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I'm a college student in the United States. I'm learning Mandarin Chinese, and lately I've been meeting with a Chinese international student to "exchange languages"–I help her with her English and she helps me with my Chinese.
Her English pronunciation and grammar are both really great, but lately she's been complaining that she doesn't have many American friends because doesn't know how to engage in the "getting to know you" conversations people usually have when they meet each other. I've had kind of a hard time helping her–small talk is the sort of thing that as a native English speaker you know how to do, but not how you do it.
Does anyone know of any resources for teaching how to engage in casual conversation? I've found a few pages of "conversation starters", but they seem tailored for use in an ESL classroom setting as icebreakers, and not really for everyday use. If anyone has any suggestions, I would really appreciate it. Thanks.
I think this is a cultural issue rather than a pure 'language' issue. It might be worthwhile explaining what smalltalk entails, why we bother and what is likely to happen if we don't engage in it. Maybe you could try and find examples of these social encounters, either in literature or on film to get your friend more used to the kind of irrelevant stuff people talk about just for the sake of 'making contact'. Maybe she won't be very good at it - lots of native speakers aren't either - but at least you can reassure her that a few polite words will be enough to let other people know that she's shy rather than unfriendly.
To teach casual conversation a teacher should come down to the level of the students and he should talk freely with them, by asking questions about their family, friends, festivals they like, sports, cinema, etc. When a teacher talks to the students freely they will also come forward to talk without any hesitation. This will make the class lively one, teachers should choose a topic which intrests the students for talking.
I recommend two different phases, which can alternate: one day, do an hour of language laboratory, in which you teach carefully planned phrases, with context, getting the student to repeat and pronounce, and test him or her. The next time, do an hour of free conversation, based on the same areas, in which you do not correct or drill, just chat and let him / her use the phrases.
Hello, I am a future English teacher and I think that a good way to teach something new to someone is by giving them some examples before. I think that there are many examples of conversation starters on the Internet but I think that a video of two people getting to know each other would be more relevant to your friend than any website enumerating all the words existing to start a conversation.
As someone mentioned earlier, it might also be a cultural problem. In China the "getting to know each other" ritual is probably very different than ours. This is another reason why I think it would be a good example to show your friend an example of it with a video. Or maybe, you can go somewhere new with your friend and try to meet someone new. You break the ice by introducing yourself to the new person and then you introduce your friend, this way your friend will be able to see how you do it and will be integrated in the conversation. Once she will be alone, she will model the way you did it and she will probably be able to try to do it by herself.
Also, you could show her a video of two people getting to know each other in English and then she might show you two people from China getting to know each other, this way you could understand better why she has so many problems to start a conversation with native speakers!
I hope this will help ! :)