Today I’m going to continue with the last episode’s topic about how to manage situations when you’re kind of stuck when asked something in English.
Now I’ll recap the last episode in a couple of words so that you can refresh your memory! 😉
So the first step on your way to gaining a total confidence in your English is awareness of the fact that you actually can talk about any topic in English as if it were your native tongue.
Once you’ve convinced yourself that you CAN – and bear it in mind – it’s very important ❗ – you’ve broken down the mental barrier that’s been preventing you from successful English communication.
Then you can start actually thinking over the question the very same way you’d consider a question asked in your native language.
Instead of frantically thinking what you can tell about the topic or question you just take one thing at a time, give the person a couple of counter-questions to get the conversation going, and of course don’t hesitate to use idioms like as a matter of fact, if I’m not mistaken, to the best of my knowledge and similar, to fill in the pauses in your conversation and take time.
As you may have noticed, any conversation in any language is filled with such filler phrases. Although some may argue that they serve no purpose at all and only litter our language, I don’t fully agree. If we take out everything we can from a conversation or a story leaving only dry facts, it suddenly becomes very boring… 🙁
OK, but now as promised – two powerful tips of the speech issue management and at the end of the episode – about managing casual conversations!
Tip #1 – Use Simple Language!
Don’t start telling something smart if you don’t know how you’ll finish it off! Better break down your thoughts into smaller few word sentences rather than starting a novel with no ending! Fear of speaking too simple is a pitfall so many foreign English speakers fall for – end they end up getting stuck and not being able to say a thing – which makes the problem into a vicious circle.
Remember what I said about your native language – do you always speak using super-sophisticated language? No! Any language is made up of simple, most commonly used words for the most part, so you don’t have to spend time thinking whether it’s OK to say simple words like do, make, is and so on if you’ve forgotten the exact specific English word.
For instance, you’re telling a story about the current economical situation in the world and you start it with: Many major world economies are in… and then you kind of know that you wanted to say dire straits but you suddenly just can’t remember the phrase.
The worst thing you can do now is – stopping your speech and trying remembering the exact phrase by all means. Instead you can finish off the sentence by saying – a very bad situation at the moment. You see – a very simple phrase, yet it describes the economical situation of major world economies the very same way.
Also, don’t be afraid to describe something using other words if you can’t name a particular thing or even an abstract concept in English. Let’s say, you’re telling about working out in a gym and you’ve forgotten the word dumbbell. You start off with saying And then I exercised my shoulders using those… how do you call them… they’re like barbells, only much shorter… and then the other person will certainly tell you the correct word dumbbell and then you’ll go oh, yes, dumbbells!
And even if it’s a complicated philosophical concept you’re talking about, you can still use plenty of simple words to describe something you’re not very comfortable discussing in English. But then you’d most likely be the same in your native language, remember what we spoke about in the first part of the previous episode!
OK, but now the second super-tip.
Tip #2 – Don’t speak fast!
It’s so simple, yet so many foreign English speakers have this impression as if they are compelled to speak as fast as they can. And this factor is a great contributor to the English fluency issue whereby the foreign English speaker stands with his mouth shut and mind racing!
I’ve actually been repeating the importance of slowing your speech down many times and I’ve a video made dedicated to this aspect of improving spoken English:
But as they say repetition is the mother of learning so I think it won’t hurt to repeat it one more time – slow down if you feel that you get suddenly stuck in your English conversation or in the front of class!
So adhere to the principles from the first tip, and also pronounce the words and sentences in a slow, controlled manner. It’s quite difficult to overcome the mental barrier of speaking slowly because the general consensus probably would be that the more advanced English speaker you are, the faster you can speak. But I can refute this argument with two counter-arguments!
First of all, even native English speakers when faced with a sudden question will speak slowly, think about what they actually can say, and speak in a controlled manner. And it’s actually common sense that if you haven’t had time to prepare the answer, it’s nearly impossible to form a fluent and uninterrupted story, isn’t it?
I always pay attention to radio interviews with celebrities and they always use lots of err’s, and well’s in their conversations because for the most part the questions haven’t been prepared in advance.
And secondly, if you’re left between two choices – either you try to speak very fast and mess up the whole speech, or you slow down and explain your point slowly, but understandably – which one you’ll be going for? I think you won’t think twice before choosing the second option – so I think this argument has been resolved in favour of the slow, controlled speech!
How to conduct casual conversations when you’re
asked something and you get stuck!
There are basically two types of questions you can be asked in non-formal situation – be it a launch break at work, or a party, or just running into someone on the street when you don’t know what exactly to answer and you get stuck.
First of all, there are those sorts of questions that require a standard response; it’s the so called small talk. It’s when your co-worker asks you on Monday morning – Hi, how are things, how was the weekend? On most occasions it’s just a conversation for its own sake, and you’re not required to give an elaborate answer.
By the way this is a pitfall for many foreign English speakers as they take these things too seriously. Instead of starting telling about how you actually spent your weekend, you can just reply with: Hi Mark, thanks, I’m doing fine. The weekend? Well, you know – all the usual stuff! With that Mark will most likely leave you with That’s cool, OK, catch you later! and you can respond to that with a simple Later.
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To learn the most commonly used small talk phrases click on this link and by using the phrases you find on that page you really should never get stuck when bumping into someone you haven’t seen for a while!
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Secondly, there are those questions when the person asking them already expects a certain answer, and you can be suddenly taken aback by the fact that you can’t tell them what they want to hear. That in turn leads to situation when you just don’t know what to say.
A good example of such a question is for instance when you’re sitting at a table in a canteen and some of your co-workers are having a chat about sports. Then one of them suddenly asks you – Hey Tommy, did you like last nights game?
Problem with these sorts of questions is that first of all, the person assumes that for one reason or another you’ve seen the game, therefore they expect an answer about the game. On many occasions you want to give that immediate response but the very nature of the question confuses you at a subconscious level. So instead of saying something you can start stuttering and your response would be something like: Err… well… I… don’t know… err…
Not the best place to be, ah? 😉
The resolution to this issue is that you have to answer such questions from your own perspective, not from the other person’s! So a very obvious and simple answer to the previous question would be a simple: Well, I didn’t watch it! Simple as that!
You see – this sort of issue most likely occurs when we, foreign English speakers try to please native English speakers at all costs, and we want to give perfect answers. But you never have to feel inferior just because you’re a foreigner, and also your conversations can take the same shape as if you were chatting with someone in your native language!
So for instance, when you simply don’t want to answer some question not because of your English but for any other reason you might have, it’s perfectly fine if you say: Let’s leave it at that.
OK, that’s it for now and I really hope you’ll find my advice helpful!
P.S. Do you want NEVER to get stuck in a middle of a conversation again? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!