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Conversation starters across linguistic boundaries can be a bit of a challenge, as Vicki Hollett has recently highlighted on her blog, Learning to speak ‘merican.  These days, I find that using the normal ‘British’ mechanisms, like talking about the weather, can sound a bit contrived and awkward (probably because of the reactions I got using the same openers in Spanish, whilst in South America!), but not as odd as one conversation I had a couple of years ago with a Taiwanese student of English.

We were in the early throes of our first conversation, exchanging personal information – where are you from, what do you do, why are you here and so on. She told me her name was Sandy – not a very Taiwanese name. A bit later in the conversation, she asked about my name, and I must have said something about it being very common amongst my age group. She said ‘Well why did you choose it then?’. I must have looked at her quite oddly, and replied that I hadn’t had much of a choice – my parents picked it for me. It was only later I remembered that a lot of foreign students select an English name for themselves when they come here, to simplify things; she’d chosen Sandy because she liked the movie Grease.

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Sharon Creese

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