Learning Activity: Understanding Messy English Conversations

As I mentioned in my last post on this subject, conversational speech is kind of disorganized, compared to academic lectures. You’ll need to understand both lectures and conversations for the TOEFL… and for your actual life as an international student.

Conversation is messy—speakers interrupt each other, talk over each other, say the wrong words, repeat themselves a little too often, and have tons of verbal pauses. Make sure that you are ready for this as you prepare for your life abroad.

I have a good pair of practice activities for you to do, so that you can understand the messy structure of English conversation. First, listen to the interview between George Strombo and Jackie Chan featured in this blog post.

There are direct links to the interview on YouTube and Tune.PK. As you listen, also read a transcript of the interview. In my transcript, I made an effort to write down all the messy parts of the conversation between George and Jackie—all the interruptions, misspeech, talking over, and so on. Listening and reading this interview can help you really recognize what a real English conversation sounds like.

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Next, listen to my interview with Othman Zaimi, featured in this post. And read the transcript of the interview, also linked in the post. You can find a direct link to the interview audio here. And you can see my transcript here.

In this transcript, I actually got rid of a lot of the messiness of my conversation with Othman. Our verbal pauses, our repetition, the interruptions, and the talking over— these have all been left out. This is because the transcript is designed to inform you about international student employment. It’s not meant to teach you about the structure of the conversation itself—it just needs to be straightforward and easy to read. (As I’ve mentioned before, transcripts are not always 100% accurate—it’s actually pretty common for a transcript to edit a conversation slightly to make it more writing-like.)

As you listen to Othman and I talk, carefully compare our speech to the written version. What words, phrases, and pauses did I leave out? Why do you think I made the editing decisions I did? This exercise will allow you to directly compare the features of real conversation to the more straightforward traits of written English.

Together, these two activities can give you a much better understanding of English conversation, in all of its sloppy glory!


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  • David Recine

    David is a Test Prep Expert for Magoosh TOEFL and IELTS. Additionally, he's helped students with TOEIC, PET, FCE, BULATS, Eiken, SAT, ACT, GRE, and GMAT. David has a BS from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and an MA from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. His work at Magoosh has been cited in many scholarly articles, his Master's Thesis is featured on the Reading with Pictures website, and he's presented at the WITESOL (link to PDF) and NAFSA conferences. David has taught K-12 ESL in South Korea as well as undergraduate English and MBA-level business English at American universities. He has also trained English teachers in America, Italy, and Peru. Come join David and the Magoosh team on Youtube, Facebook, and Instagram, or connect with him via LinkedIn!

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2 Responses to Learning Activity: Understanding Messy English Conversations

  1. Zouzou Bi Y. Olivier June 6, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    Dear David, good morning i want to know if it possible to download your interview with Zaimi on soundcloud. Please give me the link if it’s possible. I’m a Magoosh premium student.


    • David Recine
      David Recine June 6, 2016 at 11:19 am #

      Glad you liked this track enough to want to download it. 🙂 (And hopefully the transcript in this post will help you review the content of the interview too!)

      I just went into my Soundcloud account and enabled downloading on this track. You should now be able to download the full interview by registering for Soundcloud, logging in, going to the link for the interview, and clicking the download option. Here’s a direct link to the track on Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/david-recine-1/othman-zaimi-interview . And here’s a link to instructions on how you can download after logging in to Soundcloud: http://listenanddiscover.help.soundcloud.com/customer/portal/articles/2167090-downloading-tracks

      Magoosh Premium subscribers and non-premium subscribers should both be able to download this audio now. But if you have any trouble, post here again, and I can provide more download help.

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