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8 Essential English Conversation Phrases – Video

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In this lesson, you can learn some essential English phrases to help you understand native speakers and sound more natural when you speak English.

When you’re talking to a native English speaker, do you sometimes find they use phrases and questions which you haven’t heard before?

If you’ve learned English in classrooms, there are probably many simple but important phrases that you aren’t familiar with.

We’ll show you a few of these useful phrases to help you understand and speak to native English speakers.

QUIZ: Essential English Conversation Phrases

Test your knowledge of the phrases you’ve seen in this lesson.

This quiz has 20 questions. Each of the phrases appears more than once, so by the end of the quiz, you should really know the phrases and how to use them.

When you’ve finished, click ‘View Questions’ to see the right answers.

8 Essential English Phrases - English Conversation Video Lesson - group conversation image

Let’s start with a question using one of our essential English phrases.

What have you been up to?

Have you heard this question before? What does it mean? How would you answer it?

I ask students this question all the time, and they never know what it means.

So how should you answer it?

What have you been up to? is like asking What have you been doing recently? It’s a common question after you say hello to someone, especially if you haven’t seen that person in some time.

For example:

Martin: Hey!
Niamh: Hi, Martin! Long time no see. How’s life?
M: Good! What about you, what have you been up to?
N: Oh, not much, just busy with work and the usual things.

Here are some other answers you could give. Someone asks you What have you been up to? and you could say:

  • I’ve just got back from my holiday.
  • I’ve been pretty lazy recently, to be honest.
  • I’ve been working so hard I haven’t had much time for anything.

What about you; what have you been up to?

Hey Martin, what common phrases do your students need?

Actually, I dunno. I’d have to think about it.

Have you heard or seen the word dunno before?

It’s a short form of don’t know. I dunno means I don’t know.

But actually, English has lots of these, like gonna for going to, wanna for want to, and so on.

However, words like gonna are generally used in a sentence. That makes it easier to work out the meaning.

Dunno can be used as a one-word answer. In my experience, this can be confusing for many non-native speakers!

For example:

N: Is he coming to the wedding?
M: Dunno.

N: What time is it?
M: Dunno.

N: What does hold on mean?
M: Dunno.
N: Really?

Okay, well Martin can’t help me. What about you? What does hold on mean? Have you heard this before?

Actually, I do know! Hold on means wait.

You might hear it on the phone. You call a company to ask a question, and you might hear:

  • Can you hold on for a moment, please?

This is like saying can you wait for a moment?

It’s also common during conversation. If the person you’re talking to says something you don’t understand, or that you don’t agree with, you can say hold on to show this.

For example:

M: So, you start by multiplying the matrices together to get your vectors…
N: Hold on, what does any of that mean?

M: Anyway, I told them that we’d be there on Saturday morning…
N: Hold on, I thought we said we were going on Sunday!

You can see that you can use hold on to interrupt someone else if they say something you don’t understand, or that you don’t agree with. It’s a very useful and common phrase!

N: All this teaching’s making me thirsty. Want a cup of tea?
M: Yeah, might as well.

If you ask someone a question, and they answer might as well, what are they saying to you?

Might as well means there’s no reason to say no.

So, it’s like saying yes, or why not?

It can also be used to say yes to something when you don’t feel enthusiastic.

For example, imagine you miss a train. You have to wait five hours for the next one. Your friend asks if you want to go to the cinema.

You don’t like the film which your friend suggested, and you don’t want to watch it.

But, you have five hours until your train, and there’s nothing else to do, so you say, yeah, might as well.

Might as well isn’t always negative like this, though. It can be used to say yes to something you actually want to do.

For example, imagine you’re waiting for a bus. Your friend says, Why don’t we walk?

You think about it. It’s not far. You don’t know when the bus will come, and it’s a beautiful, sunny day. So, why not? You say, Yeah, might as well!

M: I’m getting kind of tired. We should take a five-minute break. What do you reckon?
N: We’re only halfway! We can take a break later.

What do you reckon? can have more than one meaning. Like all of these essential English phrases, it’s very common in spoken English!

First, it can mean do you agree?

For example:

  • Our plane’s at six. We need to be at the airport at 4.30, so we should leave here at two. What do you reckon?

Here, I make a suggestion—we need to leave at two—and I’m asking you if you agree with my suggestion or not.

You can also use what do you reckon to ask what’s your opinion? For example:

  • Maybe I should quit and look for a new job, but I’m not sure. What do you reckon?

Here, I’m asking what you think: should I quit and look for a new job, or should I stay where I am? I want to know what you think.

What do you reckon is almost always used as a fixed phrase. Generally, you don’t add anything after it.

M: Can we have that break now?
N: In a bit!

You’re at work. You ask your colleague to send you something. She says, Yeah, I’ll get it to you in a bit. What does she mean?

In a bit means a short time later. In our example, your colleague is saying she’ll send you what you need a short time later.

So, she’s saying that she’ll do it, but not right now.

You might also hear in a little bit.

Where else could you use this phrase?

Let’s see some more examples:

M: When will my computer be fixed?
N: We’re working on it now. It should be done in a bit. Can you come back in half an hour?

M: Want to go for dinner?
N: I’m not hungry right now, but we can go in a bit.

M: So, that’s fixed, we’ll meet at six?
N: Yup, see you in a bit!

You can also use the phrase see you in a bit to say goodbye to someone if you know you’re going to see them in the near future.

N: Bad news, Martin.
M: Oh, what’s that?
N: I don’t think we’ll have time for that break.
M: How come?

Martin just asked me a question. Do you remember what he said?

He asked how come? What is this, and how can you answer it?

Asking how come is like asking why? The meaning is the same. However, you can’t use it in every situation.

You can use how come to ask why if someone tells you something surprising, disappointing or annoying.

N: Did you hear? They cancelled the wedding.
M: No way! How come?

N: He didn’t get me anything for my birthday.
M: Really? How come?

N: I have to leave three hours early today.
M: That’s not easy. How come?

Well, we have one more useful phrase from our essential English phrases to look at. You’ve finished most of this lesson from Oxford Online English. How did you find it?

This is another very common question which is often misunderstood!

How did you find it means what did you think? It’s like asking did you like it?

You can use this question to ask about many different things.

For example:

  • How did you find the film?
  • I heard you’ve started aikido lessons. How are you finding it?
  • How have you found the course so far?

You can see that you can use this question in different times and verb tenses.

So, how can you answer?

M: How did you find the film?
N: It was kind of boring, actually.

M: I heard you’ve started aikido lessons. How are you finding it?
N: Really interesting! I was never interested in martial arts, but it’s actually very fun.

M: How have you found the course so far?
N: It’s challenging, but very useful.

We hope you learned some helpful new vocabulary and now can understand and use these essential English phrases in conversation. Thanks for watching!

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