Free English Lessons

How to Have a Conversation in English – Video

by Oli Redman on 31 December, 2016 , No comments

Do you find it difficult to have a conversation in English? Do you feel that you don’t know what to say?

It’s common. Speaking a foreign language is hard work. You have to remember foreign words, pronounce sounds which your mouth isn’t used to, and now you have to build a conversation, too.

In this lesson, you’ll see some simple, effective phrases and tips to help you start, develop and end a conversation in English.

Let’s start at the very beginning. You’ll see three easy ways to start a conversation in English.

1. How to Start a Conversation in English

How to Have a Conversation in English - group of people talking

Mikey: Hello! My name’s Mikey. What’s your name?

Stephanie: Stephanie, nice to meet you.

M:And you. Where are you from, Stephanie?

[…]

S: So, what did you think of the film?

M: It was… interesting.

S: Does that mean you didn’t like it?

M: I’m glad I saw it, but I wouldn’t watch it again.

[…]

M: Oh, hey, I saw some of your pictures from your trip. They’re amazing!

S: Thanks for saying so!

M: What kind of camera do you use?

S: Actually, I just use my phone.

[…]

First of all, if you don’t know the other person, of course you should introduce yourself. It can be awkward if you start talking and then you realise an hour later that you don’t know the other person’s name.

You saw three ways to start a conversation. What were they?

One: ask a simple question:

  • What’s your name?
  • Where are you from?
  • What do you do?

Two: make a comment or ask a question about the situation you’re in:

  • That looks delicious! What is it?
  • What did you think of the film?
  • It’s so cold in here! Is the heating broken?
  • Great party, right? Who do you know here?

Three: compliment the other person:

  • I love your top! Where did you get it?
  • I thought your presentation was really interesting.
  • Oh, you’re Mikey? I’ve heard so many good things about you.

Don’t think too much about what you say first. When you start a conversation, it’s more important to say something, even if it’s something very simple.

Easy, right? Introduce yourself, say something simple, and you’ve started a conversation.

Next, you need to build the conversation. Where do you go from here?

2. How to Continue a Conversation

M: Hey, you’re Stephanie, right?

S: Yeah. Mikey?

M: That’s right! Peter told me you’re in a band?

S: Well, kind of. I play guitar, and we just play together for fun. It’s nothing serious.

M: I play the guitar too, actually.

S: Really? What kind of thing do you play?

M: Actually, I play classical guitar. I just do it as a hobby; I’m not that good, but I enjoy it.

S: That’s the most important thing. Anyway, how do you know Peter?

M: We used to work together, and we stayed in touch.

[…]

Here, you saw three useful things you can do to build a conversation in English. Do you know what they were?

They’re all very simple. Anyone can use them! First idea: make a reference to something you have in common.

For example, do you know that the other person is a football fan? You can talk about football and ask:

  • Who do you support?
  • Did you see the City game on Sunday?
  • What’s your prediction for the cup final next weekend?

How to Have a Conversation in English - people playing football

If you meet someone while you’re travelling, you could ask:

  • Where are you going to next?
  • You went to Rome? Any recommendations?
  • Do you know any good places to eat around here?

We said that you saw three ways to continue a conversation. What’s the second one?

Ask the other person about themselves and their life. People generally like to talk about themselves, and they like it when other people are interested in them, so this can be a very effective strategy!

For example:

  • Your job sounds really difficult. How do you manage everything?
  • I like your pictures. Is that in India?
  • I heard you’re really into cooking. What kind of stuff do you like to make?

Finally, you can also continue the conversation by referring to someone you both know, like this:

  • How do you know Lisa?
  • Have you known Simon long?
  • You work with Lee? I heard he can be quite difficult.

Again, it’s more important to say something, even if it’s something very basic. When you’ve just started talking to someone, anything is better than saying nothing.

The longer you can keep the conversation going, the more you’ll learn about each other, and the more topics you’ll have to explore.

Let’s look at some other important points to think about as your conversation continues.

3. Balancing Your Conversation

S: Mikey, hi! How was your trip?

M: It was great, thanks.

S: Where did you go?

M: Well, we started in Madrid, and then…

S: Where did you stay?

M: We found a really great homestay near the centre, and…

S: Did you eat tapas?

M: Well, yeah, a couple of times, but…

S: Did you go to the Royal Palace?

M: No, actually, we…

S: Why not?

[…]

M: Yeah, so as I was saying, it’s basically the best film ever.

S: Mm-hmm.

M: I mean, people don’t rate Michael Bay, but I really think the man’s a genius, you know?

S: Mm-hmm.

M: I’ve seen it twice at the cinema already. The last time I went it was so loud that I still couldn’t hear properly the next morning.

S: Mm-hmm.

M: I’m still planning to see it again this weekend, though. I love it!

S: Mm-hmm.

[…]

You saw two conversations. I hope you realise that these were examples of what not to do when you want to build a conversation.

What was the problem in each one?

In both conversations, there was a lack of balance.

In the first conversation, I was asking too many questions! A conversation shouldn’t sound like a police interrogation.

In the second conversation, I spoke too much, even though Stephanie clearly wasn’t interested in what I was talking about.

What’s the point here?

For a successful conversation, you need balance.

You need to balance asking questions and saying what you think.

You need to balance speaking and listening.

Let’s look at how those conversations could have gone better:

S: Mikey, hi! How was your trip?

M: It was great, thanks.

S: Where did you go?

M: Well, we started in Madrid, and then we spent a few days in Andalucia.

S: Wow! I loved Madrid. What did you think of it?

M: We really liked it.

S: When we were there, we stayed at this really cool guesthouse near the Parque de El Retiro. Did you spend any time around there?

M: Actually, we were staying a bit further out. We did walk past there, though.

S: There are some great places further out, too. What did you think of the food?

[…]

M: Guess what I just saw?

S: What?

M: The new Transformers film! It’s amazing! I really think Michael Bay is one of the best directors alive.

S: Are you serious?

M: What, you don’t like his films?

S: No. I think a good movie needs more than explosions and robots.

M: That’s a shame. I was hoping you’d come to the cinema with me to watch it.

S: I thought you’d already seen it?

M: Yeah, twice! The last time, the sound system was so loud that I couldn’t hear properly the next morning. It was great!

S: That doesn’t sound healthy. Maybe you should go to the doctor’s, and you definitely shouldn’t go to see it again.

[…]

Balancing your conversations helps you to keep the other person engaged, which means the conversation will flow easily and naturally.

Anyway, let’s talk about something else.

4. Changing the Topic

Sometimes, people complain to us about making conversation in English: “I don’t know what to talk about!”

Here’s the thing: you can talk about almost anything you want.

Sometimes, the other person isn’t interested in what you’re saying.

Sometimes, you’re not interested in what the other person’s saying.

Sometimes, neither of you is interested in what you’re talking about.

This is totally natural. So, what should you do?

Change the topic, of course!

S: Seen any good TV shows recently?

M: Actually, I don’t have a TV.

S: Oh…

[awkward pause]

S: So, er, what are you doing this weekend?

[…]

S: Do you like travelling?

M: Not really. When I don’t have to work, I just stay at home.

[awkward pause]

S: Anyway, whereabouts do you live?

[…]

M: Yeah, I’ve had this really bad cough for weeks. All this green stuff keeps coming out of me. I don’t know when it’s going to stop.

S: Mikey, I’m trying to eat! Can we please talk about something else?

M: Oh, sorry.

[…]

Changing the subject is easy.

The easiest way is just to… change the subject! If what you’re talking about isn’t going anywhere, ask a question or make a comment about something different.

It’s common to introduce a change of subject with a word like so or anyway. For example:

  • So, what are you doing this weekend?
  • Anyway, whereabouts do you live?

If you’re feeling uncomfortable with a conversation topic, you might clearly ask to change the subject. You can say something like:

  • Can we talk about something else?
  • Let’s change the subject.
  • I don’t really want to talk about that.

Remember that if you use phrases like these, you’re clearly showing the other person that you’re uncomfortable with the conversation. If you say something like this, make sure that’s what you mean.

Finally, let’s see one of the most important skills for having good conversations in English:

5. How to Leave a Conversation

S: …so then I say to her, ‘You must be joking!’, and she’s all like, ‘No’, and I’m all like, ‘That is so crazy!’, and then… [stop abruptly, as if interrupted]

M: Stephanie, I hate to be rude, but I have to be somewhere else. We’ll talk later, okay?

S: Oh, okay. See you later!

[…]

M: You’re an events manager? That’s exactly what I want to get into! I have so many questions. So, what’s the best way to get a job with your company? Will you help me out?

S: Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but I should get back to work.

M: Can I ask you my questions later? I have SO MANY.

S: Sure, just call me.

[…]

S: Have you finished the debugging work?

M: It’s nearly done. Is there any chance you can ask someone to help me? It’s a lot of work.

S: I’ll see what I can do. Anyway, I won’t keep you any longer. Try to have the work done by tomorrow evening.

M: Alright.

[…]

Here, you saw three short conversations with three different ways to leave a conversation. Do you remember them?

Here are the three phrases you saw:

  • I hate to be rude, but…
  • It’s been great talking to you, but…
  • I won’t keep you any longer.

You can also add the person’s name to make it sound more personal:

  • Stephanie, I hate to be rude, but…
  • Paul, it’s been great talking to you, but…

You can make these phrases sound stronger by adding a word like look or listen at the start:

  • Look, I hate to be rude, but…
  • Listen, it’s been great talking to you, but…

Saying it like this adds emphasis and makes it extra clear that the conversation is finishing.

After the word but, make an excuse:

  • Stephanie, I hate to be rude, but I have to catch the last metro.
  • Paul, it’s been great talking to you, but there are some other people here I need to catch up with.

Another good way to leave a conversation is to pretend that you’re stopping the other person from leaving. You can say something like:

  • I won’t keep you any longer.
  • I’ll let you get back to work.

On the phone, it’s common to say:

  • I’ll let you go.

This is a clear signal that the conversation is ending. Then, say goodbye, and you’re finished!

You can see that starting, developing and ending a conversation in English is quite simple. Use the tips and language from this lesson, and you’ll be able to have natural conversations in English easily!

Anyway, it’s been great talking to you, but we really have to go!

Thanks for watching!

Oli RedmanHow to Have a Conversation in English – Video