As a non-native English speaker, you likely have a community and a family that you speak with in your native language. However, there are many opportunities to speak English throughout your day. Moreover, the benefits of chatting with people you encounter during your day are limitless.
“Where can I talk with people?” you ask. Family errands are a fantastic opportunity to experience authentic English. Whether you are in the grocery store, dry cleaners, gas station, flea market, coffee shop, mall, or the library, there are people who will talk with you and be glad for a little friendly conversation in their day. Seniors, especially, can be lonely and grateful for someone to pay attention to them.
So now you’re wondering, “What do I say to people that I don’t know?” There are a number of “safe” topics that create opportunities for a positive conversation and are sure not to offend anyone. Topics that are sure to engage almost any Canadian include the weather, road conditions, the tasks and busyness related to upcoming holidays, sports scores and news, positive comments on children, and comments on the surrounding location. For example, if you are in the grocery store, try a comment like: “They always put the chocolate bars at the check out counter to tempt us, don’t they.” These conversations don’t have to be lengthy to be beneficial.
How can I engage people in a conversation? You might be concerned that your English isn’t good enough or you don’t know enough about Canadian culture, or perhaps, you just don’t know what to say. The trick is to become very skilled at asking questions. The questions should be related to the safe topics listed above, and you should not ever ask personal questions. Begin with a small comment (about the chocolate bars being a temptation) to measure how talkative the individual is. Then you might say, “My favourite chocolate bar is Hershey’s Almond”. Then they may tell you what their favourite chocolate bar is. And the two of you may enjoy a laugh together. Otherwise, just relax and enjoy the interactions, remembering to smile and make eye contact. You will meet people who are not overly friendly, but those who are friendly will enrich not only your English but also your day.
Besides improving your confidence in speaking English, you may learn many interesting tidbits of information:
- about the products the store sells
- fascinating opinions about Canadian values
- how to save money
- how stores and industries operate
- gossip about famous people (magazines are also placed at the check out counters)
- and much, much more!