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.
Note: the 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.
Directions for Walk-and-Talk meetups: (These are different to the normal classroom meetups at the Adelaide Box Factory)
When? : Saturday 16 December 2017 [1st Walk-and-talk], 1pm - 2:30pm Riverside walk if the weather is fine
What happens? : Walk in 2 or 3s to talk in English about a topic (provided) or talk about whatever you like. Swap partners from time to time.
What to bring: Bring a sun hat and sunburn skin protection if it is sunny. Maybe bring some water too. After we return we might have a snack in some cafe.
Meet where?: Behind the Intercontinental Hotel facing the river and next to Adeliade Convention Centre
Legal note: Any meetup is at your own risk. For example, if you have an accident, the meetup organizer is not responsible. Stay safe!
a) go to the left hand side of Adelaide railway station
b) turn right beside the station and follow the path to the steps leading down to the river.
c) Walk past the Casino entrance on your right. The Intercontinental Hotel is on your left.
d) Walk between the two buildings and around to the back of the Intercontinental Hotel.
e) Turn left and walk a few metres to a small area with seats. We will wait there until everybody arrives.
d) After everyone has assembled we will walk down the steps to the river, turn right and follow the cycle path next to the river for about half an hour before turning back.
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?
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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)
Describe a journey that you have made. Remember as much detail as you can
about people, places and events.
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?
Can you remember any film or book or article about traveling somewhere? Tell
us about it.
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?
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?
When we travel things often go wrong. Can you talk about a travel experience
you had where something went wrong?
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).
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?
Is it best to travel alone, or with a partner, or in a group? Why?
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
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
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
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
Topic 18. 17 March 2017 : Playing “Devil’s Advocate”*
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
7. Public transport should be free.
8. Only people who speak English should be allowed to immigrate into
9. Some countries do not allow private schools. Australia should forbid
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
very best way to learn something is to teach it. (Teaching forces you to
organize and remember your ideas)
example: I am a diplomat (or spy!) coming to your country. Teach me how to
blend in with the local people without being noticed.
What is the best way for me to dress so I look like a local person?
What should I avoid talking about so I don’t upset local people?
What kind of people should I make friends with to help me quickly be accepted
by many local people?
How much should I tell local people about the country where I come from? Will
they be interested?
What is something I might offer to teach local people which they might find
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?
If my children go to school in your country, what will they have to do to be
accepted by the teachers and other children?
What kind of TV, sports and other things will the people in your country like
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?
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 ... ?
What were some things you imagined about Australia before you came here?
How has your view of your home country changed since you travelled overseas?
How did your ideas about paid work or a career change after you left school?
Do you think you would change as a person if you became very rich? How?
How have your ideas about friendship changed from when you were a child? How
many kinds of friendship are there?
What is something you thought you could never do that you finally succeeded
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?
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
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
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
What do you HOPE to achieve this year? What do you actually EXPECT to
What can prevent you from achieving your plans? Why?
What might help you in achieving your plans? How?
What is a bad habit you intend to change this year? (This is called a New
What do you expect to be doing in 5 years time (guess)?
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?
If you could choose to be a different person (at any time in history) who
would you choose to be? Why?
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?
a) What is the most interesting question in your life?; b) When do you expect
to get an answer to that question?
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
Topic 13. 16 December 2016 : Diet,
exercise, having a long and happy life
Exercise and certain diets have become fashionable for some people. Others
are sarcastic about diet and exercise. What do you think?
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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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?
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
What is your diet and exercise plan for the rest of your life?
Topic 12. 2 December 2016 : 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.
How is the Adelaide environment different from your home country?
What parts of the environment are most interesting to you personally? Why?
Most scientists agree that the world environment is changing because of human
activity. Some people disagree with this. What is your opinion?
What evidence for climate change do you know about?
How do you think that climate change might affect you and your children?
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?
Many deserts are partly man-made (Africa, China, The Middle East, Australia).
How does this process of making deserts actually happen?
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?
100 years ago most people in the world were farmers. Soon most people will
live in cities. What does this mean for the environment?
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?
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?
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
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
Topic 9. 21 October 2016 : Crime
and Punishment – compare countries
What do people in different cultures think is OK and think is bad?
How are children controlled when they are naughty?
Whose fault is it when things go wrong?
How should different kinds of criminals be punished? Rehabilitation?
Can the police be trusted?
Can the courts (judges) be trusted?
How can corruption be controlled?
When should people be sacked (lose their jobs)?
Topic 8. 7 October 2016 : Work
Working in different cultures and countries is not the same!
How you work and how your parents worked is not the same!
Working in different kinds of jobs is not the same!
=> 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.
What ingredients do you use?
How much of each? How many steps?
Imagine you are running a TV cooking show. How would you instruct a new cook?
What foods do you hate? Why?
Are the ingredients you get in Australia different?
How often do you eat out?
What are some good places to eat in Adelaide?
Do you usually eat with other people, or usually alone?
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
Compare your home city to Adelaide.
Compare speaking in English with speaking in your first language.
Compare one kind of food with another kind of food.
Topic 5. 26 August 2016 : Task: Work together in twos or
threes to demonstrate how to do something.
is useful in many situations. Examples :
1. Maybe somebody has just started a job and you need to teach them the
Maybe you are selling a very complicated vacuum cleaner.
Maybe someone has broken their leg in the bush.
=> Sometimes diagrams help. Here is an instruction diagram I used for
Topic 4. 19 August 2016 : INVESTIGATION! How to ask
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:
You are investigating a crime. (Describe the crime before you make up
You think somebody is a spy. Ask questions to trap them.
There has been a terrible accident. You are a journalist. Ask questions about
You own a shop. One of your employees is stealing money. What questions will
you ask them?
You have a teenage son or daughter. They have been out all night without
asking you. What questions will you ask them?
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.
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?
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
will practice talking about a personal interest.
have to make it interesting for us too!
this is a sport, or music, or a hobby, or something else
Topic 2. 18 July 2016 : English for Persuasion....example....
ME YOUR HOUSE!!
will practice pretending to sell something like your house, your car, your furniture...
is very good practice in learning to persuade someone in English. U
English is the best way to learn it, just like becoming an expert by playing
Topic 1. 4 July 2016 : Disagreeing in English
How do we disagree in (Australian) English?
How is this different from disagreeing in your first language?
=> Learning how to disagree in English is important for keeping friends and not
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).