If you want to understand English better, you have to practice it more often. The best way to learn English is by practicing it in real activities. If you want to learn written English, write English a lot. If you want to sharpen your ear and tongue so that you can speak English more fluently and understand what English-speaking people say to you better, you should be habituated to English conversation.
English conversation makes you proficient in both passive and active English speaking. Physiological studies have shown that being bilingual, i.e. being similarly proficient in both mother language and English as a second language, makes people smarter, more skillful in decision-making and multitasking, more perceptive, and more resistant against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
You will also be more confident to study abroad, to apply for a job in a foreign country, to enjoy vacation out of the country, and to enjoy books, music, movies, and other entertainments in English.
Two Types of English Conversation
When you want to learn English through regular conversation, there are two types of conversation that you can participate in classroom conversation and daily conversation.
As a student of English, you are most familiar with classroom conversation and how easy it is. Classroom conversation is indeed very easy because the conversation materials have been prearranged, the theme has been set beforehand.
The conversation scripts may even have been previously prepared so that you and your conversational partner can memorize and try to understand them.
Everyday conversation, on the other hand, is more unpredictable and spontaneous, making it more difficult to master. In fact, the purpose of your classroom conversation is to make you more capable to perform everyday conversation.
In everyday conversation, you have to know how to start the conversation, how to keep it going, and how to end it. Examples given in this article are meant to help you overcome various problems when you are dealing with everyday conversation.
What Should You Learn from the Provided Examples?
As explained above, the examples provided in this article are not examples that you must memorize. There is nothing that you can get from memorizing them.
The examples are meant to familiarize yourself with problems that often occur when you do everyday conversation. You will be assisted in discerning those problems and finding the best way to overcome them. The following are several common problems with given examples and solutions that you may encounter when you talk with a partner, especially a stranger.
Being unable to start the conversation
When you meet a new conversational partner, you may be unable to start the conversation either because you are not very confident or because you simply don’t have a good topic. Review the following example and try to find the solution for this problem within.
Conversation in the park
Laura : Look at those swans. They are beautiful.
James : Those flamingos are also great. How lovely they are.
Laura : Yeah you’re right. You have keen eyes on birds.
James : Actually, I love birds very much.
Laura : I also love birds. In fact, I have been tending some exotic birds at home.
James : I can see how you love birds. Even your headband has a nice feather accessory on it. You look great with that headband.
Can you see how two strangers can be that friendly when they just meet? Laura doesn’t necessarily have self-confidence when she meets James and she may not have a good topic to start the conversation as well. How does she overcome her problem? Can you see the solution?
When you want to find a good topic for your conversation, try to look around and see the most interesting thing that can be made a good topic. Laura does so by looking at swans. By simply starting with talking about swans, Laura can start the conversation and go further into a deeper topic, which in this case is Laura’s interest in birds. The conversation above can proceed much further and touch much deeper topics. A good start can make everything flows like a dream
But how does Laura boost her self-confidence to start the conversation? One of many possible ways to boost your confidence when you want to converse with your partner is by grooming yourself, dressing nicely, and making your appearance appealing. You can see how James appreciates Laura’s appearance at the end of the conversation.
Other possible ways to boost your self-confidence include thinking positively and always think what you will say before you say it. Speak slowly so that you have enough time to think and always try all interesting things in the conversation to make sure that the conversation can go on. Educating yourself is also a great way to boost your self-confidence because
Being Unable to Keep the Conversation Going
Now you have successfully started the conversation and have some interesting topics to talk about; however, in the middle of the conversation, you suddenly have to stop because you run out of thing to say or you don’t know how to name a particular thing. Take a look at the following example and see whether you can dig the solution out.
Conversation in the park (continued)
Laura : When do you start loving birds?
James : I have been feeling affection for birds since my childhood. Can you name a bird that you love the most?
Laura : I love swans very much. Their white feather makes them look like birds of the fairy tale.
James : Yeah, swans really look beautiful. Is there another bird that you also love?
Laura : Yes, there is another bird, but I don’t know its name. It looks like a swan, except that its neck is a little bit shorter.
James : Do you mean goose? It is indeed as beautiful as a swan. It is actually more colorful than swan.
Laura : Can you tell me more about the goose?
James : Swan and goose are actually two very different birds. Swan not only has a longer neck but also has broader wingspan and larger body.
Laura : Uh-huh.
James : Unlike most swans, which are sedentary with only a few species that migrate, most geese are actually migratory. They fly to warmer regions in the winter. Geese are also more attentive to their eggs than swans.
Laura : Wow, you seem to be very familiar with birds. What is your job anyway?
James : I am an intern at the nearby zoo and I have been tending birds there. Right now, I am also a student of graduate studies in ornithology. I hope I will earn my master’s degree by the end of this semester.
Laura : That’s great. What will you do after you earn your degree?
This conversation is significantly longer than the previous one, but you can see that it flows very smoothly and—in fact—excitingly. Laura (or possibly James) may run out of an idea in the middle of the conversation, but she cleverly overcomes that problem and successfully keeps the conversation going. At one moment, Laura experiences difficulty in saying the name of a particular bird, but she tries to overcome that difficulty by explaining—rather than naming—the characteristics of that bird. This is a common problem among many people involved in a conversation, especially those whose mother language is not English. If you, for example, don’t know what a mug is, you can simply say something like “it is like a cup, but it is bigger;” or “I usually use it to drink coffee, but it is not a cup.” Your partner will immediately know that what you mean is a mug.
Another problem found in the conversation is that Laura may not know what to say after James explains to her about the goose. Instead of stopping the conversation and being silent, which obviously makes her look awkward, Laura simply ask James to continue his explanation about goose by saying “can you tell me more about…” Laura even skilfully encourages James to go on by saying “uh-huh,” which is barely a word but allows James to conveniently continue his explanation. You can see how encouraged James is if you look at how long the next explanation that he gives to Laura. In the end, when the topic finally has to be shifted, Laura smartly shifts the topic from bird to James’s occupation without making a sharp turn. A shift is necessary for a conversation, but make sure that it smoothly maintains the flow.
Being Unable to End the Conversation
A conversation, no matter how interesting it is, finally has to end. The best moment to stop a conversation is if it starts to wind down but before it becomes dull and uninteresting. If it stops at the right moment, there is a big possibility that the conversation will continue at another time and place. This is important if you seriously want to make your conversational partner a permanent one.
Ending a conversation, while seems to be as simple and easy as saying “thank you” and “see you later,” can actually be difficult for many people. They may feel guilty if they end the conversation too abruptly but they may also feel guilty if their partner becomes annoyed because they cannot stop it. Take a look at the following example to see how Laura and James end their conversation.
Conversation in the park (continued)
James : Tending birds is a fun job for me. I enjoy it very much and I also enjoy seeing people who love watching birds. The best thing about that is that I get paid for doing the thing I love.
Laura : Your job is fantastic. As a fellow bird lover, I appreciate your job and I hope I get a job that I love, just like you do.
James : Yeah, I also hope to see your dream coming true.
Laura : Thank you. Well, it was good for me running into you and I really enjoy our conversation, but it gets very late now and I have to go. I hope we can continue our conversation some other time.
James : I do too. I’ll get in contact with you soon. See you!
Laura : See you!
James’ first response is an indicator that the conversation has started to wind down and it is Laura’s time to end it. A conversation must be ended politely. Therefore, instead of saying an abrupt ending phrase, say an ending statement that expresses a commitment if you expect so. Laura’s farewell clearly states a commitment to continue the conversation in a smart and polite way.