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[ESL/EFL] Getting Better Acquainted
Sixth in a series of English language lessons from Jennifer Lebedev
Jennifer Lebedev (jenesl)     Print Article 
  Published 2008-07-23 06:39 (KST)   

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Topic No. 1: Using each other's first names.

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It seems more and more we are dropping the use of titles such as Mister and Miss. Many relationships begin immediately on a first-name basis. However, it's only as you become better acquainted with a person that you're invited to use a nickname.

Your new friend Susan might tell you: "Please call me Sue."

You could also ask what your new friend likes to be called:

"Do you prefer Susan or Sue?"
"Does anyone call you Susie?"

If someone shortens your name in a way you're not used to, you can offer a polite correction:

"Actually, everyone calls me Susan. I haven't gone by Susie since I was a little girl."

Topic No. 2: Finding out where the other person lives.

In a country like the United States, it's very common to ask about people's hometowns and home states. We tend to move around the country quite a lot, so even at a first meeting we ask: "Where are you from?"

If you know that someone hasn't always lived in one place, you can ask: "Where are you from originally?"

If you are both currently living in the same town or city, you can ask: "Are you from around here?" or "Did you grow up in this area?"

Topic No. 3: Asking about someone's student status.

"School" is a general word. If you ask a young person Are you still in school? you might be referring to high school or college. (Note that in the US both colleges and universities offer four-year programs.)

If you're fairly certain that someone is college-aged, meaning 18-22, then you can ask simply: "Are you a student?" Then if the person answers in the affirmative, it's perfectly natural to follow up with these questions:

"Where do you go?"
"What year are you in?"
"What's your major?"

Topic No. 4: Asking about someone's work.

To begin a conversation about careers, you can ask: "What do you do?" Or another variation: "What do you do for a living?"

With all the fast-paced changes in today's world, the number of job titles and career paths continues to grow. It's quite possible that someone will tell you the name of his or her profession, and you'll have little idea what that kind of work entails. Don't pretend to know everything. Just ask: "What exactly does a (hedge fund manager) do?"

It's also possible that the very nature of someone's work will take you by surprise. It's acceptable to inquire: "How did you become a (smokejumper), if you don't mind my asking?" or "How did you get involved in that line of work?"

To continue a conversation about any kind of job, you can ask a new friend: "How long have you been a (hedge fund manager)?"

People in general are willing to talk about their work out of the desire to share their passion or the need to complain. So it's not considered prying to ask: "Do you enjoy your work?"

Please note that in most situations it's not appropriate to ask how much money a person earns. Even close friends don't always share specific information when it comes to their income.

Topic No. 5: Sharing information about family.

Family is often a topic among friends, both old and new. Sometimes you might ask directly about a person's marital status, but if you think there's a chance that you'll be misunderstood and the other person will interpret your question as a declaration of your romantic interest, avoid the question Are you married? Instead you can ask: "Are you from a big family?" or "Is your family all in one area, or are you all spread out?" These kinds of general questions allow the other person to choose how much to reveal.

Topic No. 6: Talking about personal interests.

Hobbies and recreational activities are a safe topic. You can ask open-ended questions like: "What do you like to do in your free time?" or "Do you have any hobbies?"

You can also ask specific questions that hint at your own interests:

"Are you into sports?"
"Do you follow baseball?"
"Do you ever go to the theater?"
"Do you know any good clubs for dancing?"

- [ESL/ EFL podcast] Getting Acquainted 

©2008 OhmyNews
Jennifer Lebedev is a teacher of English as a second and foreign language with 12 years experience. She has additional experience in teacher training and administration of an IEP and is a published author. Find more of her online English instruction on YouTube under the name "JenniferESL".
Other articles by reporter Jennifer Lebedev

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Seventeenth in a series of English language lessons from Jennifer Lebedev...
  [ESL/EFL] Talking About Change
  [ESL/ EFL Podcast] Personal Finances
  [ESL/EFL] Buying and Selling
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