On today’s episode I want to talk about conversations and how to have better ones! English learners often really want to start having conversations in English, but at the same time can be nervous and anxious. Don’t worry though! If you follow the tips in this episode you will be having conversations like a professional in no time!
Light-hearted (adj) – happy and not serious
We had a fairly light-hearted discussion
Anxiety (n) – an uncomfortable feeling of nervousness or worry about something that is happening or might happen in the future
Children normally feel a lot of anxiety about their first day at school
Awkward (adj) – embarrassed or nervous
He seemed a little awkward when I first met him
Favour (n) – a kind action that you do for someone
Could you do me a favour – would you feed my cat this weekend?
Uncomfortable (adj) – not feeling comfortable and pleasant, or not making you feel comfortable and pleasant
The boy looked uncomfortable and out of place among the adults
Interaction (n) – an occasion when two or more people or thing communicate with each other
Language games are usually intended to encourage student interaction
Curious (adj) – interested in learning about people or things around you
Babies are curious about everything around them
Naturally (adv) – having an ability or characteristic from birth
He’s naturally funny – he doesn’t even have to try
Conversations are such an important part of our daily lives. Whether they are professional conversations in your workplace, light-hearted conversations with your friends in a restaurant, deep conversations about your feelings and opinions with your partner, or even small-talk with the person making your morning coffee, barely a day will go by without you having some kind of conversation! Nevertheless, this does not mean that talking to people is easy; especially when you are talking to someone new!
Furthermore, I know this topic is something that often causes language learners anxiety and stress. Talking to other learners or native speakers is one of the best ways to practice your knowledge and improve your skills. You might also work or live in an English speaking environment, in which case you need to have conversations in English. Or you are studying by talking to an online tutor like myself and hoping to learn while talking. Whatever situation you are in, conversations are important!
However, conversations can be terrifying when you have to speak in a foriegn language. I know this from personal experience. There have been so many occasions when I have tried to talk in Japanese, only to be nervous about my lack of vocabulary and grammar! I’m also an English tutor. Sometimes new students struggle to have a conversation the first time we meet. Even though their English level is often excellent, the first time can be awkward and it is often down to me as the Tutor to lead the conversation. Think about the last conversation you had with someone in English. Was it boring? Was it awkward? Were there any long periods of silence? Did you find the topic interesting? Did you enjoy talking with the other person? Are you good at having conversations? Often, every time an English learner talks to a stranger for the first time, the conversations are very similar (and maybe a little boring)! How are you? Where do you come from? What do you do? If you find these topics interesting – great! Keep asking that kind of question. On the other hand, if you want to have different, interesting, and unique conversations, then keep on listening!
Why is talking to new people so hard? One of the main reasons is that you don’t know what to expect. Compared with talking to your mum, friends, or partner, you are not used to the way the other person communicates! When talking to new people we start to think about all of the bad or awkward things that could happen. They might talk too much. We might talk too much. They might get bored. We might get bored. They might stop talking to me. There might be a long silence. They might want something from us, like money, a favour, or even a date!
Despite this, conversations are good for us! Even awkward or uncomfortable conversations have some benefits. Studies have shown that simply chatting to someone on the train or in line at a coffee shop can make you happier for the rest of the day. Of course, there are people who are more social and outgoing, and others who are less social and less outgoing. We can talk about extroverts and introverts. An extrovert is an outgoing and socially confident person. An introvert is a shy and reticent person. Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Regardless of your answer, we all need social interaction; even introverts! Conversations are good for everyone.
How can you actually be better at talking to strangers? I’m now going to give you a few tips I found during my research for this episode. Not only will they be useful for when you try to talk in English, they will also be useful for conversation in your native language! Whether it’s talking to an online tutor for the first time, meeting a potential language exchange partner, or just sharing a word with a stranger at the bar, these tips should help you!
Be brave and try not to worry!
I remember my first day at graduate school, only about 1 hour after I had moved into my new accommodation. I saw on a Facebook page that a group of fellow new students were meeting for a drink in a pub close to my apartment, so I decided to go along myself. However, when I arrived everyone was already sitting down and chatting, and there were no free chairs. I spent 10 minutes standing at the bar by myself with a pint of beer and nearly left! I felt uncomfortable and nervous. What if they didn’t like me? What if they thought I was rude joining their conversations? In the end, I realised I had to be brave, stop worrying, and just go over and introduce myself. In fact, the first three people I talked to are still three of my closest friends!
You should do the same! Even if it’s uncomfortable, be brave and just do it. You will probably enjoy the conversation and experience more than you think.
You shouldn’t be scared to ask questions! Be curious! People who ask more questions are normally better conversation partners than people who don’t ask questions. Asking questions can start a new conversation or keep an existing one going! For instance, try asking why they came to the event you attended. Or about something they are wearing!
What do you do? Where do you live? To be honest, these are boring questions. Instead ask a question that will make the other person think and hopefully start a great conversation. Or maybe you can start with a statement – something like “That watch looks really cool” or “The coffee shop is crowded today.” Statements like this invite others to respond and share their own thoughts.
Give a compliment
If you say something nice or give a compliment to another person, it will make them feel great! Everyone has anxieties and stress when we are talking to new people. We think too much. Complimenting your conversation partner will move the focus to them and help you get past difficult or awkward times. However, be careful with your compliments! A compliment which might be acceptable in your culture or with a close friend, might be completely unacceptable in another culture or to a stranger. If you want to be safe, stay away from complimenting people’s appearance, instead say something nice about their accent, opinions, or experiences!
Talk about something you both like or are interested in
You should try to talk about something you have in common! Maybe you’re from the same place, maybe you both know someone, maybe you have similar hobbies, maybe you work in the same industry? If not, you are likely in the same place and experiencing the same weather. For example, many of my students from Japan, Taiwan and Korea like to talk about my experiences in their countries for the first few classes, because it is something we can both talk about comfortably!
Talk to more new people
The more new people you talk to, the better you will get at conversations, and the more good conversations you will have! You’ll be able to ask better questions and respond with more interesting answers. New people are also often happy to talk to you! We are naturally polite people, and we are almost always happy to have a conversation if it is started by someone else. Think about it – when was the last time someone wanted to have a conversation with you, and you said no? I don’t think I’ve ever said no to a conversation!
Don’t let mistakes or awkward moments stop you
Conversations often start awkwardly. You don’t know each other, and the other person is probably trying to work out if you are weird or normal. However, once it is obvious you are just a normal friendly person, the conversation will start to improve! For language learners, we are often worried and embarrassed about our mistakes. If you are stressing about making mistakes or if the other person thinks your English is bad, then you are probably not thinking about the conversation. Remember, people are normally nice and friendly. And if you are talking to a native speaker they will probably be impressed that you are trying to communicate in a foreign language!
This episode of Thinking in English has looked at how to have better conversations. Conversations are excellent things, but they can cause English learners a lot of stress. If you are brave, creative, and confident, you are probably going to be an excellent conversationalist! Have you ever had a conversation in English? Who was it with? What did you talk about? Was it a good conversation? Was it interesting or boring, comfortable or uncomfortable? Would you do anything different next time? If you don’t have a conversation partner, don’t worry! There are lots of language exchange social media sites and applications, meetups in major cities, and other kinds of networking events that allow English learners to have conversations.