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Conversation Partners FAQs

What if they can’t understand me?

Foreign learners of English want to have in-depth adult conversations with native speakers, but some may stay quiet from embarrassment about their ability to communicate effectively. They may also feel as if they don’t know enough about U.S. cultural topics to speak appropriately. Your partners will appreciate your patience and persistence in figuring out what they want to express. 

Use clarification strategies:

Be aware of the expressions you use.

Some expressions might be difficult for a non-native speaker to understand. Avoid using slang and phrasal verbs that can’t be translated. Write down the expression and ask your ESL partner if they know it. They will be glad to learn new “everyday” English words. 

Make an effort to speak clearly and at a moderate pace.

Speak clearly and slower than usual, and get a sense of whether or not your communication partner understands you. Focus on speaking clearly:

If you know you are a fast talker, slow down your speech. Ask: “Am I speaking too fast?” If your partner’s (polite) answer is, “A little,” it means you should slow down a lot. But be careful not to slow down too much, making them feel as though you are talking down to them.

What if I can’t pronounce my partner’s name? 

Your partner may have as much trouble with your name as you do with theirs. At your first meeting, teach your partner how to say and spell your name and ask your partner to help you say and spell theirs. If you prefer to be called by a nickname, let your partner know that, too.

What if I can’t understand my partner?

Be patient and persistent to figure out what your partner wants to say. Don’t be afraid to ask for more information about a topic you are not familiar with, or use clarification strategies: 

How should I behave to be culturally sensitive?

Be culturally sensitive.

Movies, music, and mass media play a huge role in teaching us about other cultures. Unfortunately, they often don’t give us an accurate picture of each other’s lives.

Participate and share the time.

Ask questions as well as giving your point of view. If you tend to be a quiet person, push yourself to give your ideas and opinions. If you tend to be a talker, share the talking time so that both of you get a chance to speak. In either case, take responsibility to invite your partner into the conversation.

Ask if it’s okay.

If you’re not sure if a question is culturally appropriate, begin it by saying, “I hope it’s okay if I ask you …” A sincere desire to know is usually appreciated, regardless of the topic.

Avoid body language that shuts down conversations.

Your partner will notice these behaviors and think you are bored and don’t really care to learn about other cultures.


What should we talk about?

Suggested Topics

To help you get started, we have prepared a list of suggested topics you can use as a starting point. 

Make sure knowledge of topics is shared.

Some of the topics you talk about to others require cultural background they may not have yet: certain TV shows, special types of food dishes that one culture may all know/eat, sports team names, names, locations of cities and states, events and activities.

If my conversation partner wants to help me learn his/her language, how do we do this? 

Begin by telling your partner your language proficiency level. Then, when you’re ready to practice your second language, ask if it is okay that you begin speaking your partner’s native language.

Now it is your turn to ask your partner to clarify, draw pictures, and slow down! Continue your conversation. Your meetings should not take the form of a tutoring session. Feel free to bring travel books, picture books, or other items that will help the two of you better discuss your countries and cultures.

Make sure that one language does not dominate your meeting time; the idea is to help both of you practice your second language while learning about each other’s culture.

To whom do I go if there is a problem?

Please contact the College of Architecture Diversity Council via email at