?
  10. What kind of music is popular in your country? Can you recommend a good local artist?

Technology

  1. What do you think is the most important invention of the 21st century?
  2. Do you think we spend too much time on our phones?
  3. Which social media platforms do you use?
  4. Do you think technology is making us lonely?
  5. Are you concerned about data privacy?
  6. What’s your opinion on self-driving cars? Would you trust it or would you rather be in control?
  7. Do you think automation will cause certain jobs to become obsolete in the future?
  8. Do you have a good idea for a new app?
  9. Do you prefer Apple or Android? Why?
  10. What is the one tech gadget you can’t live without?

Goals and aspirations

  1. What are your resolutions for 2020?
  2. Who do you admire most?
  3. Do you have a 5-year plan? What are your long-term goals?
  4. What does success look like to you?
  5. What’s on your bucket list?
  6. What’s the one thing you can do to improve your life?
  7. Can you recommend a book that really inspired you or helped you achieve a goal?
  8. What are some good habits you’d like to cultivate?
  9. Have you ever failed at achieving a goal? What lessons did you learn from the experience?
  10. If you knew you couldn’t fail, what challenge would you take on?

Do you have any go-to topics you use to keep a language exchange conversation from fizzling out?  Share them in the comments section!

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100 Conversation Starters For Language Exchange

Comments (2)

  • Ellen

    February 6, 2020 at 8:58 am

    Great ideas and loved the tips on insuring a satisfying conversation between two adults.

    1. Elzette

      February 6, 2020 at 11:51 am

      So glad you found it useful, Ellen!

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