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Want to Improve Your Conversational English Faster? Ask More Questions!

Image representing students learning how to improve their conversational English faster by asking more questions

In his famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie points out that there is one very simple way to get people to like you and enjoy talking to you: ask them lots of questions about themselves.

Everybody wants to feel like they are interesting enough for other people to listen to, and that means that just about everyone enjoys talking about themselves. If you show enough genuine interest in them and the things they care about, they are much more likely to relax and enjoy having a chat with you.

That makes it much easier to get the conversation flowing naturally – which means you don’t have to work so hard to keep it going.

The trick is to focus on “open” questions rather than “closed” questions. A closed question is one that can be answered in one word, usually yes or no, or a very short, simple phrase/sentence. An open question is one that you need to explain a little bit more.

For example, imagine you are trying to start a conversation with someone about their job.

You ask them what they do for a living, and they tell you, “I’m a teacher.”

You could follow up the question by asking them what subject they teach, or which school they work at, or whether they enjoy it. But these are all closed questions – they can answer each of them in a few seconds. After that, it will be hard to continue the conversation.

However, what if you asked something like: “Why did you decide you wanted to become a teacher?”

This is a more complicated question to answer. The other person might take a moment to think about it, and then they will probably give you a longer, more thoughtful answer with more information about themselves, which makes it easier for you to reply or ask another question.

Even better, you could say something that sounds like you are really interested in the area that they work in, for example something that you saw in the news. This suggests that you are not just “being polite” or “practising your English” – you genuinely want to know what they think. Now that the other person is more confident that they won’t bore you, they will probably open up even more.

For example, imagine you said something like:

“What is it like to be a teacher at the moment? I heard that there are a lot of changes happening in how you have to test students.”

In this situation, the other person has the impression that you are really interested in their experience or opinion on being a teacher. It’s very likely that they will give you a much longer and more detailed answer.

When you are working on improving your conversational English, this is great, because it gives you a chance to listen really carefully to what the other person is saying, pay attention to their pronunciation and pick up useful vocabulary. You might not understand every single word but you should be able to get the overall meaning. It also takes the pressure off you to do all the talking!

On the other hand, if you ask lots of closed questions with short answers, you have to keep thinking of new questions every few seconds. This can be quite stressful, because you’re worrying about getting your English perfect instead of listening to what the other person is saying, which makes it hard to follow the conversation.  

So, next time you meet an English speaker for the first time and want to work on your conversational language skills, remember to think of questions to ask them that they can’t answer in a single word!

Ready to take your English speaking skills to the next level? Take a look at our range of language courses at www.Eurocentres.com