Do you have trouble having a conversation in English with your colleagues?
Do you feel all tongue-tied and shy when you encounter someone at work and they try to have a conversation with you?
Sometimes you might be with someone, maybe in the elevator, or waiting to get some coffee, and you are with someone that you work with in the office.
What can you say to them? What can you talk about?
This is the main thing that non-native English speakers worry about.
This can be a very daunting task for many people whose second language is English. They simply don’t know what to say, what to talk about.
Plus, there is the concept of cultural differences. Things we say in our native language may sound strange or even rude in another language.
Let’s take a look at some interesting conversation starters to help you. Ready? Let’s dive right in!
Are You Working on Any Important Projects Right Now?
This is a simple question you can ask a colleague at work. Quite often, if you give people the chance to talk about something they are working on, they will open up and talk for a long time about it.
All you have to do is nod your head at the right moments and give prompts now and then.
Prompts are little questions or comments that can help push the conversation forward.
So if someone tells you they are working on a new training course for all the staff and they tell you they have no time to create all the lesson plans, you could say:
Wow, that sounds stressful.
Do you have to design the lesson plans after work or at the weekends too?
Usually, we just have to make sympathetic comments or congratulatory comments and the other person will continue talking.
They will leave and think highly of you. They might say to another colleague that you are a really good listener.
So What’s Your Story?
You can ask this question at work but ask it in a social setting, not in the office.
Maybe there is an after-work party, or you are with a colleague at lunchtime. This is the perfect opportunity to get to know someone.
You make some small talk, something about the weather or simple work-related things then you ask them: Tell me, what’s your story?
If you give the person enough encouragement, they will open up and tell you many things. People like to talk about themselves.
And just as in the first question, you can just prompt them to talk more.
So, for example, they tell you they didn’t complete a college degree but studied online. That is your perfect opportunity to say:
Wow, that sounds interesting. How did you study online? No classmates to help you, it must have been hard work.
Then sit back and listen as they tell you the full story.
How’s Your Week Been?
Obviously, you do not ask this question on a Monday or Tuesday. You ask this on a Friday.
You can ask in pretty much any context or situation.
If someone has had a bad week, they might see your question as the perfect chance to let off steam. Be prepared as they may want to tell you every detail of their terrible week.
Offer sympathy and let them continue telling you all the grisly details.
Alternatively, if they have had a great week full of successes, you need to encourage them to talk more about it.
Was It a Good Day Today? Or… ?
This is a question you can ask at the end of the day. Maybe you are in the elevator and everyone is going home.
By adding the word or, you are allowing the other person to add anything that was not so good. And they may then tell you about this.
For example, they might say:
Everything was fine but I keep getting interrupted by meetings and I can’t keep up with my own work.
This could lead to further conversation about the need for meetings or not.
It makes you appear sympathetic, and it is an easy conversation to have.
Any Plans for the Weekend?
And obviously, ask this question on a Friday. Maybe anytime after lunchtime would be good.
People love and cherish their weekends. So this is an easy conversation starter that you can ask anyone. Pay attention to what they are talking about so you can add comments.
So, for example, maybe someone says that they are going to do the gardening.
You can then ask them about their garden.
What does your garden look like?
Do you spend a lot of time gardening?
Follow-up questions that are irrelevant:
Do you like gardening?
Of course, they like gardening! They are spending their weekend doing it.
You could ask:
What do you like about gardening?
Good follow-up questions:
Where do you buy plants or flowers for your garden?
Does it cost a lot of money taking care of the garden?
How do you take care of it in the winter?
But many people just like to stay at home and watch TV or relax with their family.
They might say:
I have no plans. I’m just going to stay at home and watch some movie.
If you know anything about this TV show, or whatever TV show they talk about, then you can ask about that. If you also like this show then you can easily have a conversation with them.
And once you ask them about their weekend, they will ask you about your plans for the weekend. In this situation, you cannot say that you are doing nothing! It sounds very strange after you inquire about someone else’s weekend.
What are your plans? What do you want to do? Maybe you have some chores to do.
You could say:
I have to catch up with the laundry but after that, I hope to meet my friend and have lunch with her. I haven’t seen her for a long time.
Everyone loves the weekend. So there should be plenty to talk about.
If all you can reply is that you want to sleep and watch TV then the other person will regard you as something of a dull person.
So don’t say that.
What’s Going on with Arsenal Right Now?
A very common universal topic of conversation, especially between men, is sport.
If you are a sports fan, then this should be a great way to start conversations with your colleagues at work. As long as they are also a sports fan, it should be no problem.
So maybe you are a football fan. Let’s say your favourite team is Arsenal.
At work, you find another person is a football fan. You could have lots to talk about.
You can catch up with the latest football results, talk about recent games on TV, or even live matches that you attended.
With any luck, your colleague might invite you to a football game with his friends. In the UK, it is very common to go to see a match on a big TV screen in a bar or pub.
But you can only do this if you are a real football fan. If you have no interest in the game then what can you talk about?
Football is not the only sport.
You could also talk about cricket, rugby, American football, baseball…
But if you are passionate about one of these games, then conversation should come easily.
It can be very difficult to start a conversation with someone you do not know very well.
That can become much harder if English is your second language.
But by thinking carefully about the opening questions you can ask, and the kind of topics that many people like to talk about, you can make it much easier for yourself.
Take a look at some of the conversation starters above. The ideal thing to do is to practice some of these as role-plays with another person whose first language is not English.
The more you practice doing this, the easier and more natural it will become.
But that is no replacement for real conversations with another person whose first language is English.
We strongly recommend that you dive into doing this and just try.
It will surprise you how quickly you can learn to have conversations in English just by trying.