1. Make sure you still want to talk to them. Make sure they still want to talk to you.
Are you interested in knowing more about this person, or are you just wasting your time? I know that you want to practice your English, but don’t forget that this is a real person, not a practicing machine. Real people need to get along before they can have a good conversation, and you’re not going to get along with everyone. This is life. It has nothing to do with your English skills. If you have no reason to talk to them, go straight to #5.
What about the other person? Don’t just focus on saying the right words. Read their body language. Are they trying to leave? If so, go straight to #5.
Don’t take it personally. Prolonging a bad conversation for no reason makes everyone uncomfortable, right? Ladies, just think of those creepy guys who keep trying to talk to you. Nobody wants to talk to them. Nobody wants to be like them.
2. Ask open-ended questions. Show a genuine interest.
Okay, so you wanna talk to them, and they wanna talk to you. Awesome. In order to have a great conversation, you need to show genuine interest. People love it when you’re interested in them, am I right? Just not in the creepy guy kind of way, obviously.
Listen to what they say, make eye contact. Ask open-ended questions. This means asking questions that require a real answer, not just a yes or no.
For example, if they talk about work:
- “How long have you been working there?”
- “What’s it like?” (This is a classic question for all occasions).
- “What did you study to get this job?”
There are so many questions you can ask based on the person’s situation.
Sometimes, you might feel stuck because you want to ask a question, but you don’t know how to say it in English. This is normal. But it’s better to try than stay silent. If you stay silent, the other person will think that you have no interest.
“I’m not sure how to say this but…[try your question]”
If you’re reading this, I assume that you already speak enough English to make yourself understood even if the words you say are not what a native speaker would say.
But if the conversation is genuine and you make a genuine effort, then the person will genuinely try to understand you in order to respond to your question. See how this works?
However, if you truly have no questions, then you’re not interested. Go straight to #5.
3. When they answer, say something! Again, show a genuine interest.
Maintaining eye contact, smiling, and nodding your head are non-verbal ways of showing someone that you are interested in what they are saying.
One thing that English speakers do all the time to show interest is say “Oh really?” whenever someone says something. It encourages the other person to keep talking.
Another thing to do is say “Mmhm” or “Yeah” enthusiastically while smiling and maintaining eye contact.
If something is funny, obviously you’ll laugh.
All of this should feel genuine and natural. If doing all of this feels fake, go straight to #5.
4. Offer something about yourself. Give the other person reasons to ask you questions.
If we want people to talk to us, we need to open ourselves up a little bit too.
If the other person says that they’ve been to Switzerland, use this information. If you’ve also been there, then you can bond over this fact. If not, just ask them “What’s it like?” or “Oh really?”. People love it when you give them permission to keep talking.
Your follow-up question can even be something silly like, “Is that really where Swiss cheese is from?”
If someone says something about themselves that relates to you own life, talk about that. Then, the person can use what you told them to ask you some open-ended questions. See how this works?
5. Excuse yourself.
Not all conversations were meant to be. Sometimes, you just gotta get away from someone. There are ways to politely exit a conversation.
If you’re at a party, just say you need another drink, or that you’re going to the washroom.
Otherwise, just say you have to leave, or that you need to make a phone call. Or if there is someone else that you want to talk to instead, just say you’re going to say “Hello” to someone else.
If it was an awkward conversation, that person will be happy that you ended it. You’re a smart, strong, independent woman. You can choose who you talk to!
Asking questions, even ones as simple as “What’s it like?” and “Oh really?” gives people permission to keep talking.
Saying nothing, or just saying “Oh, okay.” is the same thing as saying “I’m not interested, stop talking.”
Maintaining a conversation is about more than just what you say. It’s also how you say it, and what your body language reveals. I know that when you speak English, you might feel uncomfortable, but just pretend to be confident, and no one will know. Trust me.