Here’s a situation that I’m sure you’ve experienced.
You’re having an awesome conversation with someone in English.
It’s going well, and it seems that you can do that amazing thing — socialise in English.
Then you say something that you thought was pretty smart and intelligent and awesome.
Then this happens:
Why? What did you say?!
It’s good to avoid this kind of situation, right?
Fortunately, there are strategies that you can use to get people to like you in English.
Let’s look at 5 ways to do that.
Say nothing! Just listen!
So, this list of phrases will start with… no phrases.
It’s amazing how much you can achieve by saying nothing.
People love to talk, and that means that they love to be listened to.
So just nod and smile!
There are two main reasons this is a good idea.
First of all, people will like you for it.
But also, you’ll be surprised how interesting people are — by letting people just talk, you’ll find out that they met the Queen last week, or that they were the World Junior Rhino Football Champion in 1988.
Or that you both like cheese.
But if you just nod and smile for too long, people might think that you’re imagining your favourite song.
So you’ll need these…
Make the “hmmmm” sounds
No, back-channelling has nothing to do with TV or swimming.
You probably do back-channelling when you’re talking to (or listening to someone) in your own language, as well as English.
What is it?
Back-channelling is using words and sounds to show that you’re interested in what the other person is saying.
It’s powerful and awesome. It keeps the conversation going and makes the person you’re speaking to feel confident — which will make them like you.
Here are some great back-channels you can use to keep the conversation alive.
Be careful — listen closely to the recordings. The meaning can change depending on how you say it.
What’s the magic word?
As any English-speaking kid knows, the magic word is “please.”
It’s kind of a cliché about English, but it’s true: we really use the polite words and phrases a lot.
When we’re being polite, we’re usually doing one of three things:
- Saying “sorry”
- Saying “please”
- Saying “thank you”
But just saying “sorry,” “please” and “thank you” again and again can get a bit boring, right? So let’s look at some more interesting ways…
Small (informal) apologies:
Oh! Sorry about that.
Ooops! Sorry! My bad.
I’m so sorry — I completely messed up.
*messed up = made a mistake
Bigger (more formal) apologies:
I’m so very sorry.
That was completely my fault.
Please accept my sincerest apologies.
Please forgive me.
I’m so sorry — is there anything I can do to make it up to you?
If you’re feeling particularly bad about something, you can use more than one of these in the same situation.
When we want something from someone, we’ve gotta be polite, right?
In English, when we want to ask for things politely, we don’t just use words, we use the grammar — we go “indirect.”
What does that mean?
It means that we use these three expressions:
“Please” strategy #1:
Could you + verb?
“Could you pass me the jungle salad, please?”
“Please” strategy #2:
Would you mind + -ing?
“Would you mind passing the jungle salad, please?”
“Please” strategy #3:
Would it be alright if I…?
“Would it be alright if I had some more jungle salad?”
(Use this one when you want to ask permission to do something.)
Saying “thank you”
Small (informal) thank yous:
Thanks a bunch!
Thanks a million!
*Only use “mate” with people you’re very comfortable with.
**very, very British!
Big (more formal) thank yous:
That’s very kind of you. Thank you.
Thank you — I really appreciate it.
I can’t thank you enough.
Ask questions and they’ll love you forever
Or at least for a while.
One of the best ways of making people like you is to show an interest in them.
So ask questions!
Everyone is different, of course, so asking the right kinds of questions depends on who you’re talking to.
If you meet someone at a singles party, and you ask them “how long have you been married?”, then that’s the wrong question.
Over my time as an English-speaking human on this Earth and as an English teacher, I’ve found that there are some great questions that most people respond to positively:
“What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?”
“Have you travelled much?”
“Which places were your favourites?”
“What did you do last weekend?”
“What do you do?”
“Are you working on anything exciting at the moment?”
But there’s always been one topic that I’ve never known how to deal with:
When someone has just had a baby, I have no idea what to ask them. I just feel awkward.
But recently my brother discovered the right question to ask that always gets a good response. That question:
“Is he sleeping well?”
Apparently it works every time! Thanks, Nat!
Compliments: spread the love
It may seem obvious, but you’ll be surprised how rarely people compliment each other.
There’s always something awesome about everyone. Once you find it, don’t let it pass — tell that person you think they’re great!
“Hey! Nice [tie, T-shirt, haircut, giraffe].”
“I like your [tie, T-shirt, haircut, giraffe].”
“I really like how you [described that, painted this large picture, won that game].”
“That’s one of the reasons I like you.”
So, next time you’re in an English conversation, remember to:
- Listen, maybe even more than you speak.
- While you’re listening, make the right back-channelling noises. Hmmmmmm…
- Be super polite!
- Keep asking questions.
What about you?
What’s the nicest compliment someone has ever given you? How did it make you feel?
Let me know in the comments.
Meanwhile, if you enjoyed this post, don’t forget to BE AWESOME AND SHARE IT! Let’s spread the love of positive, polite conversation that makes everyone feel like a million dollars!
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