Language Exchange – So What Do You Want to Talk About?

languageexchangesYou’ve found one or more language partners or conversation tutors. You’re all set to practice speaking, and it works very well at first!

But after a few weeks, you realize that you’re talking about the same thing every time. You find yourself stuck in uncomfortable silences, clock-watching or maybe even making up excuses to sign off early.

After receiving several emails from readers asking me what I talk about during language exchanges, I’ve compiled a collection of topics with related questions. These are all themes that have worked well for me as a student, a teacher, or a language exchange partner.

None of these topics are overly serious. I prefer to keep language exchanges light and fun. While a good language exchange partner will eventually become a friend, and serious topics will come up naturally, I would never try to force them.

And so I present you here with 32 weeks’ worth of topics for language exchange. Your first session will just be basic introductions and setting the tone for future exchanges, taking you to 33 weeks. One or the other of you will probably cancel at least four times throughout the year, bringing you to 37 weeks. That leaves you with 15 weeks to discuss your zombie plan, which sounds about right to me.

(That was a joke. Sort of. I would love to someday have a language exchange about zombie plans. It would be a true cultural exchange.)

A few tips:

  • If you’re a beginner, you might want to stretch one topic over several weeks.
  • You can use themes for one or both languages. If your partner never runs out of things to say in English, then you might not need to set a topic at all for his/her half of the exchange.
  • These topics are varied and are not meant to be discussed in order. Choose the ones that interest you the most and discard the ones that bore you.
  • Consider setting the topic in advance with your partner so that you can look up vocabulary and think about your answers.
  • Ask your partner to help you word the questions in your target language.
  • The questions are just suggestions. Come up with interesting questions of your own to enrich the conversation.
  • Take advantage of conversations to work on several different language skills: asking questions, answering questions and understanding your partner’s responses.
  • After a conversation, consider writing about the same topic and posting your paragraph to italki or lang-8 for corrections from native speakers.

Print conversation cards: topics for language exchanges

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 12.29.42 PM

The Topics

1. Languages

  • What languages do you speak?
  • What language(s) do people speak in your country?
  • What language(s) are you learning? Why?
  • What do you do to learn a language?
  • What’s hardest when learning a language?
  • What are your best tips for someone learning a language?
  • Are there any other languages that you’d like to learn?
  • What do you think is the most beautiful language?

2. Jobs

  • Where do you work?
  • What do you do?
  • Describe a typical day.
  • What’s the best thing about your job?
  • What’s the worst thing about your job?
  • How did you become qualified for your job?
  • Describe your very first job.
  • If you had to change jobs, what would you do?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • Describe the best / worst job you’ve ever had.
  • Have you ever made a big mistake at work?

3. Family

  • Describe your family members. (even better with photos!)
  • Do you have any children?
  • Would you like to have children?
  • How are things different today than they were when you were a child?
  • Do you prefer big families or small families?
  • How often do you see your extended family?
  • Do you get along well with your parents / siblings?
  • What’s your best childhood memory?

4. What’s your favourite…

  • …tv show?
  • …food?
  • …sport?
  • …hobby?
  • …music?
  • …movie?
  • …colour?
  • …animal?
  • …season?
  • …book?
  • The possibilities here are endless! Use your imagination.

5. Animals

  • Is it common to have pets in your country?
  • Do you have any pets?
  • If you don’t, would you like to?
  • Did you have any pets as a child?
  • What’s your favourite animal?
  • What kind of wild animals are there in your country?
  • How do you feel about zoos?
  • If you could choose to be an animal, which one would you like to be?
  • Do you think that animals have emotions?

6. Health

  • Do you think that you’re a healthy person?
  • What do you do to take care of your health?
  • Do you have any bad habits?
  • Do you think that people in general are healthy now?
  • What do you think is important for health?
  • What is health care like in your country?
  • What are some health issues in your area?
  • How do you deal with stress?
  • Have you ever had to stay in the hospital?
  • What one thing could you do to be healthier?

7. Your Region

  • Describe your country or region: geography, languages, food, weather, services, etc.
  • What’s the best thing about your country?
  • What’s the worst thing about your country?
  • If I were coming to visit you for a week, what would we do and see?
  • Do you live in a big city or a small town?
  • Do you have any favourite places?
  • How long have you lived in your region?
  • Have you ever lived anywhere else?
  • Would you like to live anywhere else?

8. Cars and Transportation

  • Do you have a car?
  • Do you need a car to get around in your region?
  • Is there public transportation where you live?
  • Have you ever travelled by boat / plane / train / etc?
  • What’s your favourite mode of transportation?
  • Do you like to fly, or does it scare you?
  • What’s the longest trip you’ve ever taken?
  • What was your worst transportation experience?

9. Inventions

  • What machines do you use often at home or at work?
  • Which ones would you not want to live without?
  • What do you think is history’s most important invention?
  • What do you think is the most useless invention?
  • What invention would you like to see in the next five, ten, hundred years?
  • If you were going to invent something, what would it be?

10. Books

  • Do you like to read?
  • What kind of books do you like to read?
  • Do you have a favourite book?
  • What’s your favourite reading spot?
  • Do you ever reread books?
  • What’s the last good book that you read?
  • If you hate a book, do you still finish it?
  • Do you prefer ebooks or paper books?
  • Do you prefer books or movies?
  • Did you have a favourite book as a child?
  • Do you think that reading is important?

11. Would you rather…

  • …live in the country or live in the city?
  • …be very rich or very good-looking?
  • …be able to visit the past or the future?
  • …have a boring job that pays more or an interesting job that pays less?
  • …give up your internet connection or your car?
  • …be too cold or be too hot?
  • …be abducted by aliens or chased by zombies?
  • …have a year off with pay or work for a year for double pay?
  • Use your imagination to come up with interesting or silly questions!

12. School

  • Did you like school as a child?
  • Did you ever get in trouble?
  • Who was your favourite / least favourite teacher?
  • What was your best / worst subject?
  • What’s the school system like in your country?
  • Did you go to college / university?
  • Would you like to go back to school?
  • Were (are) you a good student?
  • Do you think that education is important?
  • Do you think that uniforms are a good idea?

13. Holidays and Gift-Giving

  • What holidays do you celebrate?
  • What’s your favourite holiday?
  • What’s your least favourite holiday?
  • Describe a childhood holiday memory.
  • Are holidays now different than they were when you were a child?
  • How does gift-giving work in your culture?
  • What was the best gift that you ever received?
  • What was the best gift that you ever gave?
  • Have you ever received a funny or terrible gift?
  • Have you ever given a funny or terrible gift?

14. Food

  • What’s your favourite food?
  • Is there anything that you can’t stand to eat?
  • Do you like to cook?
  • If you were preparing a special meal for someone, what would it be?
  • Do you prefer to eat out or at home?
  • Where do you buy food?
  • If you had to choose a national food, what would it be?
  • Do you have a garden?
  • What was your favourite meal as a child?

15. Five Senses

  • What scents do you love? Hate?
  • What sounds do you love? Hate?
  • What flavours do you love? Hate?
  • What textures do you love? Hate?
  • What views do you love? Hate?
  • What do you think is your most important sense? Least important?
  • If you had to give up one of your senses, which one would it be?
  • If you could strengthen one of your senses, which one would you choose?

16. Outer Space

  • Does your country have a space program?
  • Do you think that space programs are important?
  • Do you like to look at the nigh sky?
  • What qualities do you think astronauts need?
  • If you could, would you like to travel to outer space for a vacation?
  • Do you believe in extraterrestrial life?
  • Do you like science fiction books or movies?
  • Do you think that humans will ever colonize another planet? Do you think that they should?

17. Talents and Hobbies

  • Do you:
  • …play any sports?
  • …play any musical instruments?
  • …draw or paint?
  • What are you good at?
  • What are you trying to get better at?
  • What would you like to learn how to do?
  • What did you like to do when you were a child?
  • If you could be really good at anything, what would you choose?
  • Is there anything that you’re really bad at?

18. Guilty Pleasures

  • Is there a song that you love – even though you’d never admit it?
  • Do you have any habits that you love, even though they’re bad for you?
  • Do you like reality television?
  • What food do you always overeat?
  • Is there anything that you love to do – but only if there’s no one else around?
  • Is there anything that you spend too much money on?
  • Do you spend too much time on the computer?

19. What would you do if you could…

  • …do whatever you wanted for an entire year?
  • …live anywhere in the world?
  • …plan the perfect day?
  • …eat only one food for the rest of your life?
  • …go on a vacation anywhere in the world?
  • …have a superpower?
  • …live in another time period?
  • …win the lottery?
  • …meet anyone, living or dead?
  • …be invisible for a day?
  • Use your imagination to come up with interesting questions!

20. Money, Money, Money

  • What do you like spending money on?
  • What do you hate spending money on?
  • What’s the last thing you bought?
  • What would you do with one thousand dollars?
  • What would you do with a million dollars?
  • Do you think that money is the most important thing when choosing a job?
  • Is debt a big problem in your area?
  • Did you get an allowance as a child?
  • Have you ever regretted buying something?
  • What big purchase would you like to make?

21. Homes

  • Describe your home.
  • Are people in your area more likely to live in houses or apartments?
  • What kind of home did you grow up in?
  • Describe your dream home.
  • Are people in your area more likely to rent or to buy a home?
  • Is it difficult to buy a home?
  • Describe your first home after you moved out of your parents’ home.
  • What’s important to you in a neighbourhood?

22. Ouch!

  • Describe a time that you got hurt.
  • Have you ever broken any bones?
  • Have you ever stayed overnight at the hospital?
  • Have you ever been in a car accident?
  • Are you accident prone?
  • Did you ever do anything dangerous as a child?
  • Do you think that people are too safety-conscious now? Or not enough?
  • Have you ever embarrassed yourself by falling or knocking something down?
  • Have you ever gotten in a physical fight?

23. The Unexplained

  • Are you a superstitious person?
  • What are some superstitions in your culture?
  • Do you believe in ghosts?
  • Were you scared of monsters when you were a child?
  • Do you believe in good luck or bad luck?
  • Do you believe in extraterrestrials?
  • Do you like scary books or movies?
  • What gives you the creeps?
  • Are you afraid of the dark?
  • Would you like to be able to read minds?

24. Travel

  • What was your best / worst travel experience?
  • If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
  • Is there a place that you wouldn’t want to visit?
  • Have you ever lived in another country?
  • Do you like all-inclusive vacations?
  • Would you rather travel independently or on a tour?
  • Would you rather visit a city or a wild area?
  • What do tourists come to your country to see?
  • Have you ever travelled all by yourself?

25. Pet Peeves

  • Do you have any pet peeves?
  • What do people do that really annoys you?
  • Who is the most annoying person you know?
  • Do other drivers (transit users) ever annoy you when you’re in your car (on the bus/subway)?
  • Does one of your colleagues or family members have a habit that bothers you?
  • Do you have any habits that might bother other people?
  • What do you do when someone does something that annoys you?

26. Social Media

  • What social media sites do you use?
  • How do you use them?
  • Do you enjoy using them?
  • What’s the best thing about social media?
  • What’s the worst thing about social media?
  • Do you think that social media has changed the way that people communicate?
  • Are you concerned about your personal information being on the internet?
  • Do you think that it’s possible to get addicted to social media?

27. Fears and Phobias

  • Are you afraid of spiders or insects?
  • …snakes?
  • …storms?
  • …flying?
  • …germs?
  • …heights?
  • What scares you most?
  • Do you have any fears that you know are silly?
  • What scared you most as a child?
  • How do you deal with things that scare you?
  • Do you sometimes like feeling scared?

28. Cell Phones

  • Do you have a cell phone?
  • How often do you replace your cell phone?
  • What features do you look for on a cell phone?
  • Do people in your area talk on the phone while driving?
  • What’s the best / worst thing about cell phones?
  • What do you think about talking on cell phones in public places?
  • How often do you send or receive texts?
  • Do you think that children should have cell phones?

29. Chores and Housework

  • Are you a tidy or a messy person?
  • Do you clean all at once or a little bit at a time?
  • What chore do you hate the most?
  • Do you prefer to clean the house or work in the yard?
  • In your area, are chores divided by gender?
  • How is housework shared in your family?
  • Did you have to do chores as a child?
  • What chores do you think children should be responsible for?
  • Would you pay someone to clean your house?

30. Weather

  • Does it get very hot or very cold in your country?
  • How many seasons are there in your country?
  • What’s your favourite / least favourite season?
  • Is extreme weather common in your country?
  • Does your country experience snow / hurricanes / tornadoes / frost / etc?
  • Have you ever experienced a natural disaster?
  • What climate would you prefer for a vacation?
  • Do you think that the weather is changing?
  • Is there talk of climate change in your area?

31. Goals

  • What are some goals that you’ve made in the past?
  • What would you like to achieve in the next month? Year? Five years? Ten years?
  • Are you good at sticking to your goals?
  • Have you ever failed to achieve a goal?
  • Do you prefer short term or long term goals?
  • What are you working on right now?
  • Do you think that it’s important to set goals?
  • Do you make New Year’s Resolutions?
  • What does success mean to you?

32. Habits

  • Do you have any bad habits?
  • Do you have any good habits that make your life easier?
  • Are you usually early or late?
  • Are you a tidy or a messy person?
  • What bad habits annoy you in other people?
  • How can a person get rid of a bad habit?
  • How can a person develop a good habit?
  • Do you think that it’s possible to change?
  • How do your habits affect your life?
  • What habits are very common in your country?

Print conversation cards: topics for language exchanges

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 12.29.42 PM

What are you waiting for? Go have a conversation!

Do you have any no-fail lots-of-fun conversation topics that you like exploring with your language partners?

20 thoughts on “Language Exchange – So What Do You Want to Talk About?

    1. Stephanie Post author

      I’m glad you found it useful! I’m working on something similar for absolute beginners as well. (And by absolute beginner, I mean me. There’s no way that I’d be able to talk about a lot of these topics in Tagalog! Soon, though!)

  1. Heberth

    This list is just amazing!
    I’m learning English and I started doing language exchanges in the past two months. Sometimes I just ran out of subjects and there is that awkward silence. This list will help me to break them.
    Thanks for sharing this list with us.

    1. Stephanie Post author

      Hi Heberth! I’m glad you found the topics useful. May awkward silences be a thing of the past! 😉 Good luck learning English – judging from the way that you write, it looks like you’re well on your way!

  2. Pingback: Get more practice with a language exchange - More Vietnamese

  3. Jasmine

    I am so happy I stumbled onto this! It has been an excellent resources as I have been practicing Spanish and my partner is practicing English. It has helped the conversations be more focused and has helped improve my vocabulary a lot in many areas!

  4. Pingback: How to have a good conversation (hint: the secret is preparation)

  5. Claudio

    Hello I’m Stephanie.
    Thanks for your help.
    I´m from Brazil and nowadays I´m learning English and French by myself.
    Some times when I get class on ITALK I feel stuck in a rut and ideas don´t come up to maintain a conversation.

  6. Petya

    I was going to do my first Tandem over skype when I came across these questions. So useful! Having some topics noted down helped me relax. Thanks so much, Stephanie!

  7. Luke

    Prior to landing on this page, my aspiration for French was to casually speak with friends in French.

    Now, the goal is in-depth zombie planning. Truly inspired!

  8. Tere

    Thank you so much for these conversation suggestions, I´m just starting an English/Spanish Language Exchange Club and these are great Start Off Tips!

  9. Mussie Petros

    Salut Stephanie,

    Merci beaucoup pour la liste. J’apprends le francais au ce moment et je suis sure que la liste va m’aider avec le conversation. Je pratique avec une amie francaises mais c’est difficile de trouver quelque chose a parler pour lengtemps.

    Merci, encore


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *