Whether you are becoming an iTalki tutor looking for conversational practice lessons or a student looking to carry on a conversation with a language exchange partner, coming up with topics to talk about on iTalki can be challenging, especially if there is a language barrier. Good conversational practice is essential in language teaching, including English. More English teachers help students learn a language by teaching conversation speaking. The question is, what are good topics to talk about on iTalki when the conversation does not go as well as hoped?
Community Tutors on iTalki
On iTalki, community tutors generally help students with conversational practice in their target language. Community tutors are often native speakers and can use words and phrases to develop language and speaking practice. People seek out an iTalki community tutor to strengthen their language skills without using correct grammar. The lesson is not customarily planned out, but the tutor may have a list of topics to discuss. These conversations help students develop their good “small talk” ability.
Mastering Small Talk on iTalki
Small talk is often one of the most challenging skills for a learning language student to master. This is because it has an infinite list of topics and requires a decent level of language ability. There are a few things a tutor can do to help a student learn small talk.
Merely listening to the person speaking is a great way to begin mastering small talk. Be interested and respond as if you are interested. Some common words that can be used as a response during small talk include “Right,” “Yeah,” “Sure,” “Yes,” and “No Way.”
Echo Individual Words
A common way new language learners try to have a conversation includes asking yes or no questions. When you echo an individual word, you take away the speaker’s ability to use yes or no answers. Grab a noun and make it into a question. For example, “I just got a new car.” The person listening could echo, “A new car?” This requires the speaker to elaborate on the new car or whatever noun the listener chose. Another example of this is, “I enjoy Christmas with my family.” You could respond “Christmas?” or “family,” and then they can elaborate more.
Who, what, where, when, why, and how are our wh-questions. When a language learner is practicing or learning small talk, they can wh-questions drive the conversation forward by seeking more information. The wh-questions should be contextually appropriate. For example, if the speaker is talking about what they are going to do for Christmas, the language learner can respond with “Where do you go for Christmas” or “What are your favorite things to do for Christmas?”
Echo Individual Questions
These questions usually take form with an auxiliary verb such as do, was, or will and a subject the speaker uses. These questions will require the speaker to elaborate instead of just one-word answers. For example, if the speaker said, “My aunt got a puppy.” the listener could respond, “Did she?” This requires the speaker to give more details about the aunt’s puppy.
Finally, in small talk, a language learner can respond with a personal response. These personal responses are often based on surprise, sympathy, shock, pleasure, happiness, or sadness. For example, if someone is sympathetic, they could respond, “Oh no! I am so sorry. How sad.” If someone is surprised, they could respond, “Wow, You’re kidding!”
Small Talk Examples
Mastering small talk is an important concept when you learn English or any other language. Words and phrases should be used that allow people to know how you feel and that you are listening. Here are a couple of examples of mastered small talk conversations.
Scott is traveling to Hawaii for the first time and is sitting next to Levi, who he has never met before. After introducing themselves, they begin the small talk.
Scott: Have you ever been to Hawaii?
Levi: Yes, I went there for my fifth wedding anniversary.
Scott: Five years? That’s a lot! What did you do while you were there?
Levi: We went surfing and snorkeling. We took a good helicopter tour over a volcano.
Scott: Wow! A volcano? Was it spectacular?
Levi: Yeah, it was a sight I probably won’t ever see again. It was well worth it.
Scott: I bet. I should look into it while I am in Hawaii.
As you can see, Scott responded with echoed questions and words. He put in some personal responses and a wh-question.
Let’s look at another example of mastered small talk. Kerri is in a waiting room at the doctor’s office. Raedyn sits down next to her, and after she introduced herself, they begin to make small talk.
Raedyn: That is a beautiful bag.
Kerri: Thanks! I just got it for my birthday.
Raedyn: Your birthday? That’s neat. When was your birthday?
Kerri: A couple of weeks ago. I also got a new tv from my boyfriend.
Raedyn: Your boyfriend? What’s his name? Did he get you anything else?
Kerri: His name is Josh, and he didn’t get me anything else. The tv and bag were plenty.
Raedyn: That was so thoughtful of him. I wish I had a boyfriend.
Kerri: Do you?
Every sentence Raedyn used included several good techniques for mastering small talk, including wh-question and echoed questions and words.
What Does the First Conversation on iTalki Look Like?
Starting the first conversation with people can be quite intimidating, especially if you are not used to or not in your native language. Speaking in a foreign language can be overwhelming and cause anxiety. Tutors and teachers on iTalki help to eliminate these feelings by preparing some ice-breakers to start a conversation during a conversational lesson. Depending on your level of learning, the ice-breakers may require specific words and phrases. Each tutor and teacher have different requirements, but most teachers need each person to answer in a complete sentence.
The first thing to do in a first conversation is to introduce yourself to each other. State your name and what they can call you. Since language is what you have in common, you might conversate about the languages you know and why you want to learn the standard dialect.
Ask for information
After introductions, you can ask for information. This is a great way to build a rapport with someone quickly. You can also ask for help. It makes others feel needed and helpful.
Ask About Them
People like to talk about them. If you are trying to create the first conversation, ask about them. Use environmental cues for help. For example, ask about pictures, videos, or information on their profile.
There are hundreds of other topics that could interest someone in having a first conversation. The weather is often a popular conversation starter. Other popular topics include family, sports, entertainment, news, and work. Here are some more conversation topics
- the literature they are reading or have been reading
There are several topics you should avoid when having a first conversation. These topics can be too personal or sensitive, and cause your relationship to begin poorly.
Try to avoid negative conversations.
Whether you are having your first conversation or your 100th conversation, it can be beneficial to plan something to speak about. Icebreakers are fun and engaging ways to initiate conversation. They require more than one-word answers. Here are a few of our favorite icebreakers to talk about on iTalki:
- If you could meet any historical figure, either living or deceased, who would you choose and why?
- What’s the most memorable vacation you’ve ever taken?
- If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?
- What’s the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
- What’s your favorite indoor activity, and why? Outdoor?
- If you could only keep one of your five senses, what would it be and why?
- If there was a zombie attack, where would you go, and what would be your weapon of choice?
- Are you a tidy or messy person? Why do you think you are this way?
- What is your favorite time of day? Why?
If this is not your first conversation, choose icebreaker questions that require students to use new vocabulary. This vocabulary should be something they may not use every day when they are practicing their languages.
Advance Conversational Speakers
A lesson with an advanced conversational speaker will look very different than a beginner. With an advanced level student on iTalki, you can really talk about anything: politics, culture, news, or the last weekend. A person who has been practicing conversations should be challenged to learn new material. It gets boring answering the same questions, time after time. We’ve come up with some topics and ideas to use when learning with an advanced conversational speaker.
Teach How You Want the Conversation to Go
Before having a conversation for practice, set some expectations you have for each person. These can be specific words you want them to use. It can also be that they have to ask you the same questions they ask you. Requiring varying sentence structures will help develop conversation skills.
Point, Explain, Example, Link
One format to use when having a discussion is to point, explain, example, link. Have the student make their point and then explain their point. Give an example and then link back to the point. This format ensures not only higher speaking skills but also higher thinking skills.
Assign the student to read an article or watch a video and be prepared to discuss it at their next lesson. There are some excellent short films for free on YouTube that you can use. You can ask their opinion, ask them to tell favorite part, least favorite part, and how they would change it. You can play devil’s advocate to get them to talk with you more. Please give them a list of specific phrases they must include in the discussion.
Like the article/video discussion, send the person a copy of a piece of artwork and be ready to discuss it. What do they like about it? What do they not like about it? You could have them research facts about it to tell you, and you, in turn, can ask questions.
Describe a Picture
A common practice on language tests is for the test to show a picture, and the student has to explain what is going on in the picture. These pictures usually are pretty busy with several things happening. You could pull in this technique in your lessons. Have your student tell you what’s happening in the picture or make up a story using the photo. These pictures are very busy with multiple things happening. Think about a “Where’s Waldo” picture or a “Seek and Find” picture.
A Book Talk about on iTalki.
Assign a book to read together in the common language. Each week, meet and discuss what you have read. There are many resources available for various book talks for a variety of different genres. To launch this, you can conversate about which type of books you like to read and why. You can decide on a book together and find a digital version to use. You can find questions for book talks on the web. This is common when teaching English and reading comprehension in English.
“Choose your own adventure books” for adults are great stories to talk about. You can choose why your student chose this specific ending of the story, what could have happened if the students would have chosen a different path in the story—a great way to practice subjunctive 2 sentences. If your student wants to work on writing, you can write answers to questions or an essay.
Be sure to pick a book that is at an appropriate reading level and have adequate vocabulary words. Ultimately, you want your student to understand what they read so you can discuss the book.
A Final Word
There are a lot of things to talk about on iTalki. Whether you are a teacher or tutor looking for topic ideas for conversational practice or a language exchange partner looking for topics, the possibilities are endless. You want conversations to feel natural so each person can learn more. Learning through conversations is extremely important.