How to Control a Conversation in English
The key to controlling a conversation is using questions well. Good students know how to ask the right question at the right time. After reading this article, you will be able to start conversations easily and keep the conversation going smoothly even when you don't understand everything.
The best way to begin a conversation is by using "yes / no" questions. The goal is to find some common topics of interest, so that your conversation is enjoyable for both partners. Think about a topic that interests you, and which you think might interest your conversation partner. Use "yes / no" questions to find out if your new friend is interested in the same thing. For example, if you like a particular kind of music, you could ask questions such as these:
Do you like blues music?
Have you ever listened to B.B. King?
Do you know where I can listen to live music?
Are you interested in jazz?
Any question starting with "Do", "Did", "Are", "Is", "Can", "Will", or "Have" can be a good start to a converstaion. However, such questions are just the beginning. You must listen for your partner's answer, then "follow-up" with a more specific question, usually using "what", "when", "where", "who" or "why". So, if your partner says that he or she does like the blues, you can then ask, "Whose music do you like?". If your partner does NOT like blues, then you might ask something like, "What kind of music do you like?". You must always have a "follow-up" question ready. If not, the conversation could come to a quick end.
Now, as the conversation moves along, you might have some communication problems. What should you do then? Again, asking the right question is very important. Here are some key questions that you MUST use whenever you have trouble:
Could you repeat that please?
More informally, we can ask, "What did you say?". Often with friends we might only say "What?". Even if you use informal language, you can make it polite by starting with "Excuse me" or "Pardon me".
Could you speak more slowly please?
This is obviously a good question, but don't use it too often. If you really have trouble understanding somebody, you might think about buying some good cassettes and working to improve your listening comprehension skills. DVDs and VCDs are also good practice for advanced students.
How do you spell blah blah blah?
Maybe you know the word, but you've only seen it in writing. If you hear the spelling, you might understand.
What does blah blah blah mean?
If you can't catch the word exactly, you can say "that" instead of the word. (Don't really say "blah blah blah"! That's just a "filler"!)
Do you mean to say blah blah blah?
If you think you understand, but you're not sure, you can repeat your partner's idea in different words. Then you will know from his or her response whether you were right or not. If instead you just say, "I don't think I understand", then the conversation will come to a stop.