A common issue for students in Canada, especially long-term students, is that they have trouble meeting and making friends with Canadians. In this blog series, we offer some advice on how to break the barriers and start talking to Canadians.

 

Part I: Building Confidence

 

A common problem that international students have in Toronto is that they tend to hang out with each other, going to hotspots that are popular with international students, not ‘real’ Canadians. In order to get a full immersive experience, it is important for students to spend time outside of class practising what they learn in class.

The problem is that although Torontonians are very polite, it’s not always easy to get to know them. While often close to each other physically (on public transport, in restaurants, on the street), Canadians do not usually start conversations with strangers other than a polite “sorry” or “thank you”. Of course this is not always true, but for the most part you will not have much luck meeting strangers out and about.

So what can you do to engage with English speakers in a real, natural context? Most students of English complain that they are not confident enough to start a conversation with a stranger in English. If that’s you, don’t worry! It’s completely normal. Below are some suggestions on how you can build confidence speaking English in the real world.

 

The best way to break the confidence barrier is to start small.

Practise at shops and restaurants by extending the short conversations you would normally have with employees. Here’s an example of a typical exchange between a store employee and a customer:

 

Employee: That will be $23.50. Would you like a bag?

Customer: No, thank you.

Employee: How will you be paying?

Customer: Cash.

Employee: Your change is $1.50. Have a nice day!

Customer: Thank you.

 

Pretty basic, right? Look for opportunities to talk to store employees or servers in restaurants a little longer. After all, they’re paid to be there and be nice to customers! For instance, many times when you are checking-out at a store the clerk will ask you if you want to donate to a charity. To extend the conversation, you could ask questions about the charity. What is it? What do they do? How much money have they raised so far? If the employee doesn’t know all the answers, that’s okay! In any case, make sure you donate a loonie ($1) or toonie ($2) after asking questions about it to be polite.

 

Another great resource for speaking practice is your local librarian.

Most public libraries in Toronto have a section with English language resources. Ask the librarian questions about the material and get some help finding things that are of interest to you and at the right level. Find out how you can get a library card during your stay in Toronto.

 

If you’re not into libraries, try taking guided tours at museums and galleries in Toronto.

The Royal Ontario Museum offers guided tours free with your admission ticket, as does the Art Gallery of Ontario. Not only will you get some excellent listening practice, but you may also find the opportunity to ask questions during or after the tour and strike up a conversation with your guide. Don’t be shy! Tour guides in Toronto are accustomed to dealing with learners of English and non-native speakers.

 

Vocabulary and Phrasal Verbs 

Match the following words and phrases with their definition on the right.

 

to hang out with

a)      to be used to

to tend to

b)      to become familiar with someone by spending time with them

a hotspot

c)      a person from Toronto

Torontonian

d)     to start talking to someone

to get to know someone

e)      to enjoy

to strike up a conversation

f)       to spend time with someone casually

to be into

g)      a popular place

to be accustomed to

h)      to do something usually or commonly in a particular situation

 

Verb patterns: Infinitives and Gerunds

Match the beginning of the first sentence to the second half on the right.

 

I need to spend more time

a)      to skip class on Fridays.

She is not accustomed to

b)      finding your keys?

Many students tend

c)      studying for my exams.

Have you had any luck

d)     skydiving. 

I want to try

e)      to reach the top shelf for me?

Could you try

f)       eating Canadian food.

 

 

 Try any or all of these three steps to start building confidence when speaking English outside of the classroom. Take a look at our previous blog post to find out our top tips for studying in Canada.