Meeting different people is my favorite part about traveling. The people you meet on your travels can change your entire life’s trajectory by introducing you to new ideas and experiences that you wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.
As a foreigner in a foreign land, it’s crucial that you speak the local language so that you gain access to these opportunities. As your conversational abilities improve people will invite you to go deeper into their culture and you will discover worlds that are inaccessible to people who don’t speak the language.
If you travel to a foreign country and value meeting new people, you will find yourself having the same conversation over and over again.
People are naturally going to be curious about you and they’ll want to know more about your experience. It’s not every day that they meet someone form where you’re from. It’s interesting form them to hear an outsiders perspective on their country.
Repetitive conversations are a godsend for language learners. Since you know that everyone is going to ask you more or less the same questions, you can quickly get fluent in this aspect of the conversation through constant practice.
Take some time to think about what you are going to say in these situations and you will feel more confident and leave a stronger first impression when you meet people.
Every time you meet someone new and have this conversation, you will think of ways that you could improve for next time. Your pronunciation might be slightly off. Your delivery might be stunted and unnatural. You might want to use a word that you can’t think of in the moment.
The first hundred or so times you have these conversations you might feel uncomfortable, but that’s a good thing. That discomfort that you’re feeling is a sign that you need to improve something. Take note of why you felt uncomfortable and work on improving that part of your speech.
Once you get proficient in handling these conversations you might start to get bored of having the same conversation all the time. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for having gone from being unable to introduce yourself in a basic way to being so proficient that you find this part of the conversation to be boring.
If you get bored by your answers, you should examine what you’re saying and find ways to make your answers more interesting. Instead of simply giving direct answers to these questions, start giving answers that lead people to be curious about you and make them ask more interesting questions.
If someone asks you, “Why are you learning Portuguese?” initially you might answer by saying something like, “Because I want to live in Brazil.”
If this answer is boring to you, start giving more interesting answers that reveal your personality and hint at your life story.
An example would be saying something like, “I first started learning Portuguese so that I could talk with my in-laws, but when I moved to Brazil my goal became to understand what is going on in the news.”
This answer gives the other person many ways they can take the conversation. They can ask about your spouse, your in-laws, the experience of moving to Brazil, what is going on in the news, etc. This sometimes means you can skip the rest of the boring questions and dive straight into topics that are more fun for you.
My current answer is, “The more Portuguese that I learn, the more that the secrets of the universe start to reveal themselves to me.” This is a very unexpected statement with a lot of things baked inside of it. I use this to find out how open minded people are, since the way that someone responds to my answer tells me a lot about them.
Come up with more creative answers to all of the questions, since you don’t always know which of the questions people are going to ask.
When you’re first starting out though, your goal should be to confidently answers these questions and leave the impression that you understand their language.
It’s important to leave this impression, because people will be more willing to invite you to do things if they think you can take care of yourself and not need help from a translator. Even if you’re not quite at the point where you can participate without the help of a translator, it’s important to put yourself outside of your comfort zone and be in situations where you feel completely lost.
Don’t underestimate the importance of first impressions. If things aren’t going the way you want them to in whichever country you’re in, work to improve the quality of your answers to the questions that everyone asks you.
To get you started, here are the top 20 questions that people ask foreigners.
1. Where are you from?
2. Why are you learning Portuguese?
3. How long have you been studying?
4. Whats the purpose of your visit here?
5. Why on Earth are you here when everyone wants to go to your country?
6. How long will you be here?
7. What have you already seen?
8. What do you think of the weather?
9. Do you have friends or family here?
10. Where are you staying?
11. Are you married?
12. How old are you?
13. Do you have family, kids?
14. What do you do?
15. Whats it like where you’re from?
16. What do you think of this country?
17. What do you think of the women/men here?
18. Have you ever been to ___?
19. Have you ever tried ___?
20. Do you have plans tonight? Tomorrow? Now?