Fictional Scenarios for Functional Fluency Practice

This is a post in response to the “shoelace” thread and video posted here:

I think it would be an interesting idea if as a group we could put together a list of around 100-200 functional situations for practice, learning and self-evaluation purposes (or perhaps, like everything else, such a list already exists on the internet). The idea would be that you would be given a scenario (and this works better if someone else picks the scenario so you have to respond quickly to something outside your comfort zone or to a situation that you may not have otherwise thought about) and then you have to respond (aloud and to yourself) in the foreign language.

In doing the task you will improve your ability to express unknown vocabulary through circumlocutions (as Anthony describes in the video) and then, of course, you can later look up any words or expressions you discover you do not know or cannot remember. In other words, you gain confidence that you can handle certain tasks and you fill in vocabulary gaps.

Since these exercises are conducted alone, they need to be structured around you asking for or explaining something (in real life, the response may baffle you, but the point here is to practice speaking, build confidence and identify needs). Some will be easy while others may be much more complicated.

Examples (these situations can be fictitious, but real-life situations that you have experienced would be optimal):

You are abroad and cut your finger. You enter a pharmacy. You greet the employee and ask where you can find some band aids.

A friend is coming to visit you. Explain how to get from the airport to your home.

You were mugged while walking down the street. You enter the local police station. Explain to the officer what happened (make up as many details as you can - what the thief looked like, what he said, what was stolen from you, etc.).

A meteor crashes in front of your hotel. The local news media arrive and ask you to describe what happened (what did you hear and see).

You are on a local talk show. They ask you how you learned the language and what you think the most difficult part of the language is.

Someone asks you about your favorite book. Describe the book and tell them why it is your favorite.

Someone asks about a movie your saw, but hated. Tell them why you hated this movie and why you recommend they not see it.

Darn! Your shoelaces broke and you need new ones. You enter a local shoe store. Tell the clerk that you are not here to buy shoes, but that your shoelaces broke and you need a new pair.

You want to make an apple pie, but the apples at the supermarket look rotten. Tell this to the grocer and ask if they have any other apples in the store and that you need a dozen.

As your group’s discussion moves toward politics, someone mentions the gay marriage issue in your country and asks you to explain. Tell them what you know. Someone completely disagrees with your point of view. Present them with your counterargument.

You are attending a funeral, but the person who was supposed to give the eulogy is sick and cannot attend. You are asked to take their place. Give a short speech about this person.

You are at the airport and a couple who speaks your foreign language are having difficulty understanding the directions provided by the agent. Explain to this couple that their flight has been delayed due to bad weather, that they are being given free accommodations at a hotel for the evening and that their flight will take off tomorrow morning. They will also be given vouchers/coupons for food.

Inform the person working at the front desk of the hotel that the picture on your television is very snowy and that you need more toilet paper.

You are at a dinner party and someone informs you that a close relative of theirs recently died. Express your condolences.

Someone is curious about the health care or tax system in your country. Give them your opinion of the current system and how it could be improved.

You’ve brought your laptop with you on a trip, but you can’t use the charger because the plug outlet is different. Ask the person at the front desk if they have an adapter you can use or where you can get one.

Tell the clerk at the bank that you will like to withdraw $200.00 from your checking account.

A friend asks about the immigration situation in your home country. Tell them about it and give them your opinion.

— Please add more scenarios below or post links to related on-line resources ----

I can see how this could make a good drinking game for language learners!

One person comes up with the most ridiculous situation they can think of, and the other person has to describe it. If the description is successful, then the person who came up with the story has to finish their drink. If the description is a failure, then the other person has to finish their drink.


This is an excellent idea, and sounds like lots of fun. I will keep this in the back of my mind and post during the week as situations come to mind.

Below are some situations which have happened to me (but I won’t tell you whether I failed or succeeded at the time):

You are alerted by your neighbor across the alley that they had some car trouble and accidentally drove their car through your garage door, doing extensive damage to both vehicles inside. You need to explain to them that you need to call the police and insurance adjusters in order to make an insurance claim. Being that it is Sunday, you also need their help boarding up the garage door until it can be replaced later that week.

Your flight gets delayed by a day due to weather, upon your arrival, the rental car agent is unable to find your booking. You must explain to him that the rental was originally for yesterday and that your flight was delayed by a day due to circumstances beyond your control.

While pulling up your reservation, the rental car agent notices that you live in Milwaukee and becomes adamant that Batman lives there. You must explain to him that Batman has never in fact fought crime there, and that Milwaukee doesn’t have any super heroes. Although it does have a bronze statue of Aurther Fonzarelli.

The person in front of you in line at a fast food restaurant is being indecisive about what to order so the clerk decides to take your order in the meantime. Upon payment you realize that she charged your for your meal plus the person in front of you, thinking you were together.

You are asked to explain the difference between Rugby and American Football

You have to tell the hotel clerk that you need to extend your reservation through the end of the month, you need to pay your laundry service with a different credit card than the rest of the hotel bill,and that your desk lamp has burned out.

You tell the hotel clerk that the internet doesn’t seem to be working in your room, he may need to reset the wireless router.

You walk into a local store to ask the clerk for change for a large denomination banknote.

Your friend asks you how to make a gourmet hamburger.

A child riding his bike in front of you falls and hurts his ankle. You run up to see if he is ok. Ask if he can move his ankle, and if it is swelling. Ask if it hurts more if he puts pressure on it.Ask the best way to contact his parents and if he has a cell phone.

All of your friends are taking turns telling jokes. Your turn:

You are at a job interview: the interviewer asks you -
To describe your main responsibilities at your last job:
What was your favorite project you worked on at that job?
Give an example of a time where you handled conflict with another team member:
You realize that a project your team is working on will not make the deadline promised to the customer, what do you do?

You return a car to a rental company with the front wheels misaligned due to wheel impact with a tree stump after sliding in the snow. They try to charge you 150 eur for the damage, you have to explain to them that you don’t plan on paying since they didn’t equip the car with snow tires nor give you tire chains.

At a carneval, somebody is screaming “killer!” to an old lady in a fur coat sitting on a balcony across the street. Kindly inform them that their obnoxious screaming is disturbing your enjoyment of the parade, and that if they want to harass an old lady they should do it across the street where she could actually hear them, and that you are perplexed that they chose to harass an old lady in the first place since you have been standing right in front of them for 40 minutes wearing a real leather jacket.

Here is a real-life scenario:

Friedemann is sitting in his penthouse apartment daydreaming about a “Luftkissenboot” (as you do) and preening like a “Pfau” because he knows the word in 15 different languages. But wait! Suddenly it dawns on him that he has forgotten what the word is in Mongolian! This makes him so mad that he jumps out of his chair and kicks the “Fußleiste”, badly stubbing his toe. While hopping around in pain, he trips over a loose “Schürsenkel” and falls right over, breaking his leg!

When the ambulance crew arrives on the scene you have to explain to them exactly what happened (and tell them that they’ll have to borrow a “Treppensackkarre” because the lift is out of order!)

If you are stuck for topics, there are plenty of books for language learners, giving a wide range of topics for conversation. Maybe not for your target language, but that doesn’t matter since there are loads available for people learning English and you can use them for whatever target language you are learning. I worked through several books aimed at English learners when I was learning to express myself in Czech.

If you are short of time and money, there are also websites proposing many topics for English learners that you could use for your target language, for example : Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom (I-TESL-J)

Actually, our favourite field linguist often talks about DLI, and the DLI courses that I have worked through often contain picture stories that you are meant to describe in detail (a comic strip of somebody getting a suit made, or their car breaking down, etc). I found these to be some of the most useful aspects of the courses. You could do the same with any comic books you choose. Just grab a bunch of Asterix books, or Tin Tin books, and narrate the stories in your own words. I managed to find a three volume “picture book of world history” and did this “narrating the pictures” quite often, and found it very helpful. Comic books are particularly good because they follow a story, rather than being a single snapshot image. I find that single snapshots often lead me to overemphasise nouns, whereas comic books forced me to use verbs much more.

One additional point I would like to raise,an idea from the book “How to Improve Your Foreign Language Immediately” (my favourite language-learning-related book). That book suggests writing these little narratives down, and elaborating them over time. So, the stories grow with you as your ability in a language improves. The book says that many of the author’s students end up with several hundred stories that they refine and internalise, and these form growing “islands” in which they are highly capable and that they can call on when expressing ideas both old and new.


Look for the dice game “Rory’s Story Cubes”. Looks suitable.

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I have never heard of Rory’s Story Cubes before, and they certainly look like an interesting idea, particularly given that there are three different sets, so the combinations seem quite extensive.

Well, if Rory’s Story Cubes have 9x 6 elements, that are randomised to create you a scenario to talk about, this is a bit of functionality that could very easily be added into LingQ. Especially if we can add some sort of basic self-checking, eg an automated word counter, average sentence length calculator, spelling and grammar checker.

It could easily be expanded a bit to give your scenario: a time, a location, a mood, a person, some form of motion and an outcome.

It would be particularly cool if LingQ would count writings created in this way towards your activity score, in the same way that writings submitted to a tutor are (or at any rate used to be, it might have changed now) factored into your activity score.

“our favourite field linguist” this made me smile.

He truly is my favorite field linguist. I don’t know why, but I can’t help but like the guy.

@odiernod: “…I don’t know why, but I can’t help but like the guy…”

Yeah, I actually agree.

Clugston is a guy with issues: he’s angry, mean, abusive, and he has a really seriously arrogant attitude - but there’s a dark part of me that tunes in exactly on his wavelength.

I still think he’s an a**hole though…

(Even if it probably takes one to know one in my case! :-D)

I ordered those cubes and they came today. Will try them out soon. In the handbook it shows that you can buy them as an app for iPhone or iPad.

The app for the cubes is available for Android too, from the google play store.

@Keke eo

I can see why these cubes would be attractive to young children, but from the point of view of an adult language learner, why would you need them? You could just throw an ordinary dice (each time giving all of the numbers a particular theme or meaning) couldn’t you?

Or am I missing something about these cubes?

Anything that keeps you motivated is a good thing. Trying new things and using different techniques keeps learning fresh and exciting. The cubes are inexpensive and are language independent. I see these especially as a good way to encourage learning together with others of all ages.

My daughter has a game she plays when she can’t get to sleep:

She picks a topic, eg “types of nuts”, and works through the alphabet from A to Z, trying to think up examples for each letter.

I tried it for German vocabulary. I soon gave up on the alphabetical model, and now just brainstorm all the vocabulary I can think of on a particular topic, eg body parts. I find it cheering to realise how many words, like “back of the neck” I have absorbed from my reading without really noticing it.

How much all these words help with my conversational fluency is another matter. But it does help me get to sleep.