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Six Conversation Tips for English Language Learners and English Teachers!
By Eric H. Roth and Samantha Jungheim
Whenever you are learning a new language, you might consider where and how you can practice speaking this language. We’ve compiled a list of six vital conversation tips to help you improve your English speaking skills. How can we encourage fellow humans to listen and engage in English conversation with us? Where do we begin? How do we keep the conversation flowing?
1. Be curious.
“Everything becomes a little different as soon as it is spoken out loud.”
So often our desire to have meaningful conversations overshadows the reason why we want to have them in the first place: to learn from others. Every time we interact with family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers, we develop new growth and understanding. Therefore, it remains important to keep this in mind when we strike up a conversation. What can we learn? How do we keep a favorable attitude? Most importantly, emphasize the importance of keeping an open mind to our conversation partner. Doing so ensures things start on the right foot. Remind yourself that even if you find yourself disagreeing with the person, they can sustain a tolerant mindset. Your conversation partner has a whole world of experiences to share– and so do you!
We learn from conversations every day. What, for instance, did you learn in conversations in the last 24 hours? What can be learned from conversations in the coming week?
Conversations matter, and bringing a positive spirit to new conversations helps create more positive experiences. We need to bring this simple observation into our English classes. We sometimes have to nudge ourselves to see the positive possibilities of starting conversations in English.
How do you encourage your classmates or friends to feel more positive about their future conversations in English?
2. Search for common interests.
“Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.”
We can learn a great deal from our conversations, even about our interests and hobbies! Finding a commonality generates fantastic interaction because both sides possess enthusiasm over the subject. Potential topics could stem from several categories, such as literature, sports, movies, or pastimes.
What’s a good way to find out what you have in common with someone else? Ask questions! Encourage your conversation partner to inquire about favorites, dislikes, and other types of opinions with each other. You might be pleasantly surprised to find out what you share with others!
3. Match the mood.
“The body never lies.”
A conversation composed entirely of just words holds less meaning if there aren’t appropriate reactions and responses. Therefore, body language and facial expressions remain key, as both signal the way words are being absorbed.
Facing toward the person is just the first step to giving the person full attention. Avoid crossing arms or swaying from side to side–as these movements create barriers that reflect indifference or boredom. This can help you exude interest with your body language and facial expressions.
Don’t be too serious. Fidgeting or frequently averting your eyes can stop a conversation in its tracks. By taping your foot or looking away from your conversation partner can read this as nervousness or discomfort about the conversation topic. Your body language may be signaling like a yellow traffic light to your partner letting them know it’s time to change the topic. Keep eye contact to reflect that you want the conversation to continue.
Further, the face itself portrays our thoughts–remember to be aware that your expressions should be appropriate! For instance, an unchanging, unresponsive appearance creates an apathetic vibe even if their words reflect excitement.
As always, consistent eye contact is crucial, even when walking and talking. Looking at the other person’s eyes conveys interest and therefore adds another layer of connection.
Bring what you’ve seen in the classroom or movies to your conversations. Consider how people react to one another during a conversation? What sort of body language and facial expressions do they use? How can you start using body language to better communicate?
4. Listen louder.
Do you pay attention to what others are saying in a conversation? About half the conversation should be spent listening to what the other person has to say; after all, it’s a conversation a presentation! As mentioned in the first conversation tip, people have compelling and unique things to bring to the table– so it’s important to listen to what they have to say!
Giving the person undivided attention demonstrates respect, as well as, good manners. Interrupting or disregarding the other side is detrimental to good conversation. For everyone to leave feeling good about the interaction, consideration, and civility must be part of the equation.
Perhaps most importantly, you should listen louder. What does this mean? Listen for tone, voice inflections, and other meanings conveyed without words. American writer Ernest Hemingway famously stated, “I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” Everyone can take away significant information if they listen louder.
Are you a good listener? What can you learn when you’re not speaking? What type of questions can you form from listening?
5. Ask clarifying questions.
“The greatest gift is not being afraid to question.”
– Ruby Dee (1922-2014), American actress, poet, playwright, and civil rights activist
Asking simple clarifying questions can deepen the conversation and help avoid misunderstandings. It might feel scary at first, but asking clarifying questions can vastly improve a conversation. If you are conversing with someone who knows more about the topic than you, this can be a great opportunity for you to learn new facts or ideas. An example is when a friend shares about a restaurant they tried recently, you could ask “Is that near my neighborhood?” or “Did you say it’s a cheap restaurant?”.
In addition, many of us speak with people who have unfamiliar accents or may even have a muffled voice from wearing a mask. Ask a clarifying question to make sure you heard correctly so you can seamlessly add your thoughts to the conversation.
When is the last time someone asked you a clarifying question? When have you asked clarifying questions? What are some clarifying questions you like to use?
6. Use a respectful tone.
“Beautiful tone, beautiful heart.”
–Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998), Japanese violinist, creator of the “Suzuki Method”
The proper tone is essential for the effective conversationalist and communicator. Respect remains key. Your conversation partner may find you impolite or insincere if the tone isn’t appropriate!
Different situations also demand different tones. A happy occasion calls for enthusiasm while a sad one calls for sympathy. Using the appropriate tone lets the other person know that you’re paying attention and that you care about the conversation at hand.
Tone also acts as a clear indicator of meaning, more so than words. For instance, carrying a sarcastic tone alerts the listener the statement should not be taken literally. Native English speakers especially tend to use sarcastic more frequently than what English language learners expect!
Not only can your tone impact your current conversation, but it is also essential for determining if future conversations will follow. If someone feels respected and connected to you through your tone, then they may want to talk with you more frequently. Especially if you are having a conversation while wearing a mask or face-covering! A respectful tone can be the first step towards securing a frequent English conversation partner.
What are some interesting conversations you’ve had recently? Who do you speak English with? Would you share these tips with them?
Here are some other lists that we appreciate as we get more comfortable with face-to-face conversations again:
- What to Say When Someone Asks ‘How Are You?’ And Other Conversation Tips by Elizabeth Bernstein
- How to Communicate When Everyone Is Wearing a Mask by Jeremy Adam Smith and Zaid Jilani
- After a year of covid life, we’ve run out of things to talk about. Try these conversation tips. by Galadriel Watson
- A psychotherapist shares 24 conversation starters he uses to ‘build deeper, more interesting relationships’ with anyone by Joe Sano