Asking good questions in real conversations

One of the best forms of learning is, in my opinion, a good conversation with native speakers. One of the keys to a good conversation is asking good questions.
I find myself often thinking that there could be much more gain in a conversation, if I was just able to ask an appropriate question, instead of just そうですね and the like.

Therefore I would like to hear: what are your favorite questions to start a conversation, keep it going or otherwise found useful?
(This also includes phrases which would normally be phrased as questions in English, but not necessarily in Japanese.)


I’m not really at the level of having conversations with a Japanese native right now, but generally to keep conversations going in English:

  • If it is a hobby, ask about how they got into it, if they do it with others, how long they’ve been doing it for, related hobbies, what they’re favorite thing is about the hobby, and various questions about the hobby itself. Compare and contrast it with your own hobbies.

  • If it if about their work, sympathize with their complaints, ask about how long they have been working, worst parts of the job, best parts, coworkers, why they started doing it in the first place, and about the duties of the job itself. Relate what you hear to your own job.

  • If it is about friends and family, ask about fun and/or embarrassing stories, how long they have been friends, how they met, and what their family looks like in general. Talk about your own family and friends through comparison and contrast.

  • If about news or politics, share your opinions. Talk about related news. If you are uncomfortable, maybe bring it to a different topic based on something tangentially related.

I imagine this generally holds with Japanese as well. Of course, Japanese people may not like talking about certain topics, so let them broach the general subject area to see what they are comfortable with.


I struggle with this in english.


This is an unfair generalization, I think. Or, this is true for any person you have conversation with. You can broach your own subject, but you can also let the other change the subject.

Anyway, depending on your vocabulary, speak about what you know and like to talk about. If you already know the person, ask how they are doing, and how they are dealing with corona.


This is exactly my problem. I don’t know how people can expect me to have a conversation in Japanese when I’m barely capable of that in my native language.


Baby, are you tired? 'Cause you’ve been running through my mind this whole day.

Isn’t it situational? You can’t just shoot the same questions at people and expect a good conversation.

In general, people like to tell stuff that’s important to them. So try to figure it out and talk about it. For example, depending on where you met you could ask what brought them to this event. For instance, if you meet at Hatsune Miku fan-club you could ask what’s their opinion on Snow Miku. Suppose both of you are aware if it, and if not have enough interest in the subject to start discussing it. But you need to know stuff yourself too. You can’t expect to just ask questions and let the other party talk.

When you talk about something you express your opinion on a topic and finish it was a “hook” (small question or statement that’s easy for the other party to respond to).


Practicing good listening is important in asking good questions to keep a conversation alive. When your listening to someone are you just waiting for your moment to share your story or are you really understanding what they are trying to convey/share. Granted i dont use these things at work when there is a goal to the chat but rather when its a group of people sitting around having dinner together. I dont have a specific phrase i use in particular to keep a conversation alive but rather some “strategies”.

Ask follow up questions to probe deeper into the subject. Be like your 5th grade English teacher reminding you about the question words. Who, what, when, where, why, and how. If they didnt get one of those then ask about it. (if it makes sense to)

Repeat back to them what they said, in my experience it often gives the person a confirmation that youre listening, interested, and a base for them to continue talking about said thing.

In your native language its much easier to let a conversation flow from one topic to the next but maybe since its in a foreign language with presumably someone who is fluent maybe steer to things you feel comfortably speaking quickly about. Music you like, food recommendations, Travel, Books, hobbies. I dont have any evidence but there are times i think people just get tired of someone speaking their language back at them so slowly. Hopefully your friends are patient. (And hopefully you are patient when someone is clearly a learner of your language trying their best)

Dont feel like there cant be a lull in the conversation either as you both search awkwardly for something to talk about. Find something either person is passionate about and youd be surprised how much you can just let them talk about that one thing. Get someone started and watch them go.


Definitely agree with this. Just adding a “but what do you think?” Really frees a person up to expressing their own opinion.


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