5. Topic__X* items have been discussed at Walk-and-Talk meetups, 1pm-2:30pm on Saturday afternoons. These meetups are different from the usual Friday evening classroom meetups in Adelaide Box Factory.
For more information see
Topic 59 2 November 2018
Fix It !
1. Have you ever been to a dentist? Try to
describe in detail how the dentist fixed your tooth.
2. Think of
something you know how to fix. Describe how you do it.
you are a teacher and a student gives you an essay with many grammar
mistakes. What is the best way to fix this student's problem with
4. Imagine you are a counsellor and a patient or student
comes to you feeling depressed. What is the best way to help fix their
5. When I buy trousers, the legs are always too long.
Try to explain exactly how to shorten the cuffs on the trousers.
6. Maybe the battery on your car goes flat. Can you give a step-by-step
guide on how to recharge it without ruining the car's electronics? [Or
... explain how to fix something else on a car or a bicyle]
Think of a muscle or tendon pain you might get in some part of your
body. Explain the best way to fix it.
8. About 90% of things
people see a doctor about don't need a doctor. These problems fix
themselves in time. What about the other 10%? How good are doctors at
fixing real medical problems? Do doctors just treat symptoms and not
9. In a new country, immigrants are often rude
accidentally. They don't know the customs, or are weak with the
language. If you make a mistake like this, what is the best way to fix
the social problem? Think of examples.
10. "If it ain't broke,
don't fix it" ["ain't" = isn't. It is non-standard English]. The idea in
this idiom is that it is a bad idea to change anything if it is working
OK at the moment. This is often about politics, or social systems, or
ways of doing things in business etc. Do you agree with the idiom? When
might this idiom be bad advice?
Topic 58 19 October 2018 What
are you afraid of?
1. What is the biggest fear in your
life (.. or is that a secret?)
2. What kind of people do you fear
most? Why? (.. My life experience has taught me to fear cowards. They
will betray you.]
3. Do you fear losing your job, or not being
able to get a job? Talk a little about this.
4. Before you came
to Australia, was there anything in this country you were afraid of?
5. What Australian animals on the land or in the sea or air
might you be afraid of? What would you do if you met one?
6. In a
lot of countries (e.g. USA) many people are very afraid of getting sick
because there is no national health insurance, or very weak insurance.
e.g. Most bankruptcies in America are caused by people getting sick. How
do you think that national health insurance changes the way people live
7. What is something in world events between
countries that might make you afraid? Why?
8. Your cell phone can
watch you and listen to you, even if you think it is turned off. Does
technology like this make you afraid? What can you do about it?
9. Many people fear getting old and dying. What is your opinion about
10. A 'phobia' is a psychological condition about fearing
something. For example 'acrophobia' means fear of being in a high place,
'claustrophobia' is fear of being in a closed space, 'arachnophobia' is
fear of spiders ... and so on. What are some other phobias you know
about? Do you have any phobias?
Topic 57 5 October 2018 Small
Pleasures and Rewards
1. What are some small pleasures in you average
2. After doing something you hate but have to do, how do you
3. What is a small favour you might do for a
4. Is it more important to enjoy small, frequent
pleasures, or have a goal for big success sometime in the future? Why?
5. Do you think children should have to do daily chores (e.g. wash
dinner dishes) or should they be completely free to play? Why?
Maybe you reward yourself with a piece of chocolate. It's nice, so you
have another piece of chocolate, and another.. When do your small
rewards stop being something special, and maybe even become a bad habit?
7. A generation ago it was more common for Australians to 'dress up'
at certain times, like going to church on Sunday, or even going to the
cinema. Now a lot of people dress casually all the time (me!). Do you
get a small pleasure from 'dressing up' at certain times? What do you
think about the new custom of dressing casually all the time?
Sunday dinner used to be a special meal for many families in Australia.
Often it would be a leg of roast lamb, with baked potato and other
vegetables, followed by a sweet dessert. It was all made at home and
took a long time to prepare. The whole family would sit around a big
table, and father would carve the meat ... How are meals different now?
Are there special meals?
9. Some workplaces offer small rewards
to individual workers at certain times (e.g. their birthday). Do you
think this is a good idea? Why? [..ha, ha, a college management in South
Korea once bought me a birthday cake, put it in a fridge, and didn't
tell me about it for two weeks after my birthday! In another Korean
university students bought me a cake for 'teacher's day', but the greedy
manager ate ALL of it before I saw it! ]
10. When you get a
'Like' on Facebook or other social media, how much pleasure do you get
from it? Are you disappointed if nobody 'Likes' your post?
Topic 56 21 September 2018 How
Expensive is Australia, Really?
1. Do you really think Australia is expensive? Why/Why not?
2. What is cheap in
3. What are the most expensive things in Australia
compared to other places? Why do you think they are expensive?
How much a week do you need to live in Australia?
5. If you had an
unlimited amount of money, where would you live in Australia? Why?
6. If you had an unlimited amount of money, where would you live in the
7. What kind of jobs pay well in Australia, and what
kinds of jobs don't pay enough?
8. How important is it to you
personally to be 'wealthy'? How much would you want to be 'rich enough'?
9. A lot of people in Australia do things for free (voluntary work).
Why do you think they do that?
10. 'Inflation' in economics is when
the value of money falls. Think of some examples (countries, goods,
services) where there has been a lot of inflation (or deflation) over
time. Is inflation good or bad? Why?
Topic 55 7 September 2018
What can you safely talk about with strangers?
1. In Australian culture it used to be a rule that people didn't talk
about money, religion or politics. That was especially true with
strangers, but often with friends and family too. The idea wass to avoid
conflct. Maybe some people still follow this rule (I don't). What do
people avoid talking about in your home culture? Why?
2. The usual way to open a conversation with strangers is 'small talk'.
For example, the weather is a safe topic. Some people are comfortable
with small talk, and some people hate it. When do you use small talk?
3. When I was young, long distance trains had compartments (like small
rooms). My experience was that some travellers told very private stories
to strangers like me who they would never see again. It was very
interesting. Why do you think they did this? Have you had long, deep
conversations with strangers when you were travelling? What do
fellow-travellers usually tell you?
4. Some families discuss everything together, and some families tell
each other very little (almost like Facebook "friends"). Which kind of
family would you prefer? Why?
5. In interviews, like job interviews, are you open and free with what
you say? Or are you very controlled about what you reveal? Why?
6. On social media like Facebook or Snapchat, are you open and free with
what you say? Or are you very controlled about what you reveal? Why?
7. The greetings in each culture say something about that culture.
Americans often say 'Howdy' (short for 'how do you do'. It first
appeared overseas in cowboy films. Some young Australians now copy it).
The traditional Australian greeting is "G'day" (short for "Good day to
you"). In East Asia the most common greeting translates as "Have you
eaten yet?". In Muslim countries the most common greeting translates as
"Peace be upon you". What do you think such greetings reveal about
cultures? What greetings do you prefer?
8. How do you control what you talk about with these groups of people? :
a) An intimate friend or partner or lover; b) your best friend (if you
have one); c) friends you go out with; d) workmates or classmates; e)
family; f) men Vs women you know.
9. It is now possible for companies and governments to read our emails.
Some countries respect such privacy more than others. Do you control
what you put in emails (or say or text on the phone) because someone
else might be watching? Why are you careful about this, or not careful?
10. What kind of things do you NEVER tell other people? Why?
Topic 54 24 August 2018
What Do These Aphorisms Mean? Do You Agree With Them? Think of a Reply.
1. "A cynic is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of
nothing" [Oscar Wilde]
2. "Life expands or shrinks in proportion to our courage" [Anais Nin]
3. “You can’t be the great society if it’s easy to get guns and hard to
get healthcare”, I told him. He didn’t like me much after that (we split
the bill)". [Rebecca Huntley, describing a dating experience ]
4. "If you don't control your mind, someone else will." [John Allston]
5. "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to
do nothing." [Edmunde Burke]
6. "Never mistake knowledge for wisdom. One helps you make a living; the
other helps you make a life." [Sandra Carey]
7. "He who asks is a fool for five minutes, but he who does not ask
remains a fool forever." [Chinese proverb]
8. "Two things are infinite: The universe and human stupidity; and I'm
not sure about the universe." [Albert Einstein]
9. "Millions long for immortality but do not know what to do with
themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon." [Susan Ertz ]
10. "People will spend far more time and effort focussing on something
trivial that they do understand than something complicated that they
don’t understand". [Parkinson's Law of Triviality]
11. "In an organization every employee will rise or get promoted to his
or her level of incompetence". - The Peter Principle [ Laurence J.
Topic 53 10 August 2018
The Hardest Things to Do
1. For me, the hardest thing to do every morning is 60 pushups. I always
look for an excuse not to do them. What is the hardest thing for you to
do every day?
2. Some people think that life should be about maximum pleasure seeking.
They are called sensualists. Some people think you get the best
satisfaction in the end from some physical and mental self-discipline.
They are called ascetics (or stoics when it is tolerating bad luck and a
lack of comfort). Where are you on a scale of 1 (sensualist) to ascetic
(5)? Why? [A good ascetic blog is https://gettingstronger.org by
a Californian biochemist]
3. Usually it is very hard to get everything you want. To get one thing,
you have to give up something else (= 'opportunity cost'). What are some
examples of opportunity cost that have happened in your life? How do you
4. Once a week for 24 hours, from dinner time to dinner time, I fast
(have nothing to eat). Sometimes this is easy and sometimes it is quite
hard. I'm not fat, but this seems to make me feel better. What is your
opinion of diets? Are they a good idea or a waste of time?
5. Sometimes it is very hard to tell someone that they are making a
mistake. What do you think is the best solution? Think of a real
6. There is too much interesting stuff on the Internet (well, I think
so). It seems very hard not to lose the whole day on the Internet or
social media. Is this a problem for you? What is the best solution?
7. Some lucky people really like their jobs. For them working is like a
holiday. Others think their work is OK, but not exciting. Probably the
largest number of people don't like their jobs at all. For them, going
to work every day is hard. How can you make your daily life 'good
enough' if you really don't like your job?
8. Some people seem to find it pretty easy to make good friends, or find
girlfriends/boyfriends. Others find this very, very hard. Why do you
think people are so different with this? What is the best solution for
those who have trouble making friends?
9. As an Australian, I try to treat people as equals, not higher and not
lower. This caused me trouble in East Asian cultures sometimes, where
everyone is socially 'higher' or 'lower' (this is called social
hierarchy). It was hard for me to adapt to hierarchy. Is hierarchy ever
a problem for you? What is your solution?
10. Usually when people move to a new country, their hearts are in two
places. Maybe they like the new country, but there is a lot they miss
about the old country. For you, what would be the hardest thing to lose
if you move from your home country?
Topic 52 27 July 2018 Are you lazy?
1. What do you think are the signs of a lazy person? Why?
2. If you were very rich, would you prefer to have a lazy life?
3. What are some examples of lazy thinking? Why do
you think these things are lazy?
4. On a scale of [very lazy] 1-
2- 3- 4- 5- [very energetic] where do you prefer your friends to be? Do
this for both mental laziness and physical laziness. Why do you prefer
friends like that?
5. Before I became a teacher, I had many jobs.
In some jobs I was told "slow down... you are working too hard". Where
might this happen? Why might some people say that?
6. Do you
think some cultures are on average more lazy than other cultures? If
this is true, why would it be like that? Give examples. On average,
where do you think Australians are on a scale of [very lazy] 1- 2- 3- 4-
5- [very energetic] ? Why?
7. How accurate is the idea that
foreigners have about the laziness (or not) of people in other cultures?
8. The Industrial Revolution created many routine jobs. In a routine
job, life is most comfortable if you don't ask many questions and don't
try to change things. It is best if you are mentally lazy about new
ideas. How successful will this style be in the future? How could you
become more innovative and mentally active?
9. Pictures of old
age retirement always show people relaxing on a beach in some "tropical
paradise" because now they are expected to be 'lazy'. Do you think this
is an accurate idea of retirement? What do you want to be doing when you
are 70? Why?
10. Who have the happiest and healthiest lives: very
active people, or very lazy people, or somewhere in between? What is
Topic 51 13 July 2018 How well should you
Here is some political news: "Migrants
could face primary school-level English test, says Turnbull"
1. How long did it take you to reach a conversational level in
2. What is the hardest stage of learning a language in
your opinion: beginner, intermediate or advanced?
3. What level
do you need to reach before you can actually use the language with other
people (e.g. language exchange partners)?
4. Language level tests
like IELTS are really designed for university students. More than half
of Australian native English speaking TAFE students "fail" to reach
'native speaker standard' on IELTS. What level of English do you think
immigrants should have before they get PR (permanent residence) visas in
Australia, and/or full citizenship?
5. My experience teaching
IELTS students (in China and South Korea) was that many students with
reasonable conversational English failed hopelessly when they had to use
systematic, logical technical English (e.g. to describe a process or
explain a graph). This is not just a vocabulary problem. What do you
think the solution is?
6. What part of language learning did you
find hardest from speaking, listening, reading and writing? Why was
there a difference for you?
7. Many students ask me how to write
in English. I always ask them how much they write (originally, not just
copy or repeat) in their first language. Usually they write very little
in their first language. Can you really learn to write well in English
if you are not a good writer in your first language?
English speakers in English speaking countries enrol in foreign language
courses, over 95% of them never learn enough for the new language to be
useful. Most courses can't get enrolments past stage 1. How do you think
this problem can be fixed?
9. English now has thousands of
dialects. Many dialects are influenced by other local languages. For
example I have trouble understanding fast Singapore English, and when I
went to Chennai (India) in 2016, I could not understand Chennai English
(spoken with Tamil intonation) though they could understand me. Do you
think it is enough to learn just standard British English? When would
you try to learn other dialects too? Are you 'bi-dialectal' (speak two
dialects) in any language? [Note: a dialect is different from a
language. Basically, you will not understand another language, but you
will understand another dialect, though it might be difficult]
10. Linguistics is the science of analysing languages as systems. That
is different from speaking a language. For example, I am good at
linguistics but not very good at language learning. As a university
lecturer in linguistics, I found that many (most) language teachers and
good language learners really hated linguistics and were bad at it. This
is a bit of a mystery. Why do you think being good at linguistics and
being good at language learning are so different?
Topic 50 29 June 2018 People
I like, and the others ...
1. What kind of people do you like?
What first attracts you to another person?
3. Is liking the same
as trusting? Why or why not?
4. Can you trust your first
impressions, or do you think liking someone can grow gradually? Why/why
5. Is liking someone all that is needed for close
friendship? What else do you look for?
6. Can you find another
character very interesting, even though you don't admire or like them?
Think of an example.
7. Some people say that women are more
likely to have close friends than men. Do you think this is true? Why
might it be true?
8. Some people have hundreds of 'friends' on
Facebook etc, while others have only a few 'friends' like this. Why is
this so? What can you learn (or not learn) from how many Facebook
friends a person has?
9. Can you actually like someone you often
disagree with? How do you explain this, if it is true?
Between genders (man/woman) in Australia, things have changed somewhat
in my lifetime for ordinary friendship (not romance). Individuals always
vary a lot in this, but when I was young it was more likely that if a
boy and a girl were friends, that usually (not always) meant
boyfriend/girlfriend. Now, quite often, boy/girl friendships just mean
they are platonic (no sex) friends. What do you think about this in your
own life? I think it is probably still true in Australia that if a man
is single he is less likely than a married couple to be invited to
dinner by other married couples. What do you think about this?
Topic 49 15 June 2018 What makes
you laugh and cry?
1. People laugh for different reasons. Even our
friends might have a different sense of humour. Some people seem to have
no sense of humour! What happens when you try to joke between cultures?
Can you think of examples?
2. Jokes are a kind of release of
tension. Therefore they often break taboos that people feel tense about.
That tension (and the jokes) may come from sex, or relationships, or
race, or politics .. or anything. Each culture is different with these
things. What are jokes often about in your home culture?
do you think Australians joke about a lot? Do any of the jokes offend
4. "Slapstick jokes" are when people laugh at someone having
an accident or getting hurt. You often see them in cartoons. Americans
are famous for liking slapstick humour, but Australians not so much. Why
do you think slapstick humour is funny (for some people)?
over 200 different cultures in Australia now, joking is sometimes
difficult, and might even break anti-discrimination laws. Having to be
careful about jokes upsets some Australians. What do you think the
6. Another kind of joke depends on word play (kids
love these). For example, in English: "What do computers snack on?
Microchips". ['micro' means very small. Food 'chips' are thin
slices of baked potato etc]. Can you explain an example of a word play
joke from your first language?
7. Some cultures & people have a
style called 'black humour'. This is when you make a dark joke about a
very bad situation to cheer people up, or seriously break a taboo. Not
everyone finds black humour funny. Here is a (gentle) example : "It
turns out a major new study recently found that humans eat more bananas
than monkeys. ||Reply: I can't remember the last time I ate a
monkey". What do you think about black humour? Do you ever use it?
8. How many types of situations can you think of that make
9. Some people cry very easily, and others never cry.
Why do you think this is?
10. What makes you sad, and what makes
Topic 48 1 June 2018 Spare Time -
Do You Have Any?
1. How much spare time do you really have? (Think
of all the things you 'have' to do every day, then subtract from 24
2. What do you do in your spare time? Why do you do those
3. Do you think of exercise as a spare time activity, or
something you have to do? Why?
4. Do you have a hobby that takes
a lot of your time? What is it?
5. How do you think most people
use their spare time differently in Australia than from their home
country? Why is there this difference (or not)?
6. Is social
media like Facebook or Wechat just something for spare time, or does it
eat up other time?
7. Spectator sports (e.g. watching football
etc) takes up much spare time for lots of people (but they often avoid
exercise themselves). Is watching spectator sports a good or bad use of
spare time? Why?
8. In some cultures, and for some people, going
out to restaurants, cafes or pubs is a big use of their spare time. What
are the upsides and downsides of this sort of pastime?
you ever thought of study as an interesting spare time activity? (For
example, learning a language, taking a course on something that
interests you ...). Why is this a good idea, or not a good idea?
10. How do you think spare time changes, from being a child, to social
life in your 20s, to having a career or raising children, to being
retired? Which time of life would you prefer?
Topic 47 18 May 2018 I don't understand
1. Why are the shops closed when I need them?
2. Why do Australians drive on the left hand side of the road? (..
and walk on the left hand side of the footpath?)
3. Why do you
have to wear a helmet to ride a bicycle? (In many countries you don't).
4. The average Australian is in debt for 218% of their annual
5. 63% of Australians are overweight and 28% are
obese. Why? Was it always like this?
6. Most Australians are
friendly on the surface but have few close friends. Why?
Australians will help a stranger in need (e.g. lost, sudden illness in
the street, car broken down), but they don't expect any special thanks
for this. Is helping strangers common everywhere in the world? Why/why
8. Australian speech is almost the same everywhere in
Australia. Why? In many countries (including USA and England) there are
very different dialects in different regions, but not in Australia.
9. Skilled people coming to Australia often have trouble finding
work in their professions. Why?
10. In Australia you can have
dual nationality (have a passport for Australia and another country),
but dual nationals (more than half the people in Australia) can't be a
member of the Federal Parliament. Why? Do you think this should change?
Topic 46 4 May 2018 Why do
people stop learning (.. Do they?)
1. 9, 19 or 109 years old - When & Why do people
stop wanting to learn new stuff?
2. What do you think is worth
learning? something for a diploma, something for a career edge,
something out of sheer curiosity ...?
3. There are 24 hours in a
day. How much do you put aside for socializing, how much for being a
spectator, how much for finding out about new stuff?
4. What are
some things you have decided not to try to learn more about in this
5. What are the most effective ways you know for
learning complex skills or knowledge?
6. Do you think learning
another language is similar or different from learning other things?
7. Average literacy and numeracy ability worldwide
actually declines after 14 years of age - i.e. for most, not all people.
(Working for a mass circulation tabloid newspaper, I was told that the
reading age our customers was around 11 y.o.). Why do you think this is
so? What are the social consequences of this decline?
your formal education, how much of the information from the courses have
you retained in memory? How fast did you forget stuff? Why did you
forget it? Is there any fix for this kind of loss?
numbers of adults (and a proportion of teenagers) are completely
incurious about anything unfamiliar. Why do you think this is so? Must
it be this way, or is there some kind of cure?
bias' is the tendency we all have to only notice or take in those ideas
which confirm what we already believe. This effects even professional
researchers. It is endemic in social media. What do you think is the
best way to minimize confirmation bias?
11. Mass education has
emerged as a vast industry in the last 150 years. It has greatly changed
most cultures, but for many students the process is very, very
inefficient. Can you suggest of a better way to go about teaching and
Topic 45 20 April 2018 Tourism
1. 100 years ago most tourism was only for rich
people. Now we have 'mass tourism'. What are some good and bad things
about mass tourism?
2. Here are some special kinds of tourism
(often more expensive than mass tourism): adventure tourism, eco-tourism,
cruise ship tourism, sex tourism, 3rd World assistance tourism, cycling
tourism, mountain climbing tourism, skin diving tourism, art gallery
tourism, 'independent traveller' tourism, study tourism, ... [think of
some more]. What are some good and bad things about each of these kinds of
3. Most kinds of tourism are labour intensive. That is,
tourism employs many people. This can bring a lot of money and opportunity
to countries. However tourism jobs also have some problems. What are these
4. When a lot of tourists come to a place where there
were few people before, this can have a big effect on local wildlife
(animals, birds) and on the environment. Can you think of some examples
where tourists have changed the local environment a lot?
much do you think most people really care about the countries or regions
they visit as tourists?
6. If you watch tourists at a 'famous
place' most of them seem to think that taking a 'selfie' photo is the most
important part of being there. Why do you think they act like this?
7. Many countries have special projects to build tourist attractions.
This can mean improving access to scenic sites. It can also mean
rebuilding ancient buildings. In China I have seen workmen building
"ancient villages" which are obviously fake, as well as imitation
'European streets' etc. Do you think that creating such places is a good
way to teach people history, or is it just a way to teach fake history?
8. Back-packers sometimes call themselves 'travellers' and claim to be
really mixing and learning about other countries. They say they are
different from 'tourists' who just want an exotic location to relax, and
know nothing about local cultures. How genuine is the difference between
'travellers' and 'tourists' ?
9. At this moment approximately
500,000 people are in aeroplanes in the sky. When I was a child (1945 on)
very few people flew anywhere. What effect do you think this huge amount
of airline traffic has on the environment and cultural development?
10. The Australian government (and other governments) publish special
warnings about countries they consider it unwise or dangerous for
Australians to visit. How many people do you think ignore warnings like
this. What do you think about tourists who deliberately go to war zones
Topic 44 6 April 2018 Seasons
1. What are some weather signs that the seasons
are changing in Adelaide? (Compare this to your home country).
2. Try to describe the climate in Adelaide's
four seasons. (Do this for your home country too).
3. March is called Adelaide's 'festival
month'. What special things happen in Adelaide during March?
4. What clothes do you prefer to wear in
summer, autumn, winter and spring? Why? (How fashion conscious are
people in Adelaide anyway?)
5. If you have permanent work in Australia,
you will usually get a long holiday once a year. In which month would
you prefer to take a holiday like that? Why?
6. Some of Australia's bigger cities are
Melbourne, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin and Perth. Try to
tell an overseas friend what the climate is like in each of them.
7. Australian schools close for a long summer
Christmas break. What do you think children usually do during this long
8. South Australia has 'daylight saving' time
which changes the clock time twice a year. Why do you think this
happens? Is it a good idea? Why/why not?
9. A lot of people in Adelaide are very
enthusiastic about watching spectator sports. Which spectator sports are
played here in the winter, and which in the summer? Which of these do
you like or not like? Why?
10. In some countries people eat different
food at different times of the year. What are some examples of this? Can
you think of any examples of different food in different seasons in
Topic 43 23 March 2018 Help me to buy a
house and furnish it
1. Where would you like to live in
2. What suburbs would you avoid in Adelaide? Why?
3. What kind of house or apartment would you like to buy? Why?
4. If you are buying an old house or a new house, what questions will you
ask the agent, the council, and the building inspector?
5. What is
the difference between a high maintenance property and a low maintenance
6. Describe how you would like to furnish the different
rooms in your house.
7. My mother never ever locked doors and
windows in her house (she thought that was unfriendly). Some owners are
obsessed with locks, alarms and other 'security'. What balance of security
and openess are you comfortable with in a house? Why?
8. When is it
better to rent a house, and when is it better to buy? Why?
you own a house or apartment, how much do you think it will cost you each
year for council rates, water, electricity, gas, sewerage, internet,
common property fees (in an apartment) and maintenance? After paying
these, how much advantage do you have over renting? If you have a
mortgage, how much will that cost you every month?
10. How is
owning or renting a house in Australia different from the system in other
countries? Think, for example, of the building standards, the laws, the
costs, the relationship with officials, and how well you know your
Topic 42 9 March 2018 What I've always
wanted to do
1. People often say "My dream is to .. [do
X]" . So what is your big dream in life?
2. Should we just have a
good time now and not worry about tomorrow ('live for the moment')? Or
should we make some sacrifices now to have a better life in the future?
Defend your point of view.
3. If you had a guaranteed basic
income forever (just enough to live on), what would you do with the rest
of your life?
4. What is some place you would really like to
5. Imagine if babies could choose their parents and
where to be born. If you were a baby like that, what kind of parents
would you choose, and what country would you choose to be born in? Why?
6. Imagine if babies could choose their gender and all their other
qualities. If you were a baby like that, would you choose to be a girl
or a boy? What other qualities would you choose to have? Why?
When you were a child, what did you think you would do when you grew up?
How have your ideas about that changed?
8. a) What is the most
interesting question in you life now? b) When do you think you will get
an answer to that interesting question?
9. What is stopping or
delaying you from doing the things you really want to do?
the last day of your life, when you look back, what do you think you
might be pleased about? What do you think you might regret?
Topic 41 23 February 2018 Interviews - for
jobs and other things
Tell your partner 5 questions you would LIKE to be asked in a job
2. Why would you like to be asked these questions?
3. What questions would you hate to be asked in a job interview? Why?
4. Tell a story about an interview you had in the past (doesn't have
to be a job interview).
5. How useful do you think job interviews
are for picking the right people? [Evidence?]
6. If you could
interview the leader of a country to choose him/her (or not) for their
job, what questions would you ask him or her?
7. Imagine you could
interview someone to be your husband/wife. What questions would you ask
him or her?
8. What do you think is the best way to interview
someone on a TV show? Why? Can you give examples?
9. Suppose the
police have arrested you because they think that you burgled a house.
Think of some questions the police might ask you.
10. You meet an
old friend you haven't seen since you were a child. What might you ask
Topic 40, 9 February 2018 Sell it to me
! English for persuading people
[notes: a) When you are persuading
someone, you need to remember how THEY think and feel. Everyone is
different. b) In this topic, use your imagination!!]
do you persuade an unwilling child to do something they don't want?
(e.g. go to bed, eat dinner, be quiet etc). [Think of the words you use]
2. How do you persuade a friend or partner to do something, even if
they would rather do something else? (e.g. go out, help in the house,
watch a movie etc) [Think of the words you use]
3. Imagine you
are a teenager. You want to go out late to a show but your parents say
no. What will you say to persuade them?
4. Pretend you are
selling something. Sell your conversation partner something you can see
in the room. (You can tell lies !)
5. You are selling someone a
second hand car or a second hand phone. Make up a sales pitch and sell
it to your conversation partner.
6. The best way to sell
something is to ask questions. Why? Then you find out what the buyer
really wants. Imagine you are a furniture seller. Ask your conversation
partner questions to find out how they would really like to furnish
their house. The explain what you have in the shop to satisfy their
7. If I am trying to persuade you, what kind of approach
will work best on your personality?
8. Governments often try to
persuade people to do some things they don't like; (e.g. pay more tax,
fight a war, stop smoking etc). What kind of government persuasion do
you think works best?
9. Imagine you have a job writing
advertisements ( = copywriting). Make up an advertisement for selling
10. A shopkeeper checks your bag and accuses you of
stealing something from the shop. Make up a conversation with your
partner. Person 1 : you are the shopkeeper; Person 2: you are a shopper.
Try to persuade the shopkeeper that you did not steal the item.
Topic 39 25 January 2018 What do you notice?
1. What are some
ordinary things you notice in Australia that you would never notice in
your home country?
2. Everyone notices some things and ignores
other things. A dentist notices teeth. Maybe a teenager notices fashion.
What do you especially notice? Why?
3. What are some things that
you notice about Australians which you would never notice in your home
4. What have you noticed about the weather and the
seasons in Adelaide?
5. What have you noticed about people's
eating habits in Australia?
6. What have you noticed about the
cost of living in Australia? Why do you think it is like that?
If you are working or studying, what have you noticed in Adelaide that
is different from where you come from? Why do you think there is a
8. What have you noticed about speaking English
often, rather than speaking your mother tongue. Is this experience
changing as you use English more often?
9. What have you noticed
about the way people dress in Australia?
10. What do you notice
about your own thoughts and feelings when you live in a foreign country?
Topic 38, 12 January 2018 What will
you eat, what do you refuse?
1. What is your favourite
food? Can you describe the taste?
2. Do you eat for flavour, or
for health, or for appearances and atmosphere (e.g. in a restaurant)?
3. What do you refuse to eat, sometimes or always?
4. People growing up in Australia often eat from many
national cuisines. However immigrants often eat only the food of their
home country. Why? What about yourself?
5. Australia has become
one of the fattest populations on earth (though not as fat as
Americans). What do you think is the reason for this? What can we do
6. What are some foods that you can get in your home
country but not in Australia? Do you think there would be a market for
these foods in Australia?
7. In some European countries people
usually drink wine with meals every day. Do you think that this is a
good custom? Why or why not?
8. Fresh fruit and vegetables can
come directly from a farmer, from a farmers' market, from a greengrocer
(fruit & vegetable shop), or from a supermarket. Where do you usually
buy? Who do you prefer to buy from? Why?
9. 90 years ago my
mother was taught that in a proper 'English dinner', the main course
contained a white vegetable, a yellow vegetable, a green vegetable and
meat. Before the main course there was often soup, and after the main
course there was usually a sweet desert. What is in a traditional dinner
in your country? What do you prefer to serve when guests come?
10. Is home cooking usually better or worse for your diet than
restaurant food? Why do you think that?
Topic 37x*: 9 December 2017: Out and About
1. Sydney is usually called an outdoor & beach city because of the nice weather and great beaches. Melbourne is usually called an indoor & cafe city because of the crazy weather and 'European' architecture. How should we describe Adelaide?
2. What is your favourite outdoor activity? Why? How often do you do this?
3. Where have you been in South Australia outside of Adelaide city centre? Where do you plan to go?
4. To reach most interesting outdoor places in Australia, you really need a car. Do you expect to drive in Australia, or are you already driving? What is the main problem with cars for you? [note: Old cars can be quite cheap, if you know what you are buying. However, repair costs are very high and good mechanics can be hard to find].
5. In your home country, were you an outdoor person or an indoor person? Why?
6. Do you prefer the mountains or the seaside or just picnicking by a river? Why?
7. Australia has more birds than almost any other country. How many bird species do your recogize? What is the bird life like in your home country?
8. The Australian bush is usually safe, if you have water and are not lost. What are some possible dangers in the bush?
9. For many people in Adelaide, mass spectator sport, especially football, is almost like a religion. Even the public transport is free when big matches are on. Do you find this strange, or is it similar where you come from? Would you feel comfortable going to football matches etc?
10. Learning & study is actually more efficient when you are standing rather than sitting. How successful do you think a "walk and talk school for learning languages" might be?
Topic 36: 9 December 2017: Love them or hate them? - Gadgets, Cars, Machines, Toys ..
1. So, do you love or hate gadgets, cars, machines, toys etc ...?
2. What is your favourite gadget? Why?
3. For some people, gadgets etc are strictly used for doing a job. Others like to play with them, experiment with them, or even invent them. What about you? Why?
4. What are three machines you could not live without? Why do you need them?
5. Do you try to fix machines etc when they fail, or do you just throw them away? Why?
6. Australia has very big hardware stores like Bunnings because many Australians like to make things and fix things themselves. Is it the same in your home counrty? Why or why not?
7. If you were Dictator of the World and could ban anything, which gadget or machine would you ban? Why?
8. What kind of gadget or machine would you like to invent? Why?
9. Airline pilots learn to fly planes on flight simulators. Surgeons (doctors) can practice some operations on simulated bodies. Now we can learn to do some things (e.g. driving) with virtual reality headsets. What would you like to learn to do using virtual reality? Why?
10. Do you think that a 'language bot' (a robot with artificial intelligence) could soon teach you a new language? Would you like to learn that way? Why or why not?
Topic 35: 24 November 2017:
Having fun - what does fun mean for you?
1. What do you most enjoy doing? Why?
2. When can work be fun? When is it not fun? Why? Who do you think finds work fun?
3. Does everyone in your family enjoy doing the same things? How do they differ in this?
4. If you had to organize a party, what would you plan for the people coming?
5. Now everyone has smart phones, are they having less fun together? What could you do about that?
6. Do you think it is more fun to live in the city or the country? Why?
7. Can people be spoiled by having too much fun?
8. What are some things you MUST do, but which are NOT fun at all? Why aren't they fun?
9. City governments have realized that there is big money in "organized fun" - sports stadiums, festivals etc. How much do you think they should invest in this kind of thing?
10. Having fun helps memory. What do you think is the best kind of "fun learning". Is "fun learning" enough to (for example) learn a new language?
Topic 34: 10 November 2017: Getting from here to there
1. What is your favourite form of travel (walking, cycling, car, bus, train, plane etc.)? Why?
2. Is Adelaide's public transport good enough? How would you change it?
3. For many people, cars are not just transport. They spend a lot of money on them. However, my car cost only $2100 and I'm satisfied (I don't care what other people think). How much would you spend on a car? Why?
4. Do you prefer to live in a nice suburb and house, even if you have to commute a long way? Or would you prefer to live near the city centre, even in a small apartment? Why?
5. Two generations ago in America, big car companies used politics to destroy public transport systems in American cities. Why do you think they did that? Was it intelligent to force everyone to drive cars?
6. Within a few years, electric cars will replace our present cars. Some (maybe most) of the electric cars will be automatic, without drivers. How will this change our cities?
7. At this moment, roughly 500,000 people around the world are in the air flying somewhere. When I was a child, very few people flew. They caught ships and trains. How have planes changed our friendships and businesses?
8. 1300 people lost their lives on the roads in Australia last year, 2016 (an economic loss of $27 billion). However while I was working in China in 2000, each day 600 people died on Chinese roads and 42,000 were injured (and China is not the worst!). If a country was at war and had casualties like Chinese road deaths, that country would probably surrender! But with car accidents nobody really cares. Why do people have such different attitudes about deaths on the road and deaths in a war?
9. Each hour walking or running adds 7 hours to your life. I do 100km per week on my feet, 60km of those running. What is your weekly score? Do you have a plan to run and walk more? Why/why not?
10. Tell your partner a story about one journey you made which was very memorable.
Topic 32: 27 October 2017:
How Has Your Life Changed?
1. How has your life changed recently?
2. What are some changes you hope for in the future?
3. What are some changes you have noticed in technology in your lifetime? Good or bad?
4. My mother just turned 95. She was 12 years old before she saw an electric light switch. What will your grandchildren be amazed you didn't know about when you were a child.
5. What are some changes in social relationships you have noticed in your lifetime?
6. Do you think people's eating habits & diet have changed much from a generation ago? Think of examples.
7. Nearly all of you have learned another language. Maybe your ideas about HOW to learn a language have changed with experience. Describe what you used to think about language learning, and what you think now.
8. A generation ago most people expected to have only one or two jobs in their lifetime. This is no longer true. What is your opinion about jobs and education in the future?
9. 200 years ago an average English woman lived 42 years. In those 42 years she would have 16 pregnancies, and most of the babies would die. How has health care changed and how do you expect it to change in the future?
10. Fashions (not only clothes) change all the time. What are some recent fashions you have noticed? Which fashions do you think will endure, and which will change quickly? Why?
Topic 32: 13 October 2017:
Appearances - What can you tell about a person just by looking at them?
1. What do you think your appearance tells people about YOU?
2. How do you try to change your appearance to fit different situations? What are you trying to show?
3. There is an idiom that "eyes are the window of the soul". What do you notice about eyes, and how does that affect your ideas about the person?
4. If you travel, you will know that people 'dress up' in some countries, while in other places a lot of people don't seem to care. How important do you think clothes are, and how does that influence what you wear?
5. How much of your income do you spend on clothes, shoes etc?
6. The last time I went to a hairdresser was 1966. (Yes, it's true. The haircut cost me $1.50 and I thought that was too much). Most people spend quite a bit of money on hairdressers, and even things like 'nail bars'. Do you think this personal grooming is a luxury or a necessity? Why?
7. Can you describe the appearance of someone you would NOT trust? What would make you cautious?
8. Can you describe the appearance of someone you WOULD trust? What would make you feel relaxed about them?
9. What do you think about jobs, roles or beliefs that force people to wear certain kinds of clothes? (Examples: uniforms, neck ties, suits, dress length, veils or hijabs etc, fleuro workmen's clothes, clubs that will only let people dressed in a certain way enter ..)
10. What do you think that physical characteristics can tell you about a person? (Examples: posture, skin, hair colour, tall or short, slim or fat, beautiful / handsome or ugly etc )
Topic 31: September 29 2017:
Shops and Shopping
1. Shopping centres all over the world are becoming very similar. Why is this happening?
2. When I go to a different country, I usually notice that some shops are quite different to anything in Australia. From your experience, what are some of these differences?
3. The standards and customs of service can be quite different between countries. Can you think of examples of this?
4. Why do you think the products near the entrance and 1st floor in most big shops are aimed at women, not men?
5. Newspaper journalists usually rate a city "good" or "poor" to live in by the number of cafes and bars. Does this make sense? What are some other measures you could use?
6. Some people prefer to shop in boutiques (small clothing shops), while others prefer large department stores. What is your preference? Why?
7. In the last few years, Australian shopping centres have suddenly opened several new kinds of businesses which didn't exist before: e.g. nail bars, massage shops, mobile phone accessory & repair shops. Why do you think these businesses have become popular? What do they say about human nature?
8. Now many things can be bought online. What are some advantages and disadvantages on online shopping. How do you think online shopping will influence shops in the street?
9. If you wanted to start a retail business in Australia, what would you choose? Why?
10. Do you shop only because you have to, or is shopping a social experience you like? Could you live happily in a small country town or village with very few shops?
Topic 30: September 15 2017: Friends, Acquaintances, Colleagues
1. What 'grades' of friendship do you have? (e.g. boyfriend/girlfriend, best friend, close friend, casual friend etc). How do you decide who belongs to which grade of friendship?
2. Ways of making friends, and the time it takes, are often quite different in different cultures. What are some differences you have noticed in this process between Australia and your home country?
3. What do you think the rights and duties of friends are in Australia, and in your home country?
4. Some people try to avoid mixing personal friendships with work colleague relationships. Others think this mixing is normal. What is your approach? Why?
5. There may be people you see rather often, but they are not friends, they are acquaintances. What kind of acquaintances might become real friends, and what kind will never be friends?
6. if friends are very close, a breakup between them can be especially bitter. Have you had this experience? What is the best way to manage a breakup experience?
7. Women are famous for having more friends and closer friends than most men. Many men never have close friends. Why do you think these differences exist? Do you think the pattern is changing?
8. When you come to a new place, especially a different country, it might be quite hard to make real new friends. Is this a big problem, or just a normal part of living? What can you do about it?
9. Expats (expatriates working in another country) and immigrants usually seek out people from their home country to relax with, meet with, talk to, trust etc. The groups they make can be quite closed. This is normal behaviour, but it can also create problems. What are the advantages and disadvantages of mostly mixing with fellow countrymen when you are in another country?
10. 'Loners', people who don't have many friends and who act alone, are often distrusted and seen as 'freaks'. Is this fair? Are some people natural outsiders who are actually comfortable being alone? Are they always 'dangerous', or can some of them actually be creators of ideas pioneering what might be 'normal' in the next generation?
Topic 29: September 1 2017: A New Country - Internal & External Migration
Most people in this meetup have changed their country of living, some for months or years, some forever. Migration is forever. In the last 300 years hundreds of millions of people have also moved from farms and small towns to the city. This is called internal migration.
1. What are some reasons that people migrate?
2. Think of some good and bad things about migration.
3. When people migrate, families are often separated. How do people cope with this?
4. How do people choose what countries to migrate to?
5. How do you think people in countries of emigration feel about those who are leaving their country?
6. How do you think people in countries of immigration feel about immigrants?
7. How should a country like Australia decide which immigrants to accept?
8. Why do you think many countries refuse to accept immigrants?
9. There are now more than 60 million refugees in the world. Their lives are in danger if they go back to their home countries. How can this problem be solved?
10. When people migrate to a new country, their hearts are often in two places. How can they solve the problem of divided loyalties?
Extra reading: A couple of years ago I wrote an article about refugees. 2916 people around the world have now read this article: "How can we treat refugees humanely?" at https://www.academia.edu/6051758/How_Can_We_Treat_Refugees_Humanely_An_Australian_Perspective
Topic 28: August 18 2017 Good and Bad Manners - When is it rude to be rude?
An idiom from older English says "manners maketh* man" [*maketh = make. It comes from an earlier form of English grammar and is not used in modern English, except for a few idioms]
The idiom means that the quality of a person can be judged by whether they have good manners.
1. What is an example of good manners in Australia that might be bad manners in your home culture? Now what about the opposite?
2. Why are manners considered important (or not important) by different kinds of people?
3. Are good & bad manners related in any way to honesty? If so, can you think of an example?
4. Sometimes it is wise to break your own personal code of good manners. What would be an example of this?
5. When you are not sure of whether somebody is being deliberately rude to you, what is the best way to manage the situation?
6. How would the good (or bad) manners of a politician influence your vote?
7. Normally people in Australia walk on the left side of the footpath (there are even council by-laws requiring this). However I often come face to face with people walking on the right hand side who refuse to move. Usually I can guess they are foreigners. Why? Is this just bad manners or are they ignorant of the custom? How should I react?
8. We know what to expect from people in our family, and usually learn to tolerate their habits. On the other hand, we often "judge" strangers instantly. How can we calibrate what we expect from strangers, and only after that judge their intentions?
9. A lot of people are uncomfortable with being "politically correct", and want to express their true feelings. That is, they are told it is wrong to express racist/sexist/ageist opinions etc, even if they feel strongly. What is the best balance between public and private expression? [ example: this conflict seems to have influenced the vote for many Americans in the last presidential election.]
10. Newcomers to Australia are often told that "Australians are very direct". This is only sometimes true, and there are small language signals showing politeness which English learners can miss. New Australians, trying to speak "directly" like old Australians, can actually be quite rude. How can you solve this problem?
I worked in South Korea for 7 years. Koreans often found me rude, for cultural reasons, and I often found them rude, even if our intentions were good. I wrote an article about this: A colleague, a Korean professor, also translated the article into Korean: "When Is It Rude To Be Rude? - Politeness Across Cultures and Subcultures" - http://thormay.net/koreadiary/politeness.html
and 언제 무례하여 무례해지는가?" at http://thormay.net/koreadiary/politenesskr.html
Topic 27: August 4 2017: The Art of Conversation
1. Are you a greedy speaker? I am. It is a serious fault. Someone once told me angrily "you have two ears and one mouth. You should use them in that proportion!" An exasperated colleague once stuck a Peanuts cartoon on my office door. The cartoon said "It often shows a fine command of language to say nothing!" How can I cure this fault?
2. What is the best way to encourage someone into conversation?
3. In your opinion, what makes a good conversation?
4. What discourages you from having a conversation with another person?
5. How are your conversations influenced (if at all) by differences in age, gender, status, formal or informal situation, friend Vs colleague Vs acquaintance Vs service worker (shop assistants etc)?
6. What are the differences between 'small talk', gossip, and deep conversation?
7. As a man, when I was younger many women didn't really want to talk to me much because they thought I was trying to 'hit on them' (looking for sex). Usually I just wanted intelligent conversation, the same as with any man. Is this a common problem for both men and women? What is a solution? [Now at 71 I'm too old to care about this stuff!]
8. In your experience, coming a new country like Australia, what will Australians happily talk about, and what are they not interested in?
9. Everyone has lived a different life from you. They have had different experiences. Yet people often say they "have nothing to talk about". Really? Give some advice on starting conversations with complete strangers!
10. Japanese culture is famous for having long silences in conversations. In some other cultures, every moment should be filled up with words. How much silence are you comfortable with in conversations? Why?
Topic 25: 21 July 2017: Opinions - giving opinions, keeping quiet, disagreeing, agreeing to differ ..
There are cultural and personal differences about sharing opinions. Some people are very careful about it. Some don't care. In some countries it is dangerous to express certain opinions.
<> I think [that]..; I believe [that] .. ; In my opinion, ..; It seems to me that .. ; Did you know that .. ;
<> Another way to express an opinion is to tell a little story as a example
1. Who do you share your opinions with? Who do you avoid sharing opinions with?
2. What is an opinion that you have strongly?
3. Twitter and Facebook often express people's opinions. What do you think about that?
4. Many online comment opinions are anonymous [no name]. What do you think about that?
5. What is the best way to change another person's opinion? Give an example.
7. When should you disagree with someone's opinion, and when should you just shut up?
8. When should children be allowed to give their opinion (or not)?
9. How do men and women differ in how they give opinions?
10. In some cultures, people rarely express strong opinions until they are drunk. What do you think about this?
11. Sometimes people tell a joke to show their opinion. Is this a good method? Why?/why not?
Topic 25: July 7 2017: Work you can get, and work you want
1. What kind of work have you ever done (paid and unpaid)?
2. What kind of work would you like to get in the future?
3. Which is more important to you: free time or a high income?
4. How important is it to have a "career" with progress like promotions?
5. Do you prefer work controlling other people, or being told what to do, or working for yourself? Why?
6. Would you rather do part-time work or full-time work? Why?
7. What kind of freelancing could you do? ("freelancing" is working for yourself, usually by looking on the internet for contracts to do some short-term job. For example, you might bid to write a computer program, or paint a house).
8. In a few years automation (computers etc) might take over most jobs. What will you do? (Seriously, think about it! The government won't save you).
9. How do you think getting married and having children might control the kind of work you can do?
10. After 50 years old most people find it hard to get another job. What will you do then? [50 will come very quickly!]
11. To tell the truth, most jobs soon become boring for most people. How will you plan to have an interesting life?
<> a) an educated professional (e.g. an engineer); b) a bus driver; c) a housewife; d) a nurse; e) a politician; f) an elementary school student; g) a university student; h) a mid-life office worker; i) a retired man or woman; j) a teacher; k) a librarian; l) a salesman; m) a soldier; n) a diplomat; o) a journalist ...
1. What is a fair salary for me?
2. How many hours a week should I have to work or study?
3. What is the best way to relax?
4. What are the most interesting shops? Why?
5. What is the most interesting question in my life? ... and when can I expect to get an answer?
6. What people do I care about most?
7. What is something that I will probably never understand?
8. What am I most afraid of?
9. How should I plan for the future, or maybe should I just live day to day?
10. What are some problems I need to solve soon?