It is often difficult to keep a conversation going in any language. During most of our daily interactions with people, we engage in small talk. Small talk is a short, polite conversation about casual topics such as how your family is, the weather, or current sports news. As language learners, these are the first type of conversations we learn because the questions are easy to form, and we can learn a little about another person.
A great way to begin a longer conversation is to ask questions about the person you are talking to. Everybody likes talking about their own experiences, opinions, and thoughts, so asking questions can allow a longer conversation. Maintaining a conversation in a new language is not easy, but with these tools you can gain confidence in knowing how to express yourself thoroughly.
Start a longer conversation
The best way to show that you want to start a longer conversation is to ask open-ended questions. Open-ended questions have to be answered with more than one word and allow the other person to talk longer.
- What do you think about ____?
- Have you heard about ____? (If they answer “Yes”:) What do you think?
- What do you like about ___?
- How have you liked living in ___?
Jane: “What are you doing this weekend?”
Max: “I don’t know yet. You?”
Jane: “I’m going to the museum. Have you heard about the new photography exhibit?”
Max: “Yes I have.”
Jane: “What do you think about photography?”
Max: “I think it can be a beautiful form of art, especially in blank and white. I like to practice photography myself in my spare time.”
Follow-up Questions and Comments:
Follow a prior question with another question or comment to continue the conversation.
- What do you mean?
- Why ___? (For example: Why did that happen? Why do you think so?)
- How ___? ( For example: How did you like it? How was it?)
- Interesting! Tell me more.
- What happened next?
- What did you like/not like about it?
Jane: “I went to the health conference yesterday and it was so surprising!”
Max: “What do you mean?”
Jane: “This year all of the current health recommendations have been changed. Everything is so different and dieticians don’t know what to do about it.”
Max: “Interesting! Tell me more.”
Jane: “Dieticians have been giving the same health advice for decades, but now they have to change their thinking.”
Phrases to show acknowledgement
Use these to show interest in what the other person is saying and to let the person know you are listening as he or she speaks.
- Oh, wow.
- That’s interesting / crazy / funny / weird.
- I didn’t know that!
- No way!
- Oh, no!
- Right. (This means “I agree/acknowledge what you are saying”)
- That sounds fun / cool / interesting.
Jane: “I was driving down the street when all of a sudden a deer ran in front of my car…”
Max: “Oh, no!”
Jane: “…But, luckily, I swerved in time to miss it.”
Max: “I went to the U2 concert yesterday…”
Jane: “No way!”
Max: “…and it was the best concert I have ever been to!”
Phrases to politely oppose a viewpoint
When you want to express a different opinion or experience without offending the other person use the phrases below.
- I see what you mean, but I think ___.
- In my experience ___.
- For me ___. (talk about an opposing experience)
Max: “I went to DelPino’s Restaurant, but I didn’t like it.”
Jane: “In my experience it was great. What was wrong with your dinner?”
Sue: “I love going to the Caribbean for winter vacation.”
Joe: “For me, going to the mountains is so much more fun.”
Change the subject
Use these phrases when you want to change the conversation or go back to prior information.
- Before, you mentioned ___. What did you mean? (Something that was said earlier in the conversation)
- Can you tell me more about ___?
- That reminds me of ___. (a past experience, something that happened, a news
- story, a person, etc.)
- Speaking of ___. (Insert the main topic of the conversation and add your
- There’s something else I wanted to ask you.
- I know this is changing the subject, but ___. (Add a comment or question)
Matt: “Going on vacation in the winter is much nicer than going in the summer because there are not as many tourists.”
John: “Speaking of vacations, we’re going to Mexico next month!”
Max: “I just watched the movie Frozen with my kids.”
Sue: “Speaking of that movie, I’m reading a biography about Walt Disney.”
Jane: “My day has been so busy so far. I’ve gone to school, the mall, the library, and the grocery store…”
Steve: “I know this is changing the subject, but I just watched the cooking channel last night, and now I’m so inspired to cook something new. Do you watch that channel?”
How to end the conversation
To kindly end the conversation, mix a phrase from group A with a phrase from group B below.
- I have to go now.
- I have to run. (This means, “I have to go”)
- I’m going to go now.
- It was great talking to you.
- I’m glad I ran into you.
- I hope to see you soon.
- It was nice to meet you.
- It was great seeing you.
Joan: I have to go now. I hope to see you soon!
Max: See you soon!
Beth: I have to run. I’m glad I ran into you!
Pam: It was great seeing you again!
As you have read, there are many phrases and questions here to help you keep a conversation going. Don’t get overwhelmed by trying to remember them all at once! Choose one phrase or question from each section and begin to use it daily. When you are comfortable, choose another to practice.
Starting and maintaining a conversation in any language can be difficult, especially when it is not your native language. With the right tools, you can learn how to express yourself and begin to confidently hold longer conversations in English.