Conversational English Tips and Strategies

conversational englishConversational English, just like any other language, varies depending on location. But that doesn’t mean you can’t follow some general tips and strategies to get by in any English speaking setting.  Of course, learning English at the intermediate level is important. Courses offered here at Udemy such as Intermediate English, will cover grammar and reading skills necessary to become fluent in the English Language.  For now, however, let’s examine some effective and helpful ways to master a simple conversation in English.

1.      Learn Key Words and Phrases

Beyond knowing how to say “hello” and “thank you,” it is very important to have a repertoire of basic key words and phrases that you can mix up and pull out of your arsenal of English skills when needed. Here’s a list of some of topics where a basic vocabulary should be known by any student of the English language:

  • Greetings: “Hello, how are you?” “I’m fine, thank you.”  “Goodbye, see you later.”
  • Family: “Parents” “Mom, Dad” “Brother, Sister”
  • Days of the Week: “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday”
  • Home Basics: “Bathroom, bedroom, chair, table, television (TV), kitchen, couch.”
  • Feelings/Emotions: “Happy, sad, angry, bored, frustrated, nervous, etc.”

2.      Watch TV Shows

My mom learned how to speak basic English from watching episodes of “I Love Lucy.” That makes total sense to me because Lucy’s character in the show is very animated and expressive.  Connecting what she’s saying to how she is acting makes a big difference in understanding exactly what she’s saying. Her physical expressions makes it not only easy to learn what she is saying in English but is quite entertaining in the process.

3.      Get a Partner

English students learning English are often the best teachers. Pair work helps to get quiet students talking. Reluctant students are under less pressure as they are not in the spotlight. Guide them so that they can speak in a controlled way at first. For example: give them a short, simple sentence and then ask them to read it back. Let students write down what they are going to say before they say it. This removes the risk element that a spontaneous response requires. Once these basic skills are acquired you can start asking them simple questions about what they have read. Psychologically they are more likely to respond.

4.      Acting things out and reading aloud

Acting out scripted dialogues encourages quiet students. You must work with the students like a drama teacher or acting coach. Explain pronunciation, intonation, emphasis and emotion before you start. If you give effective guidance and get student co-operation, the result will sound good. This means that your students will get a great deal of satisfaction and increase their confidence.

Reading aloud is a mechanical process. Someone takes information in through their eyes, their brain interprets what they see and their speaking mechanism (tongue, lips, larynx, etc.) creates the sounds to say the words. There is no thinking required regarding what to say because it is written down. Reading aloud is excellent practice because it trains the speaking mechanism to say things in English. It gives you the opportunity to help them with their pronunciation as well.

Spontaneous conversation is a complex process. It is not complex because of the thinking process as, regardless of what the students’ native language is, they can think. The problem is getting them to think, interpret and spontaneously create spoken responses in English. An additional problem is the conversation itself. By definition a conversation is an event held with 2 or more people so listening comes into play as well. Conversing in English is much more complex than reading aloud.

5.      Role-play

Quiet students, in general, speak more freely when they are playing a role. They do not have to be themselves. Role-play allows the students to take on a new identity and behave in uncharacteristic ways. Role-play enables the students to connect to a different personality and therefore reduce personal risk.

6.      Use recordings

Sometimes we can’t practice conversational English simply because there’s no one to have a conversation with! One solution is to record yourself having a fictional conversation. Although you might feel a little funny at first have a back and forth dialogue with yourself, it can give you a tremendous learning opportunity.

Being able to play back your conversation can help you understand your mistakes and maybe have someone help you with any inaccuracies you might have. English conversation dialogues enable a student of the English language to understand the ping pong that’s goes on between fluent speakers.

7.      Join recreational groups

Participating in group based activities is a great way to learn conversational English.  If you enjoy playing a specific sport, then joining an adult recreational league can serve very beneficial in practicing conversational English.  You will already have something in common with your fellow participants.

8.      Carry an English Dictionary

Carrying an English dictionary with you at all times (whether it’s an actual book or a phone app) can be very useful. Having a dictionary means that you will never be stuck for a word. It can save you a lot of embarrassment if you’re having a conversation with an English-speaker and forget a word in the middle of the sentence — all you have to do is take a second to look it up!

Aside from saving you awkwardness, looking up the word you need then immediately using it in a sentence will actually help you to commit the this new vocabulary to memory. It is also helpful to have a dictionary to peruse throughout the day, during private moments, like when you’re sitting on the train, waiting to cross the street or just having a cup of coffee. You could learn an extra 20 to 30 English words per day using this technique!

As a beginner, you should start with an English dictionary that provides definitions in your native language. However, once your language skills improve, you should switch to using an English-English dictionary, which provides English definitions for English words.

9.      Regularly attend an English class or discussion group

Another great way to incorporate some extra English conversation into your weekly routine is to sign up for a class of discussion group. Attending an English class is a great way to focus on some of the more formal aspects of speaking English. A class will teach you the grammatically correct way of speaking — which includes proper sentence structure and verb conjugation and will generally provide a very structured approach to language learning. Enrolling in an advanced english grammar course can also be an added help.

Attending a discussion group is a more informal and relaxed way of learning English, where the emphasis is more on communication and relationship-building than on speaking “correct” English. Speaking English in this setting can help you to become more comfortable with speaking in front of other people. Both of these language-learning settings have their pros and cons, so it’s best to do both if you can!

10.  Fake it til you make it!

Sometimes when you act like you are an English speaker, it convinces others that you speak English.  The benefit of doing that is other English speakers will speak unguardedly and more relaxed.  Confidence breeds more confidence. When you begin to second guess yourself, you will mess up more frequently.  Whereas if you fake it til you make it, you might be surprised at how fast you can develop.

Use the above strategies wisely when teaching English conversation. Start reluctant speakers off with simple reading exercises in a controlled and non-intimidating environment. If you do, you’ll soon have helped build their confidence and they’ll start speaking more freely.