Learning English Conversation (with Phrases)

Two women sit on a couch and have a conversation

If you’re reading this blog, you probably know some basics of conversation. You may know the standard formal and informal greetings and how to introduce yourself. But it’s time to expand your conversation skills even more!

In this article, we’ll show why conversation is important. We’ll look at beginner, intermediate, and advanced phrases in different situations to help you get started.

Soon, you’ll be on your way to becoming an advanced conversationalista person who likes to engage in conversation and is good at it.

Why English Conversation?

Think about why conversation is useful.

The ultimate goal in learning a language is to communicate. If you want to advance your professional and personal goals, you must be able to converse with many people in different situations.

Conversation can open your mind to new cultures. When you listen and share, you exchange ideas and opinions, and this is an important part of any communication.

It could also be used to improve your communication skills. If you talk to people, you will build confidence in your pronunciation and grammar. You could expand your vocabulary at a faster rate.

Eventually, you’ll be able to engage with other individuals in any situation and speak on any topic. You may gain some lifelong friends and networking contacts along the way!

Learning English Conversation

So where do you start? A solid start with any communication begins with a greeting and introduction. Let’s break down the most common words and phrases.

Greetings and Introductions

Informal Greetings

  • HelloThe universal English greeting.
  • HiA little more informal than hello.
  • HeyUsed with friends or people you’ve met before.
  • What’s up?Very informal greeting used with friends or close acquaintances.
  • How’s it going?Another very informal greeting used only with close friends or acquaintances.

Note: The last two informal greetings are questions you might say after greeting with ‘Hi’ or ‘Hey’. They’re often used as a rhetorical question (a phrase that looks like a question but is not supposed to be answered). Therefore, you won’t necessarily expect an answer or be expected to respond. This is usually because the relationship is close enough that you already know how they’re doing.

Formal Greetings – (These greetings work for any formal or informal situation).

  • Good MorningBefore noon.
  • Good AfternoonFrom after noon until around 6 p.m. Typically this greeting is based on the height of the sun, so it varies depending on a geographical location.
  • Good EveningAfter 6 p.m. or after sunset.

Introductions

If you have never met before, start by exchanging your names. Stick with formal language until you know the person you’re talking to better.

  • My name is (name). What is your name?This is a very basic example for beginner English speakers. It can sound somewhat robotic, but it accomplishes the goal.
  • I’m (name). And you are? – This is an intermediate/advanced level introduction. Many times you can skip the ‘And you are?’ in the introduction as most natives will respond with their name.

If you’ve met someone before but can’t remember their name (don’t worry, it happens), try to recall where you met the person and use this phrase:

  • We met at (place where you met), but I’m so sorry, I don’t remember your name. You are…?The phrase is a little informal, but it can politely accomplish the goal of exchanging names. You can skip the ‘You are?’ here, too.

If you’re with someone else, you’ll also want to introduce that person. You can use these phrases:

  • Please meet (name of person) – This is a formal, polite introduction that will work in any situation.
  • This is my (relationship or title of person) + (name of person)This introduction is a little less formal, but it is more commonly used. It’s always good to include a title or the nature of the relationship you have with this person. I.e. ‘This is my co-worker Chris’ or ‘This is my girlfriend Samantha.’

Native Level Tip

If you can’t remember the name of someone, wait for them to introduce themselves to someone else. After they exchange greetings, you’ll know the name and won’t have to ask for it directly.

Once you have introduced yourself, you can respond with one of the following phrases:

  • Nice (or Pleased) to meet you.This is the most common response and can be used in formal or informal settings.
  • Pleasure to meet you.A little more formal, but it can be used informally if you just sayPleasure.

You can click here for a more in depth look at English greetings and introductions in conversation.

Small Talk in English Conversation

Once you’ve exchanged greetings and introductions, it’s common to move on to small talk. Small talk is a polite conversation about unimportant or uncontroversial matters, especially in social settings.

How are you doing?

Typically, you’ll start by asking how a person is doing. You may or may not get an actual answer when you ask. If somebody asks you this question, you don’t have to answer honestly, too.

‘How are you doing?’ has become so ingrained in English speech that it’s usually mixed in the introduction. Here are some common phrases to use:

  • How are you doing? or How are you?Both phrases can be used in a formal or informal situation.
  • How have you been?Used when you already know someone but haven’t seen them in a while.
  • How’s it going? or What’s up?We discussed these phrases earlier as very informal greetings, but you can also use them in informal small talk.
  • What’s going on?Another example of a very informal version of ‘How are you doing?’

In response to ‘How are you doing?’, you can keep it short and simple. Then add ‘How are you?’ in return. Here are some examples:

  • I’m doing well. How are you?
  • Great! And yourself?
  • Doing fine. How are you doing?

Many times, this level of small talk is enough for the conversation.

Here is a video resource you can use to master responses to ‘How are you doing?’

Questions

If you continue with questions, it’ll bring your communication skills to a new level. Questions will let you exchange thoughts and ideas on a variety of topics. Conversations that go into this phase will help you master the language.

There are two types of questions you can ask:

  1. Closed QuestionsHave a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.Examples:
    • Did you have a good day?
    • Are you enjoying the conference?
    • Was the food good?
  2. Open QuestionsRequire more elaboration than just ‘yes’ or ‘no.’Examples:
    • How was your day today?
    • What do you think about the conference?
    • How was the food?

When you ask and answer questions, pay close attention to what is being said.

Remember, most questions start with the five W’s. They are: who, what, when, where, and why (and how). You can use these words to enhance and propel forward any conversation.

Here is a great video resource to help you with asking questions in an English conversation.

Clarification

Even native speakers have moments when they don’t understand someone. Sometimes they’re not sure about the topic or just didn’t hear the question. It’s always okay to ask for clarification if you didn’t understand something.

Here are some phrases you can use in that situation:

  • I’m sorry, I’m not sure what you mean. Could you repeat?More formal.
  • Sorry, I didn’t understand. Could you repeat that?Informal.

If you didn’t hear someone, use these phrases:

  • I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you. Would you repeat that for me?Formal.
  • Sorry. I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat?Informal.

Again, it’s okay if you didn’t understand someone. People are willing to clarify or repeat something.

Closing an English Conversation

Now that you’ve spoken for a while and it’s time to move on, you will need to close the exchange. It’s always polite to let the other person know that you’re ready to finish talking. Here are a few phrases you can use in different situations:

  • I have to get moving.You can use this if you have another appointment or a meeting to attend.
  • I’ve got to run.This phrase is informal and is used if you have an appointment to attend.
  • Thank you for your help/the information!Say this to close out an informative conversation.
  • I understand/Understood. Thank you!It’s a little shorter and used more informally, but this phrase is also good to finish an informative conversation.
  • Thank you for your time!This is a formal way to close a conversation with someone who has provided a lot of helpful information.

Goodbyes

After closing the conversation, you should end with some form of goodbye. Here are some examples:

  • Have a good one/day!This ending will work in any situation.
  • Talk to you soon/Talk soon.A solid informal ending that works even if you don’t expect to actually speak with the other person soon.
  • Great to see you / Great talking with/to you!These informal endings will work in most situations and are very common.
  • Catch you later!Very informal way to exit a conversation..

Beyond that, you might have an extra ‘bye’ or ‘goodbye’, but it’s safe to say: you just had a conversation! They’re meant to be simple, polite exchanges, so don’t stress too much or overcomplicate the situation.

Here is a video resource showing how to politely end your conversations.

You can use the phrases in this article for dialogues in many settings. If you have time and feel curious, ask as many questions as you want and remember the five W’s.

Through conversation, you’ll improve your speaking skills and become a better English speaker. If you have the confidence to talk, it can be the greatest tool you have on your language learning journey.

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