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Compelling Conversations for English Teachers, Tutors, and Advanced English Language Learners

Conversation Tip #10: What brings you here?

October 17, 2010 by Eric Roth
Eric Roth

Sometimes a simple, flexible question can create compelling conversations.

“What brings you here?” remains one of my personal favorites.

Many job interview experts like this question because it allows applicants to explain their motives. In fact, the open-ended question almost forces applicants to clearly focus on their goals. The question works even better for far less stressful situations ranging from social gatherings and casual chit-chats to informal introductions. “What brings you here?” indicates curiosity and openness.

The question encourages the listener to take control. They can give a short answer such “I’m looking for information/a quality position/new friends”. They can also give a longer, more personal response. On job interviews, managers sometimes use the question to see how if applicants can confidently assert their career ambitions.

That’s one reason I also like to use the question during mock job interviews in my ESL classes. Plus many adult immigrants and ESL students misunderstand the question. Result? Many ESL students give a far too-literal response such as “a car” during mock job interviews! That’s a “good mistake” nobody wants to make on a real job interview.

Natural conversations often require understanding this sort of distinction. Therefore, English teachers should try to convince English language learners to practice conversation skills outside the classroom. It’s also worth reminding adult students that conversation starters don’t have to be clever, witty, or complicated. Sometimes just breaking the ice works. Sharing a smile and being friendly can create many opportunities to practice English – at least in the United States.

Yet some conversation starters clearly do work better than others. Here are some of my favorite conversation openers that I recommend English language learners study and practice. Shy people – and many Americans do sometimes feel awkward – can also benefit from practicing these conversation starters.

Bottomline: English teachers should provide their English students with the skills and common phrases so they feel more comfortable speaking more English inside and outside the ESL classroom. Sharing simple conversation starters is one effective technique to achieve this core goal.

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