How to Avoid Embarrassment

 

How to Prevent Your Mind Going Blank

 

Chinese students studying abroad – like all students studying outside their native countries – often worry that they may find themselves in embarrassing situations. For example, have you ever had an experience similar to the following: someone asks you a question; you start to answer; but suddenly you find that your mind has gone blank, and you seem to have completely lost your ability to speak English?

An unexpected question can be stressful – particularly when you are in a foreign country, particularly when you are among a group of strangers, and especially if you are ordinarily a little shy. And that stress can temporarily impair your language skills.

The remedy for awkward silences is to prepare answers for the types of question that you can expect to be asked:

  • Where are you from?

  • What’s it like in Chengdu?

  • Is it polluted?

  • What’s the weather like?

  • Where are you studying?

  • What are you studying?


And, yes, I’m sure you can think of many, many more.

Write down a list of questions you might be asked and the corresponding answers. Then practice: pick questions at random and try to reply without looking at the answers. Doing so also serves as a very useful way to practise your English – it always helps to practise using language that you might actually use, and to do so in a context that you might actually use it in.
 

How to Avoid Being the Centre of Attention

Have you ever had an experience similar to the following: you’re in a group; someone asks you a question; you answer; someone else asks you a question; you answer; and then the questions keep on coming, one after another? Being subjected to a constant stream of questions can be very uncomfortable, particularly if you’re not fluent in English, particularly if you’re among a group of strangers, and especially if by nature you’re quiet, diffident, self-conscious.

One of the reasons why the questions may keep coming is that they serve to keep the conversation going: someone has asked you a question; you’ve answered; and now there is an awkward pause in the conversation, a pause that must be filled. There is a simple solution to avoiding this unwelcome level of attention: learn to ask your own questions.

Prepare in advance a long list of questions that you can ask other people:

  • Where are you from?

  • What’s it like in London?

  • Is it polluted?

  • What’s the weather like?

  • Where are you studying?

  • What are you studying?


As you will have noticed, the questions that you might ask other people are very similar to the questions that they might ask you. But you should be able to come up with some extra questions that are specific to the location where you will be staying, to the people you will be meeting.
 
There is a trick to avoiding unwelcome questions: wait until someone asks you a question; reply with a very short answer; and then follow that answer immediately with a question of your own. When you ask questions, you’ll find that many people will give long answers. When you sense that the person who is answering your question has said just about all that he or she is going to say, then ask another question:

  • Other Person: Where are you from?

  • You: Chengdu. And what about you?

  • Other Person: I’m originally from Birmingham, but now I live in London?

  • You: What’s it like in London?

  • Other Person: It's okay. But there are too many people. I’d really like to live in the country.

  • You: Any place in particular?


As you can see, in this way, you end up asking the questions, and you avoid becoming the centre of attention. What you’ll often find in a group setting is that when someone answers a question that you’ve asked, someone else will ask that person yet another question, leaving you to watch from the sidelines – which is exactly where you want to be.

Pick a question at random from your list. Answer it as yourself, and then immediately ask another question from your list – one that is appropriate given the context. Answer that question as the person you are speaking to might do; then ask another question as yourself. Keep the dialogue going in this manner for as long as possible. Even if you practice for only ten minutes a day, you’ll soon find that you have become a very good conversationalist – even with a very limited knowledge of English.
 

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