An important part of learning any language is practice. Luckily, italki has made the process of finding a language partner easier than it’s ever been. By finding a reliable and enthusiastic partner you can supercharge those English skills by participating in conversational English with someone on the other side of the world, all from the comfort of your own home.
However, it can be hard to kick-start a conversation sometimes. Perhaps you’re a bit shy? Or maybe you’ve exhausted all those typical topics (family, hobbies, work and study) and need something new to chat about? Well, what you need are some conversation starters. These questions are guaranteed to generate some lively debates or fascinating insights into your partner’s life.
Of course, conversation is best when it flows naturally. However, starting with previously agreed on structures can make the whole process that much easier. In this article, we’re going to focus on three structures that will help you. These forms (the first, second and third conditionals) get progressively more advanced, meaning they’re suitable for everyone from low level English learners all the way up to advanced speakers.
How to use these conversation starters
Remember, these questions are purely intended to get the conversation flowing. To help this process along, there are many things you can do: ask follow-up questions, share your own opinions on the topic and use responses to encourage your partner to keep talking.
Let’s look at this second conditional conversation starter as an example:
Person A: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which would you pick?
Person B: Oh, that’s a hard one! I think I’d choose Anna Karenina by Tolstoy.
Person A: Really? Why?
Person B: Well, I read it a lot when I was younger and it really changed my outlook on life. Also, I think it would be useful to have a very long book if it was my last one! What about you?
Person A: I’d pick The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger. It’s been my favourite book for years.
Person B: The Catcher in the Rye! I remember reading that at school.
In this example both partners are doing their best to keep the conversation flowing by responding with interest (“Really?”), by asking more questions (“Why? What about you?”) and by repeating information back to the other person (“The Catcher in the Rye!”).
First conditional conversation starters
The first conditional is used to express hypothetical situations and their outcomes, in which both may be viewed as “likely” or “possible” in the future.
Structure: (if) + (present simple of verb #1) + (will) + (base of verb #2)
Person A: If you eat out this weekend, what type of food will you choose?
Person B: If I eat out this weekend, I think I’ll choose Lebanese, because a new restaurant has just opened near my house.
- If you go out this weekend, where will you go?
- If the weather is good tomorrow, what will you do?
- If you watch a film tonight, what will you watch?
- If the economy of your country gets better, how will it affect your life?
- If you go on holiday this year, where will you go?
- If your favourite sports team wins this weekend, how will you feel?
- If it rains later, will it change your plans?
- If your English improves, how will it affect your career prospects?
- If you make dinner at home tonight, what will you cook?
- If your best friend calls you later, what do you think it will be about?
Second conditional conversation starters
The second conditional is used to express hypothetical situations and their outcomes, in which both may be viewed as “unlikely” or “impossible” in the present or future.
Structure: (if) + (past simple of verb #1) + (would) + (base of verb #2)
Person A: If you could have any job, what would you choose?
Person B: If I could have any job, I’d choose to be an astronaut. It would be so incredible to view the Earth from space!
- If you met your favourite celebrity, what would you say?
- If you had a free plane ticket to anywhere on Earth, where would you go?
- If you were fired from your job, what would you do?
- If you travelled into space, what luxury item would you take?
- If you could be one character from a well-known movie, who would it be?
- If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, which one would you pick?
- If you could change one existing law from your country, which would it be?
- If you could go back in time to a point in history, when would you visit?
- If you had a superpower, what would you like it to be?
- If you found €1,000 on the street, what would you do with it?
Third conditional conversation starters
The third conditional is used to express hypothetical situations and their outcomes in the past. Both the situation and the outcome are describing an “alternative” past, as opposed to what really happened.
Structure: (if) + (past perfect of verb #1) + (would have) + (past participle of verb #2)
Person A: If you’d been born a genius, what would you have done with your life?
Person B: If I’d been born a genius, I’d have gone to work at one of the world’s biggest science projects, like CERN, and maybe tried to solve the mysteries of the universe!
- If you’d been born in an English-speaking country, which second language would you have learnt?
- If you’d studied a different subject at university, how would your life have been different?
- If you’d been an only child, how would it have affected your life?
- If it’d snowed yesterday in your city, what would your reaction have been?
- If you’d been born a different sex, what would your childhood have been like?
- If a different political party had won the last national elections in your country, what would have happened?
- If you had been raised in a neighbouring country to your own, what would your life have been like growing up?
- If you’d been late to work this morning, what would your boss have said?
- If you’d lost your house keys yesterday, what would you have done?
- If you’d seen a UFO, would you have told anyone?