7 Tips for Conversational Competence

At one point or another, you’re going to have to converse with a Native English speaker. The sooner – and more often – you do this, the better off you will be. It’s understandable that you may feel quite nervous about starting or keeping a conversation in English. But don’t worry, even if the conversation doesn’t go as well as you planned, the important thing is that you tried. Here are some tips to remember to get you through any English conversation.

1. Listen

Don’t you hate when you’re talking to somebody and you can tell they’re not really listening? Don’t be that person! Ignore the distractions around you, and focus on the words being said. Those are the keys to becoming an effective listener. People always appreciate a good listener.


2. Be Flexible

No two conversations are the same so you would be wasting your time to have a conversational script prepared. Everybody is different, so the way they react to something you say is always going to be different. Other variables include the emotional or even physical state of the people involved, the environment, the cultural background(s) of the individuals involved, relational history and circumstances. So because there are so many different variables and factors in just one conversation, you need to be flexible. You can have a few topics in mind that you’d like to discuss with people like sports, the weather or work. But if you’re talking to a co-worker who is feeling a little depressed that day, he may not be inclined to talk about last night’s basketball game with you. So be flexible! Let the conversation flow naturally and be discerning about what topics would be appropriate at certain times.

3. Be Honest

Being honest about your thoughts and feelings opens the way to a trusting relationship. If you’re honest, the person you’re conversing with is more likely to disclose personal information with you. You will likely have more meaningful, deeper conversations. If other people know you have a reputation for being honest, others will gravitate towards you.

4. Ask Effective Questions

To keep a conversation going, you can’t be the only one talking. You need to ask good questions to get the other person talking. It takes some discretion to ask good questions, you don’t want the other person to think you’re being nosy or trying to get gossip. But here are a few things to consider before asking a question:

  • How well do I know this person? What are their interests? What are they interested in talking about?
  • Is it appropriate to ask this question right now?
  • Will they be offended by this question?


5. Respond Appropriately

Conversations are give and take. You give, you take. You listen, you respond. So when you ask somebody a question, and they give their answer, you need to respond appropriately. To give a good response, be honest in your answer, but try not to be abrasive or rude. Organize your thoughts so you can give a clear, concise answer, expressing one thought at a time.

6. Avoid Gossip

Revealing personal information about someone else (even if it’s true) can be quite damaging. So avoid this type of conversation topic. There are plenty of other things to talk about with others! Plus you don’t want to have a reputation as a gossiper. This may make others feel uncomfortable around you or they may feel hesitant to share information with you. That would not be conducive if you’re interested in having good conversations and maintaining deep personal friendships with others.


7. Be Yourself

The people you’re having a conversation with are interested in you. So be yourself! The best kinds of friendships and conversations are the ones where you feel comfortable enough to fully be yourself. Others will also appreciate it when you are being yourself.

What helps you to get through any English conversation? Leave some of your tips down below. Don’t forget to check out my website English Expressions, and follow me on Twitter!