What is the biggest benefit of coming to the U.S. to study English? There are so many opportunities to practice! You can read the local newspaper and hear English on the radio and on TV.

However, many students miss out on some of the best English practice: talking with native speakers. Are you one of these? Perhaps you are shy about starting a conversation. Or, maybe you don’t know how to find someone who is willing to speak with a foreigner.

Relax! You’ll find that Americans are generally friendly and willing to talk to strangers. Here in the Southern U.S., this is even more true.

How to start a conversation

To start a conversation, ask open-ended questions – questions that need more than a “yes” or “no”. Some ways Americans often begin a conversation with strangers are:

  • Compliments on clothing, hair, etc. (I love your shoes! May I ask where you got them?)
  • Comments on the weather (This rain is unbelievable! Do you know when it’s going to stop?)
  • Comments on the situation (Wow, this line is so long. How long have you been waiting?)
  • Simple requests for help or suggestions (I’ve never been to this coffee shop before. What do you recommend here?)

If the other person is interested in the conversation, he or she will probably give longer answers and maybe ask you a question, too. If the person gives brief answers and doesn’t keep eye contact, he or she may not feel like talking. Don’t worry. Smile and say “thanks”, and look for someone else to talk to.

So where do I start?

Here are 50 places you can talk with Americans and a couple of example questions for each location. We’ve included some local links for our students here in Nashville, but you can use these ideas in any city. Choose one or two to try each week. You may make new friends or just have a few pleasant conversations. Either way, you’ll get authentic English practice that you can only get in the U.S.!

  1. Animal shelter – These centers for homeless animals always need volunteers to walk dogs and help with adoption events.
    -Do you know what breed this dog is?
    -What a beautiful cat! What is her personality like?
  2. Apartment complex – Greet your neighbors in the parking lot, at the mailboxes, or in the exercise room.
    -I’m new here. How long have you lived here?
    -Do you know when the pool opens? 
  3. Bar – For less noise and easier conversation, try “happy hour” instead of the weekend. Bars offer special prices during happy hour to attract people to visit after work. It’s a casual, friendly atmosphere.
    -I’m new to Nashville. What local beer would you recommend?
    -(If sports are on TV) What kind of year is that team having?
  4. Bike shop – If you enjoy cycling, learn more about the local bike culture at a bike shop.
    -Are there any local cycling clubs? Where do they usually meet?
    -What cycling races are coming up soon?
  5. Bookstore – Meet Americans who enjoy reading about the same topics as you at a bookstore.
    -“Have you read this book? What did you think of it?”
    -“I see that you’re into science fiction, too. Who is your favorite author?”
  6. Bowling alley – Practice bowling with friends or join a league and play on a team.
    -Nice strike! How long have you been playing?
    -How is the snack bar here?
  7. Bus – With lots of people in one place, surely you’ll find someone friendly to chat with on the bus.
    -How’s your day going?
    -Do you know how far it is to [wherever you’re going]?
  8. Car show – Americans love their cars! Are you curious about classic cars, luxury autos, or racing? A car show is a great place to learn more.
    -This is a beautiful car. Can you tell me a little about it?
    -What kind of work have you done on this car?
  9. Coffee shop – Who doesn’t enjoy relaxing in a coffee shop? Become a regular customer at one near your home and you’ll probably get to know other regulars.
    -I’ve never been to this coffee shop before. What do you recommend here?
    -What kind of music do they have here on the weekend?
  10. Comic/sci-fi/fantasy convention – If you’re a fan, you’ll have a great time talking to other fans at a “con”. Maybe you’ll even meeting a favorite actor or artist!
    -What’s the best costume you’ve seen here today?
    -Which event are you the most excited about?
  11. Cooking class – All around the world, people share food and conversation. Cooking classes are a great opportunity to do both.
    -What else have you cooked from this cuisine?
    -Can you tell me where to buy this ingredient?
  12. Craft store – If you enjoy sewing, making jewelry, or scrapbooking, visit a craft store to shop for supplies. Many offer classes as well.
    -What are you planning to make with that?
    -I’m trying to choose a color/fabric/etc. May I get your opinion?
  13. DMV – You can expect a long wait when you go to get your driver’s license. Why not pass the time talking with others?
    -Wow, this line is so long. How long have you been waiting?
    -What did you do to prepare for your driving test?
  14. Dog park – Take your dog (or borrow one from a friend) to play in an enclosed dog park. Dog owners love to talk about their pets!
    -What’s your dog’s name?
    -Where can I take my dog for grooming?
  15. English conversation group – OK, this one is obvious, but are you participating in one? We offer weekly conversation partner sessions at IEI. Do you want even more practice? Nashville InterFACE is a local group that encourages international friendships through a variety of activities.
    -I love your shoes! May I ask where you got them?
    -This rain is unbelievable! Do you know when it’s going to stop?
  16. Environmental group – Are you passionate about environmental issues? Check out local chapter of the Audubon Society, the Sierra Club, or Tennessee Riverkeeper.
    -What events does the organization have coming up?
    -Where’s your favorite place to hike/kayak/bird watch/etc.?
  17. Farmer’s market – Get some delicious local food, and meet area farmers and other shoppers.
    -How do you recommend cooking this?
    -Where was this grown?
  18. Food truck – Nashville is home to lots of food trucks, and you can chat with other hungry people while you’re waiting in line or enjoying your food.
    -What is this truck’s specialty?
    -Where can I find this truck on the weekend?
  19. Free outdoor concerts – Enjoy free music and meet other music lovers at concerts. Here’s a huge list of free concerts in Nashville.
    -What time does the show start?
    -Have you been to any other good concerts lately?
  20. Garage sale – Looking for bargains on a Saturday morning is an American tradition. You might find a great deal while you’re conversing with other shoppers and homeowners.
    -Can you tell me about this item?
    -How much for these items?
  21. Grocery store – You’ve got to eat, right? Get another shopper’s recipe suggestions.
    -Can you give me some advice on how to choose the best [fruit or vegetable]?
    -What good specials are going on this week?
  22. Gym – Get advice on your form from other gym members, or find a group exercise class and sweat with your new friends.
    -Could you please show me how to use this machine?
    -Which class is your favorite?
  23. Hair salon/barber shop – Stylists usually chat with their clients, so take advantage of the free conversation practice with your haircut.
    -How long have you been doing hair?
    -Can you give me some tips on how to style my hair?
  24. Health food storeStore employees and other shoppers will be glad to give you their recommendations for vitamins, herbal supplements, and nutritious superfoods.
    -What supplement would you suggest for [health problem]?
    -Can you tell me about the benefits of this product?
  25. Health support group – If you have a medical condition like diabetes, check local hospitals for free support groups. You can learn how to care for your health and meet other people with the same concerns.
    -What has helped you to deal with [health problem or symptom]?
    -How long have you been dealing with this?
  26. Knitting group – Whether you’ve been knitting for years or just want to learn how, you’ll find friends and help with a knitting group. Ask about local groups at yarn shops.
    -Can you suggest a good project for a beginner?
    -Could you help me to choose the best yarn for this project?
  27. Laundromat – Everyone who uses a laundromat has to wait; you’d might as well pass the time talking.
    -Do you know how long I should set the dryer for towels?
    -I’m new to the U.S. What brand of detergent do you suggest?
  28. Lecture – Nashville is called the “Athens of the South” because it’s home to so many colleges and universities. Check their websites for free lectures and practice your listening and speaking.
    -What do you know about the speaker?
    -What other lectures are scheduled here?
  29. Local festival – Large parks host many festivals throughout the year, such as the Tennessee Craft Fair, the Nashville Cherry Blossom Festival, and the Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival.
    -What is the schedule for the day?
    -Which food booth do you recommend?
  30. Museum – Whether you love art, history, or music, you can find a museum (maybe a free one) that interests you. Strike up a conversation with curators or other visitors.
    -Can you tell me about this artist?
    -How long will this exhibit be on display?
  31. Nail salon – Just like at the beauty salon, it’s customary to make small talk with the nail technician during your manicure.
    -How long have you been in Nashville?
    -What polish colors are popular right now?
  32. Nightclub – Enjoy Nashville’s live music scene and make new friends at the same time.
    -This band is great! Where are they from?
    -What was the name of that last song?
  33. Nursing home – Check with nursing homes in your area and see if you can volunteer to play cards, share snacks, or just talk with senior citizens who live there.
    -How has the world changed in your lifetime?
    -Can you tell me about your family?
  34. Organized hike – Many state parks offer group hikes led by rangers. It’s a great way to get to know the local landscape while meeting others who enjoy the outdoors.
    -How long is this hike?
    -What other trails do you suggest?
  35. Painting class – A trendy activity in the United States is “paint and sip” studios. Customers enjoy wine and other beverages while painting identical pictures with guidance from an instructor.
    -What are we painting tonight?
    -Can you help me to mix this color?
  36. Photography class – If painting isn’t your thing, perhaps you’d like to improve your photography skills to document your time in the U.S. Meet others who share your interest and discuss your work with the teacher.
    -I like your camera. Could you tell me about it?
    -What kind of photography do you like to do?
  37. Pick-up soccer game – Join in with an informal group of soccer (football, for the rest of the world) lovers who meet for friendly games. Nashville has a Facebook group for this.
    -Which position do you usually play?
    -How often do you play?
  38. Place of worship – If you are religious, find welcoming friends at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple.
    -How long have you been attending here?
    -Can you tell me about other activities here during the week?
  39. Post office – A line at the post office is a normal part of life. You can stand there and be bored, or you can share a little small talk with another waiting customer.
    -How much does a first class stamp cost?
    -What are this post office’s hours?
  40. Public library – Ask a librarian for book recommendations or check out the calendar of events at your local branch. You might find book clubs, board game nights, and more, usually for free.
    -Where can I find graphic novels?
    -What book clubs meet at this library?
  41. Rock climbing – If you’re into adventure, check out an indoor climbing gym. For new climbers, discussion with an instructor will be a necessity!
    -What do I need to know to climb safely?
    -Where else can I practice climbing around here?
  42. Running club – Train for a race with a group of other runners, whether you’re a beginner or an experienced marathoner.
    -How long have you been running?
    -What races are coming up soon?
  43. Sports events – Are you interested in baseball, hockey, American football, or soccer? Check out our post on Nashville’s sports teams and choose one to check out.
    -Who are the best players on our team?
    -Why did that player get a penalty?
  44. Swimming pool – Whether at your apartment complex, in your neighborhood, or at the YMCA, pools are popular summer gathering places. Chat with other swimmers and sunbathers.
    -What time does the pool close?
    -Can you tell me where the showers are?
  45. Thrift shop – Like garage sales that are open all week long, thrift shops are a great place to find bargains on secondhand clothes, furniture, and more.
    -Where can I find picture frames?
    -What charity does this shop fund?
  46. Walking tour – Learn more about your city on a walking tour. Tour guides generally love to talk and share their knowledge.
    -Can you tell me about the history of this building?
    -Who is the strangest person you’ve ever had on a tour?
  47. Wine tasting – These events are a chance to learn more about wine in a casual environment. Ask questions about the wine and make small talk. Remember, everyone will feel a little more relaxed by the end of the class!
    -What kind of food would you pair this wine with?
    -What are some other good wines from the same country as this one?
  48. Yoga class – Chatting during yoga class is not typical, but you can talk with the teacher and other participants before or afterward.
    -Could you show me how to do this pose correctly?
    -What other classes are offered here?
  49. Zoo – Have a “wild” time at the Nashville Zoo and ask questions of the zookeepers.
    -What part of the world does this animal come from?
    -What does this animal eat?
  50. Zumba class – These Latin-inspired dance exercise classes attracts people of all ages for a fun and energetic workout.
    -Which song from today’s class was your favorite?
    -How often to you come to Zumba class?