Starting a conversation–is there anything harder? Even in your own language, this can be one of the hardest and scariest things to do. Unless you have a very outgoing and extroverted personality, starting a conversation with someone you don’t know can make you nervous. If, on top of that, you must start a conversation in a language you are not yet fluent in, it can be a terrifying task.
But fear not! We have 4 tips today to help you start a conversation in English with people you don’t know or know very little.
Some of the questions we get most often are: How can I practice my speaking? How can I improve my pronunciation? And, of course, one of our most common answers is: try practicing with someone else. It can be a friend, another student, or a private tutor, but hearing your voice speaking in English and mastering the ins and outs of a dialogue are some of the very best ways to slowly but surely become proficient in English.
So let’s have a look at 4 ways to start a conversation in English together with some real life situations you might find yourself in, which could lead to a conversation. Remember: everyone you meet might be happy to chat with you; the only way to find out is to be open and friendly. The more conversations you start, the more comfortable you will get. And who knows? You might make some great new friends along the way.
1) Ask people for their opinion
Remember our post about giving advice? Well, most people also love giving their opinion. So make the most of this universal truth and ask questions. You can ask about people’s personal opinions regarding what’s going on in the world around you or ask about their professional opinions.
Imagine you are at a local fruit’n’veg market. You could ask the stall owner:
- Hi! I’m so sorry, but I wonder if you know the difference between these types of beans? Do you know what recipe I could make?
- Do you mind if I ask you a quick question: should I keep tomatoes in the fridge or not?
2) Compliment people
Everyone likes a compliment. Take notice of what people are wearing or doing and, when you like or admire something, mention it. You must always be genuine and respectful; others will notice if you are making compliments for no reason, so always mean it. Be careful of mentioning people’s appearance, however, in case they are offended or embarrassed.
You and Olivia have known each other for a long time but have never had a conversation. One day, you bump into her at the breadshop:
- Charlie said your paintings are on show at the gallery. Congratulations! I would love to see them sometime.
- That is such a cool umbrella! Where did you get it?
3) Comment on the environment
Imagine you are at a party… There are so many things you can use to start a conversation: you could talk about the décor, the music, the food or the overall energy.
Picture yourself standing next to someone you don’t know. You could turn to them and say:
- I love music from the 70’s, don’t you? One of my favorite bands is The Undertones…
- Liza is so creative, did you know she made all the decorations on the Christmas tree out of papier machê?
4) Ask about people’s interests
The best three are: hobbies, kids and pets. We can all talk about at least one them and most of us have or have had at least one of them. If someone mentions that they enjoy sailing or that their 4 year old is learning how to write or that their pet canary is at the vet, use this information to start a conversation.
- How’s Matilda’s writing coming along? I know a great book to help toddlers write, my aunt used it with my nephews…
- My friend wants to buy a sailing boat but isn’t sure how to start. Can you recommend an agency?
And, finally, we have one tip on what not to do: don’t make it seem like an interview. If you bombard people with lots and lots of questions, it can make them feel uncomfortable. Therefore, if you see someone is not really interested in talking, take the hint and find someone else who you can have a chinwag with (“to have a chinwag” is British slang for a friendly chat).
You can watch one of the ABA teachers, teacher Brandon, talk about how to start a conversation on our new show where we answer students’ questions.
I leave you with a helpful quote for everyday conversations: as David Ogilvy, the father of advertising, said: “If you want to be interesting, be interested”.
Author bio: This post was written by Kate, a teacher from ABA English. ABA English bases English language learning on short films about real life in Europe and the United States. Our course also contains 144 video classes on English grammar, which are available for free. Check out the ABA Teachers Blog for more tips on how to learn English every day.