Sharing ideas and information is a window into other cultures; doing it in their language provides an instant connection, making conversation a bridge between strangers.
Not knowing other peoples’ backgrounds may seem a barrier, but is really an opening… how better to learn another’s language than to talk about things that span your cultures? Spanish and English have many words with latin rooths – music/música, dentist/dentista, stomach/estómago among others- are already connections with which to begin.
With or without shared words, such commonalities make a good starting point. From there, conversations will flow easily. Find out what other people experience, how they live. Say, “Tell me about going to school where you grew up” (in Spanish Cuéntame cómo era ir a la escuela donde creciste). Or investigate interests – “In my town, we enjoy listening to music. Do you and your friends like Adele?” (in Spanish En mi pueblo, disfrutamos escuchando música. ¿Os gusta Adele a ti y a tus amigos?) You could inquire, “Do you live in the city or in the country?” (¿Vives en la ciudad o en el campo?) and if he prefers one to the other, ask why.
Activities provide a broad variety of ideas to discuss. Whether it’s sports, the arts, or studying foreign languages, there is much to expand on and compare. Begin by asking, “What do people where you live do for fun?” If the answer is something you’ve also done, you can share stories. If it’s new to you, wonder aloud why one country is fascinated with football while another likes futbol (soccer). Examine the differences!
Whatever opening questions you choose to initiate a conversation, you will encounter vocabulary which you have not experienced previously. You will find similar ideas expressed in very different ways – where you might say you’d like to put your two cents into a discussion, in Spanish it would be expressed as adding a grain of sand… un granito de arena, so direct translations don’t always express your thoughts.
Be prepared to note words to be looked up and studied; be open to discovering that it will sometimes be necessary to rephrase your English thought to fit into the Spanish language’s structure, as in “I like the book,” which becomes “me gusta el libro” or the book pleases me.