In this lesson, you’re going to learn 28 phrases to help you in English conversations. Also check out 4 Simple Changes to Make You Sound More Fluent in English.
Conversations in English!
- Sometimes they’re difficult to start.
- Sometimes you can start a conversation in English, but then it dies!
- And sometimes they’re difficult to finish.
So let’s look at some useful phrases to start a conversation, keep the conversation going and to politely finish the conversation.
#1 Beginning a conversation (breaking the ice)
So this happens. (The woman in the suit is your friend, Kelly.)
OK. Well, first of all, Kelly is not a good friend! She thinks she’s being helpful by introducing two of her friends to each other. But she’s not helpful by running off like that.
So how to save this situation?
The classic thing to do is to talk about something related to the situation you’re in. What you say depends very much on whether you’re on a bus, at a party or skydiving miles above the ground.
That’s why this doesn’t work:
Even though there’s no classic expression for every situation, there are some basic phrases you can use no matter what the situation is…
Talk about how nice things are
When you don’t know someone, it’s always good to talk about the positive things.
That’s a nice…
This phrase is pretty simple. Just point at something and say “That’s a nice…” plus whatever you’re pointing at.
It could be someone’s hairstyle:
It could be a painting:
Or it could be a giraffe:
2. Find out about the person who introduced you
OK. So Kelly’s the person who put you in this situation, so you can use her to get you out of it.
Most of the time, when you’re meeting someone new and you’re in this awkward situation, you both know the same person (like Kelly).
So how did you meet [Kelly]?
3. Just ask questions…
After 13 years of teaching English and working with thousands of people, I’ve found that everybody is fascinating in some way, even if it doesn’t seem like it at first.
How to find out what that interesting thing is?
Just ask questions. Lots of questions.
I usually find out what makes people interesting with these classics:
#2 The middle of a conversation (keeping it going)
Have you ever thought about how complex a conversation can be?
As I’ve pointed out before, conversations in films and on TV are completely different from conversations in the real world.
Here’s a “scripted” conversation:
In this conversation, one person says something.
Then the other person says something.
Then the first person says something.
Then the other person responds.
And it’s totally unnatural.
Here’s a real conversation:
See the difference?
When I was studying linguistics, I learned an interesting thing about language.
Language has two main purposes.
One of the purposes is simply to request or give information:
My dog is massive.
Why is that giraffe in your house?
But another purpose is to create a bond (a strong relationship) between the people talking:
A good conversation will serve both of these purposes.
What does that mean? Well, it means that you can talk about whatever you like and learn new and wonderful things from the person you’re talking to.
But there are also a few strategies to build the bond:
- Show interest
- Develop ideas
- Change topic
- Resolve awkward moments
So the conversation is up to you and I wouldn’t want to tell you what to talk about.
But you’ll probably find these phrases useful to strengthen the bond and direct the conversation:
You can use certain phrases to show interest in what the other person says. This really keeps the conversation alive.
I don’t believe you! Really?
You can also use “Did he?” or “Was it?” or “Have they?” to show interest. You form these by taking the auxiliary verb* and adding the pronoun.
*What’s an auxiliary verb? Click here
Are you going to the cinema?
Did you eat the carrot?
Have you ever been to Nicaragua?
Will it rain tomorrow?
So we take the auxiliary verb and add the pronoun…
A: Dogs can sing.
B: Can they?
A: My brother used to work for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
B: Did he?!
And then he fell into the pool with his pet snake.
To keep everything flowing and to tighten the bond between the speakers, you can show agreement with what the other person is saying.
Everyone likes to be agreed with. And when everyone’s happy, the conversation is a good conversation:
Oh, I know.
When someone says something interesting, there are phrases you can use to show that you liked their idea and so you can talk more about them.
That reminds me of the time I…
Perhaps you want to talk about something other than the price of washing machines in the Manchester area in the 1980s? You’ll need these:
By the way…
A bit off topic, but…
Resolve awkward moments
Sometimes you both speak at the same time. Then pause at the same time. Then speak at the same time again. Resolve that awkward cycle! Here are 3 ways to let the other person speak first:
Sorry! Go on.
No, you first.
#3 Ending a conversation (breaking it up)
Finally, you reach the end of your conversation and you want to go and tell Kelly that she shouldn’t leave you with strangers again (but then forgive her because you’ve just met a wonderful person).
Here’s how you can do it:
OK. Gotta run. Was great talking to you…
Or you can do what I do. If you tell a terrible joke, they’ll won’t want to talk to you and they’ll probably just go.
Here are some of my backup jokes for such situations:
Q: Why can’t the Tyrannosaurus Rex play the guitar?
A: Because it is dead.
Q: What’s orange and sounds like a parrot?
A: A carrot.
So next time you’re talking to your American colleagues or you’re at a party with Kelly, try some of these strategies out.
After you do, I’d love to hear how it worked, so let me know in the comments…