Adelaide ESL Meetup -  All Discussion Questions


The discussion questions below have been created by Thor May to encourage English speaking practice in a bi-weekly meetup. The question-core approach for speaking appears to work well. The process of creating questions is itself one of the most empowering skills that anyone can practice in any language.

Thor May contact:



1. English as a Second Language Meetup site:

2. This group now also has a Facebook Page at
3. An index of general (non ESL) discussion topics from earlier meetups run by Thor is online at

[The general discussion topics are more complex than the ESL discussion topics on this ESL page ( )]

4. Articles on many topics by Thor May at :

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 AESL-Walk&Talk.htm


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.

3. Imagine 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 grammar?

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 problem?

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]

7. 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 causes?

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? Why?

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 their lives?

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 this?

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 day?

2. After doing something you hate but have to do, how do you 'reward' yourself?

3. What is a small favour you might do for a friend?

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?

6. 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?

8. 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 Australia?

3. What are the most expensive things in Australia compared to other places? Why do you think they are expensive?

4. 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 world? Why?

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? Why?

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. Peter]


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 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 choose?

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 example.

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? Why/why not?

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 your evidence?


Topic 51 13 July 2018 How well should you speak English?

Here is some political news: "Migrants could face primary school-level English test, says Turnbull" l

1. How long did it take you to reach a conversational level in English?

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?

8. When 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?

2. 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 not?

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?

10. 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?

3. What do you think Australians joke about a lot? Do any of the jokes offend you?

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)?

5. With 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 solution is?

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 people cry?

9. Some people cry very easily, and others never cry. Why do you think this is?

10. What makes you sad, and what makes you happy?


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 hours).

2. What do you do in your spare time? Why do you do those things?

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?

9. Have 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 this place!


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 income. Why?

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?

7. Most 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 not?

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 life? Why?

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? Why/why not?

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?

8. From 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?

9. Large 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?

10. 'Confirmation 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 learning?

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 tourism?

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 problems?

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?

5. How 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 for 'excitement'?


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 holiday break?

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 Australia?


Topic 43 23 March 2018 Help me to buy a house and furnish it

1. Where would you like to live in Adelaide? Why?

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 property?

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?

9. After 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 neighbours.

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 visit? Why?

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?

7. 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?

10. On 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

1. Tell your partner 5 questions you would LIKE to be asked in a job interview.

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 him/her?


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!!]

1. How 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 needs.

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 shoes.

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 country?

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?

7. 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 difference?

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)? Explain why.

3. What do you refuse to eat, sometimes or always? Why?

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 about it?

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



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?


Extra reading:

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" -
and 언제 무례하여 무례해지는가?" at



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?


Topic 24: 23 June 2017 - Pretend to be someone else -  "The most Interesting and Puzzling Questions for a Chameleon"

<> A chameleon is a small animal (a lizard) which can change its colours in different situations. We call someone a chameleon if they change their opinions or actions in an unexpected way.

<> In this meetup we are going to play a game of pretending to be different people; (you have to "change your colour" like a chameleon). We will then ask your opinion while you are each different person. If you can put yourself in the shoes of someone else, we say that you have "empathy".

<> For example, imagine you are an angry old man. As an angry old man, what is your opinion about, say, smart phones? Now imagine you are a middle school student. As a middle school student, what is your opinion about smart phones?

<> Here is the grammar for answering questions like this: "IF I WERE an angry old man I WOULD ...."

<> Here are some different people you can pretend to be (please think of others too): 

<> 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 ...

<> Here are some questions you can answer while you pretend to be these different people (please think of other questions too):

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?



Topic 23: 9 June 2017 - Surviving the Human Jungle – liars, cheats, thieves, animals in the forest 

This topic is a little funny (sometimes!) but it is a good talking subject. We all have experience in “the human jungle”. Here are some questions to start the discussion:

1. What is a story you remember about being cheated?

2. People who tell lies all the time are called “pathological liars”. Describe someone you know about who is a pathological liar (you can change names).

3. Almost everyone tells small, social lies sometimes, like “I am sick today”. These small lies are called “white lies” or “fibs”. How often can you tell fibs without getting a bad reputation?

4. There is a common idea that women lie more than men. Is this true? Why would people say it? Do men and women usually lie about the same kinds of things?

5. The people in some cultures and some countries have a reputation for usually telling the truth. Other culture groups have a reputation for lying often. These differences also exist among different groups and areas of a country, and at different times in history. What do you think causes a lot of lying in a country/culture?

6. Trust depends upon people telling the truth. In some places, only family members are trusted. In other places there is a fair amount of wide social trust in a country. What are the advantages of having wide social trust in a community?

7. We hear bad news all the time on radio, television, in newspapers etc. (bad news sells, good news is boring). Therefore many people become afraid. Actually, if you check the real statistics, most places in the world are much safer than a generation ago. How can we challenge false fears?

8. Coming to a new country, people sometime think they are being cheated. Maybe they just didn’t understand the local laws and customs. Do you know about this happening to anyone in Australia?

9. My mother refused to lock any door in her house for 93 years. (This is common in rural places). The house I live in now has security alarms and many locks. When does too much “security” actually make you a prisoner?.

10. What is the best way to teach children to be honest? (Or do some people teach their children to cheat and lie?).




Topic 22.  26 May 2017 :  Money !!


1. Why is money so important in people’s lives?

2. Do men and women often have a different attitude to money? If so, how and why?

3. Some people prefer to ‘live for the day’ while others think they should always save some money. Which group do you belong to? Why?

4. The Australian government has lately been talking about “good debt” and “bad debt”. What do you think they mean by this?

5. Many psychological studies show that for most people, the more money they have, the more they want. At the same time they become less generous. Why is this?

6. Currency (money) issued by the government used to be guaranteed by gold. Now it is not (it is called fiat currency). What happens when people lose confidence in fiat currency?

7. What will be the most expensive things you buy in your life? Are the most expensive things the same in Australia as in other countries?

8. How important is money for your idea of lifetime success? Why / Why not?

9. If you had a billion dollars, what would you do with it? Really?

10. In England 500 years ago it was common to say that “money is the root of all evil”. What did this mean? What, if anything, has changed?





Topic 21.  12 May 2017 :  Do you really believe that !?   

Sometimes we are amazed by what other people believe. Sometimes it is scary. So we might ask where they got those ideas from and how they are likely to act. For example, 19% of Americans believe that they are in the top 1% of income earners, while a further 20% are sure that they will achieve the status in their lifetime (Gigerenzer 2014) . Huh!?!

1. What, in your opinion, are some crazy things that other people believe? [Be polite. We don’t want to upset our friends ^_^ ]

2. We hear a lot about “fake news” lately. Why do people believe this stuff? How do you know when news is fake?

3. What kind of lies are people most likely to believe? Give an example.

4. How often do you doubt professional people like medical doctors? [Professionals often believe they know things when they don’t. For example, Professor Gurt Gigerenza has found that 80% of doctors don’t understand statistics. “In one Australian study of fifty doctors, only thirteen said they could explain what the “positive predictive value” is (the probability of a disease given a positive test). And when asked to do so, only one succeeded.” ]

5. Who do you believe the most and who do you believe the least? Why?

6. What is the best way to persuade someone that something they believe is wrong?

7. An alternative to believing something is to be agnostic about it (say “I don’t know if it is true or not”). What are some things you agnostic about?

8. A quarter of Americans don’t know that the earth revolves around the sun (Poladian 2014). Does it matter that so many people are ignorant about basic science?

9. Do you believe that much of what you learn in school, college and university will be useful when you get a job? If not, how else will this knowledge be useful for you?

10. What are the things that you believe most strongly?





Topic 20.  28 April 2017 :  Travelling (2)


1 Describe a journey that you have made. Remember as much detail as you can about people, places and events.

2. At this moment about half a million people are in the air flying somewhere. Only a generation ago these journeys had to be made by sea or rail or road. What are some ways (good and bad) that air travel has changed the quantity and quality of travel?

3. Can you remember any film or book or article about traveling somewhere? Tell us about it.

4. Some people travel with no more than a T-shirt and a toothbrush. Others take many suitcases. How do you prepare before you take a long journey?

5. Travel can be for a holiday, or for business, or to emigrate, or for education, or for many other purposes. What kind of travel do you like best? Why?

6. When we travel things often go wrong. Can you talk about a travel experience you had where something went wrong?

7. Some people like tourism, and some people hate it. What are good and bad things about tourism? (think about personal experience, the environment, business, the national economy, an so on).

8. Now more and more people take selfies and digital photos of everywhere they go. This is quite new. Do people experience more, or experience less when they photo everything? Why?

9. Is it best to travel alone, or with a partner, or in a group? Why?

10. Newspapers, TV, media, are always full of stories about wars, danger, revolutions, terrorists, and other threats. Is this a false picture of the world? How dangerous really is it to travel to other places? What precautions, if any, do you take?




Topic 19.  31 March 2017 : Making Questions About a Topic   


Task: With your partner, write down three questions on each topic below, then try to answer. Remember, you are practising English, so say as much as you can.

1. Now there are over 60 million refugees in the world who have no country. (Australia's population is 24 million).

2. First generation immigrants to a new country always have their heart in two places.

3. Many Australian university classes are now full of overseas students. Is this a good thing?

4. Countries with the longest working hours and least holidays often have the lowest productivity per worker.

5. Most Australians live in large cities but many love to own big 4 wheel drive SUV vehicles. Are they crazy?

6. Australians now probably spend more time in supermarkets than any other place. When I was a child, there were no supermarkets ...

7. In 1980, 10% of Australians were overweight. In 2017 more than 60% of Australians are overweight. An estimate is that by 2025, 85% of Australians will be overweight.

8. People in every culture have a different sense of humour. Newcomers to Australia often have a problem with the Australian sense of humour.

9. In some countries, people are very careful about how they dress in public. In other countries people don't care much. These fashions also change over time.

10. Mother's are supposed to be the best cooks, but maybe this is a myth. My mother was a terrible cook. How do people come to like certain kinds of cooking?




Topic 18.   17 March 2017 :  Playing “Devil’s Advocate”


[*This is a good idea borrowed from the Catholic Church (note: personally I have no religion). When the Pope speaks, all Catholics are supposed to obey what he says. Therefore he must be careful. The Pope has a special helper, a bishop called The Devil’s Advocate. The job of the Devil’s Advocate is to test every idea the Pope has by opposing it with strong arguments. If the Devil’s Advocated finds weaknesses in the Pope’s idea, then the Pope will give it up. If the Devil’s Advocate can find no weaknesses, then the Pope feels confident and speaks in public. Personally I think that being a good Devil’s Advocate is a very, very important job to help good decisions everywhere].

Task: Play the Devil’s Advocate with your partner. Whatever they suggest, you look for weaknesses and counter-arguments. For example:

1. Passports are a fairly new idea. Let’s have a system again where people can travel worldwide without passports.

2. Everybody should be paid a Universal Basic Income for living needs. After that they can work extra if they want money for other things.

3. In Australia now, married couples separate on average after 8.7 years and divorce after 12.3 years. Therefore marriage contracts should be short term, not for a lifetime. [These numbers are similar in most countries now]

4. Most people are naturally lazy (physically and mentally). There should be some kind of tax on laziness to discourage it.

5. Most diseases now are a result of eating too much, not under-eating. Gluttony used to be one of “the seven deadly sins”. People should have to pay for illnesses that come from eating too much.

6. Wars are a disaster for everyone except arms companies Therefore we should abolish armies.

7. Public transport should be free.

8. Only people who speak English should be allowed to immigrate into Australia.

9. Some countries do not allow private schools. Australia should forbid private schools.

10. It doesn’t matter how you dress. People will see your true character, no matter what you wear.




Topic 17.   3 March 2017 : Teach me something!

The very best way to learn something is to teach it. (Teaching forces you to organize and remember your ideas)

1. example: I am a diplomat (or spy!) coming to your country. Teach me how to blend in with the local people without being noticed.

2. What is the best way for me to dress so I look like a local person?

3. What should I avoid talking about so I don’t upset local people?

4. What kind of people should I make friends with to help me quickly be accepted by many local people?

5. How much should I tell local people about the country where I come from? Will they be interested?

6. What is something I might offer to teach local people which they might find useful?

7. When I have to deal with officials in your country, how should I behave? What is the best way to get what I want from officials?

8. If my children go to school in your country, what will they have to do to be accepted by the teachers and other children?

9. What kind of TV, sports and other things will the people in your country like talking about?

10. If I am looking for a house to rent in your country, what questions should I ask the owner or agent? What information will they want from me?




Topic  16.    17 February 2017 :  How does your thinking change with time and experience?


1. What was/will be the most interesting question in your life when you were/will be 8 years old .... 15 y.o. .... 20 y.o. ... 25 y.o. ... 30, 35, 40, 60, 100 ... ?

2. What were some things you imagined about Australia before you came here?

3. How has your view of your home country changed since you travelled overseas?

4. How did your ideas about paid work or a career change after you left school?

5. Do you think you would change as a person if you became very rich? How?

6. How have your ideas about friendship changed from when you were a child? How many kinds of friendship are there?

7. What is something you thought you could never do that you finally succeeded in doing?

8. The young often want to “change the world to a better place” while the old are often more satisfied with “finding a comfortable place in the world as it is”. Why do people alter like this as they grow older?

9. My mother (who is 93) didn’t see a light switch until she was 12 years old. What are some technical things that have greatly changed your experience of life?

10. At what age do you think most people become happiest? Why?




Topic  15.  27 January 2017 :  The Meaning of Travel  (1)      

1. What does the word “travel” make you think of?

2. “The journey is more important than the destination”. What do you think this idiom means?

3. Most tourists want their travel experience to be only a little different from home: same food, same laws, same hotel rooms etc . Why do you think this is so?

4. What custom in another country did you find hardest to accept or adapt to?

5. How is the experience of working in another country different from the experience of being a student there? How are both different from just being a tourist?

6. “Medical tourism” is a very fast growing industry. For example dentistry can be 5 times more expensive in Australia than some other countries. What do you think are some risks and benefits of medical tourism?

7. How much reading and Internet research do you do before you visit another country?  Do you think learning about a country and culture before visiting can improve your experience when you go? Why/why not?

8. Most tourist photos are of ‘famous places’ and of the tourists themselves. There are already thousands of photos of these places, so what is the purpose of the photos? What might make more interesting photos of foreign places?

9. What difference does speaking another language make to your travel experience?

10.  Has travel changed your attitudes? Why/why not?





Topic  14.  13 January 2017 :  Plans for the New Year 

At the beginning of each year we think of all the things we would like to do in the next 12 months. We also think of our bad habits we plan to change! So how about you?

1. What do you HOPE to achieve this year? What do you actually EXPECT to achieve?

2. What can prevent you from achieving your plans? Why?

3. What might help you in achieving your plans? How?

4. What is a bad habit you intend to change this year? (This is called a New Year Resolution)

5. What do you expect to be doing in 5 years time (guess)?

6. Sometimes world events and politics force us to change our plans. What might happen in the world in the next 12 months which could change our lives?

7. If you could choose to be a different person (at any time in history) who would you choose to be? Why?

8. Number these things from the most important to the least important: a) money; b) friends; c) good health; d) time to do what you want to do.  Why did you make those choices?

9. a) What is the most interesting question in your life?; b) When do you expect to get an answer to that question?

10. Give a description of the best year in your life so far. (Paint a picture with words. Remember that you have ideas, feelings and 5 senses – hearing, touch, taste, smell and vision. Try to use words for these things in your description).





Topic 13.   16 December 2016 :  Diet, exercise, having a long and happy life

1. Exercise and certain diets have become fashionable for some people. Others are sarcastic about diet and exercise. What do you think?

2. 63.4% of Australians are overweight and it is getting worse every year. What is the cure? What is the situation in your home country with obesity? (e.g. see this China Daily report )

3. The world's oldest woman is 117 years. She is Italian and for 90 years has lived on 3 eggs a day (2 of them raw) and a few biscuits. She hates vegetables! Would you follow this diet plan? Why or why not?

4. In experiments, rats on a restricted diet live about 30% longer. People were healthiest in England during World War II, when everybody was on rations. Would you eat less to live longer?

5. Your organizer, Thor, is 71 y.o. and runs 3 times a day, 8 km altogether. He has been running since 16 y.o. and thinks it keeps him young. Why do so few people do real exercise after about 30 y.o. ?  What about you?

6. Mental illness is common. Each year about a quarter of Americans  (57.7 million) suffer mental illness, and about 1 in 5 Australians. What is the number for your home country? Much mental illness comes from being unable to manage stress. Exercise makes you resilient against stress. Why do people use drugs, medicines, alcohol ... as a solution to stress when exercise works better?

7. "green", "organic", "healthy", "wellness" are very popular words in advertising now. Many businesses make money from the fashion for health. How does this influence what people really do, or is it all just talk and wishes?

8. Quite a few people now wear an 'activity tracker'. For example I wear a Fitbit Charge HR. This constantly measures my heart rate, how many steps I take each day, how long I am active, how long I sleep ... and so on. In your opinion, how useful is this kind of information? Would it influence your personal diet and exercise?

9. Maybe until about 30 y.o. being fit and healthy is about being sexy. Maybe for older people being fit and healthy is about staying alive! What do you think?

10. What is your diet and exercise plan for the rest of your life?




Topic  12.   2 December 2016 :  The Environment

“The Environment” can have many meanings. It may mean just where you live, or it may mean the whole world. The environment may include the atmosphere (temperature, pollution, rainfall etc), the oceans, wildlife, the land, food, human buildings and society, and so on. Many people have an opinion about “the environment” because it is changing, maybe dangerously.

1. How is the Adelaide environment different from your home country?

2. What parts of the environment are most interesting to you personally? Why?

3. Most scientists agree that the world environment is changing because of human activity. Some people disagree with this. What is your opinion?

4. What evidence for climate change do you know about?

5. How do you think that climate change might affect you and your children?

6. Many world political leaders now believe that human caused climate change is a big, urgent problem. They think it could destroy most human life. They are trying to make agreements to control it. Some leaders think it is nonsense. The American government (Obama) thinks it is very important, but the new President (Trump) apparently thinks it is nonsense. The Chinese government thinks it is important. The Russian government (Putin) thinks it is nonsense. The Australian government (ruling party) doesn’t really believe it. What do you think will happen?

7. Many deserts are partly man-made (Africa, China, The Middle East, Australia). How does this process of making deserts actually happen?

8. More people are alive now (over 7 billion) than would exist if we put all the dead people in history together. How does this huge number of living people affect the environment?

9. 100 years ago most people in the world were farmers. Soon most people will live in cities. What does this mean for the environment?

10. There is a big argument (worldwide) between a) people who believe that making money is the most important aim, and b) people who believe that money is less important than having a healthy environment for everyone. Which side of this argument are you on? Why?




Topic  11.  18 November 2016 :  Why do I think like this?

1. How independent are you? (really?)

2.  How important are other opinions to you?

3.  Whose opinions influence you the most?

4.  Which media do you get information from?

5.  How do media controllers try to influence your opinions?

6.  Why do media controllers try to influence your opinions?

7. What is the best way for someone to change your mind?

8.  If you study a course, how reliable is the information?

9.  Do you usually trust your teachers or your textbooks more?

10.  How often do you try to change other people’s opinions?

11.  What opinions would you like to change in others?

12.  How do you change other people’s opinions?

13.  What do you think “manufacturing consent” means?

14.  What do you think “confirmation bias” means?




Topic  10.  18 November 2016 :  A Day in Your Life  – compare countries


1. Describe your day, in TWO countries, from the time you get out of bed until the time you sleep again.

2.  Who are the people you meet or see on a typical day in these two countries: How do they look? How do they speak to you?

3. Describe your house or apartment in each of these two countries

4. What do you see on the streets in these two different countries?

5. Give a “guided tour”, step by step, hour by hour, in each of these two countries

6.  What amuses you, and what annoys you during your day in each of these two countries?





Topic  9.  21 October 2016 :  Crime and Punishment  – compare countries


1. What do people in  different cultures think is OK and think is bad?

2. How are children controlled when they are naughty?

3. Whose fault is it when things go wrong?

4. How should different kinds of criminals be punished? Rehabilitation?

5. Can the police be trusted?

6. Can the courts (judges) be trusted?

7. How can corruption be controlled?

8. When should people be sacked (lose their jobs)?




Topic 8.  7 October 2016 :  Work Culture

1. Working in different cultures and countries is not the same!

2. How you work and how your parents worked is not the same!

3. Working in different kinds of jobs is not the same!

4.  => In this meetup you will talk about working in different countries, working in different generations and working in different jobs. Think of examples, ask your friends, ask strangers. You will be more successful when you can adapt to these differences.



Topic 7.  23 September 2016 : Food! Tell us exactly how to prepare your favourite dinner.

1. What ingredients do you use?

2. How much of each? How many steps?

3. Imagine you are running a TV cooking show. How would you instruct a new cook?

 4. What foods do  you hate? Why?

5. Are the ingredients you get in Australia different? 

6. How often do you eat out?

7. What are some good places to eat in Adelaide?

8. Do you usually eat with other people, or usually alone?

9. Is only one person the cook in your family?

10. Australians try many different national dishes, but often immigrants only eat their own national dishes. Why?



Topic 6.  9 September 2016 :  Practice comparing things. For example ..


1. Compare your home city to Adelaide.

2. Compare speaking in English with speaking in your first language.

3. Compare one kind of food with another kind of food.

4. Compare one job with another job.

5. Compare one person with another person

… and so on.

Here are two websites for comparing the cost of living between any two cities in the world: 1. Expatistan ; 2. Numbeo



Topic 5.  26 August 2016 :  Task: Work together in twos or threes to demonstrate how to do something.

This is useful in many situations. Examples :

1.  Maybe somebody has just started a job and you need to teach them the routine.

2. Maybe you are selling a very complicated vacuum cleaner.

3. Maybe someone has broken their leg in the bush.

4. =>  Sometimes diagrams help. Here is an instruction diagram I used for teaching nurses:




Topic 4.  19 August 2016 :  INVESTIGATION! How to ask questions

We will practice asking questions. The answers you get in life depend upon how clever your questions are. If you can't ask good questions then you become a zombie!  Work in pairs: one person is the interrogator (questionar), one is the person being questioned. Examples:


1. You are investigating a crime. (Describe the crime before you make up questions).

2. You think somebody is a spy. Ask questions to trap them.

3. There has been a terrible accident. You are a journalist. Ask questions about the accident.

4. You own a shop. One of your employees is stealing money. What questions will you ask them?

5. You have a teenage son or daughter. They have been out all night without asking you. What questions will you ask them?

6. You come from a hot country but you are going to a very cold country. What questions will you ask your friend before you go.

7. You are very attracted to a man or woman but are too embarrassed to talk to them at first. What questions might you ask someone else who knows them?

8.  You have never been out of the city before, but your car breaks down in the countryside. What questions might you ask a local farmer?

9. You have an idea for starting a new business, but you have never tried to start a business before. What questions might you ask an advisor?

10. Your boyfriend or girlfriend thinks you have no fashion sense. They are embarrassed to be seen with you. What questions can you ask about how to be more fashionable?



Topic 3.  1 August 2016 :  TALK ABOUT AN INTEREST YOU HAVE


We will practice talking about a personal interest.

You have to make it interesting for us too!

Maybe this is a sport, or music, or a hobby, or something else



Topic  2.   18 July 2016 : English for Persuasion....example....



We will practice pretending to sell something like your house, your car,  your furniture...

This is very good practice in learning to persuade someone in English. U

sing English is the best way to learn it, just like becoming an expert by playing a game.




Topic 1.   4 July 2016 : Disagreeing in English


1. How do  we disagree in (Australian) English?

2. How is this different from disagreeing in your first language?

=>  Learning how to disagree in English is important for keeping friends and not making enemies!



Convention centre inquiry (27 September 2017)



Professional bio: Thor May has a core professional interest in cognitive linguistics, at which he has rarely succeeded in making a living. He has also, perhaps fatally in a career sense, cultivated an interest in how things work – people, brains, systems, countries, machines, whatever… In the world of daily employment he has mostly taught English as a foreign language, a stimulating activity though rarely regarded as a profession by the world at large. His PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of finding his way out of working class origins, through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia to England in 1972).


Adelaide ESL Meetup -  All Discussion Questions ©Thor May 2018

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