081 How to start a conversation in English

Hey there, are welcome to another episode of the Art of Business English. This week I am sharing a lesson with you to help you improve your socialising skill set. In fact, this skill set is often one of the hardest things people face when gaining confidence speaking English. How to start a conversation in English.

As you are probably aware many people feel a bit shy or embarrassed starting a conversation with someone. This is true for many even in their native language. So, just imagine if we compound this by putting a language barrier in the way.

Well, never fear, for today I am going to give you some tips and language skills to help you start a conversation with someone in English.

Let’s get into it.


​Breaking the ice


I’m sure that many of you have heard this expression before. Quite literally it means, breaking the initial silence between two people, where the “ice” is the silence. Breaking the ice can often be the most difficult part of the whole experience. What you need are some techniques to get you started.


​Leading with a question


The easiest way to kick off a conversation is by leading with a question. So, what I mean by that is, once the initial introductions have been made, then you can jump in with an easy to answer questions. Let me model it for you.

Speaker A: Hi my name is John, nice to meet you.

Speaker B: Hi John, I am Brian, a pleasure.

Speaker A: So, did you find our office OK?

Speaker B: Yes, the directions your secretary sent were very clear.

Let’s look at some more example sentences that you could lead with. Remember, the secret is to keep them fairly simple and easy to answer.

  • So, is this your first time in Barcelona?
  • Have you got a chance to visit the city?
  • Crazy weather today, is it normally this hot in June?
  • Looks like we will have a busy session today.
  • There sure are a lot of people here today.
  • So, where are you from?

As you can see, some of these questions are just statements, however we deliver them in such a way as to make it easy for the person to answer. Let me demonstrate.

Speaker A: This venue is really something.

Speaker B: Yes, it is very impressive, is it your first time here too?

Speaker A: It is, and I’m already impressed.

Speaker B: Me too, I can’t wait for the conference to start.

Let’s break it down. The leading question is in grammatical terms a statement. However, you are making an obvious statement that someone can easily respond to. Speaker B can easily respond in the affirmative and then add something to keep the conversation moving forward.

Now, if you want to make a statement even more powerful then you can attach a tag to it. Question tags are a great way to open conversations as they make it super easy for people to respond.

Let’s take a look at question tags, or tag questions.


​Leading with a question


To form tag questions, we need to first start by making a statement. The statement can be in affirmative or negative. We then add a mini question at the end. However, if we use an affirmative statement then the tag that follows must be affirmative. And if we use a negative statement, then the tag must be positive.

Let me demonstrate with an example.

This venue is really something, isn’t it? Affirmative statement followed by a negative tag.

I’m not from here, are you? Negative statement followed by a positive tag.

The next rule of tag questions is that the tag must also mirror the subject, verb and the tense. What do I mean by that? Well, again, let me demonstrate.

Looks like we will have a busy session today, won’t we?

Here you can see, I have created the tag using the negative form of the auxiliary verb will and the same subject “we”.

One of the most common mistakes I see is that people use “isn’t it” for every tense and verb.

Let’s look at some more examples.

Simple Present

You drink coffee, don’t you?

Present Perfect

You have visited our company before, haven’t you?

Can

John can bring his family to Christmas party, can’t he?

Simple Past

You didn’t get a chance to finish that report, did you?


So, as you can see, we are using do or does in the simple present, depending on the subject. We use the auxiliary verb have or has with the Present Perfect. Regarding can, which is a model verb, we just make it negative and with the simple past we use did.

I hope that is clear.

OK, let’s look at some examples of easy conversation starters with tag questions.

  • It’s really snowing out there, isn’t it?
  • It’s been a great start to the event, hasn’t it?
  • So, you work with Mark, don’t you?
  • I think we have spoken on the phone, haven’t we?
  • Amazing show, isn’t it?


​Final thoughts


Well, there you go my friends, some tips on how to start a conversation with someone who you have just met and get the ball rolling. Remember, the secret is to make it easy for people to respond by using simple non-offensive questions that anyone can answer.

I am working on a new course called “how to engage people in conversation”. This is a mini or micro course which is designed to be easy and quick to consume and get you results instantly. If you are interested in pre-enrolment, then click here for more information.

Until then, have a great week and happy socialising.

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About the Author Andrew

Andrew is the CEO and founder of the Art of Business English. Besides teaching and coaching native Spanish speakers in Business English, he is also passionate about mountain biking, sailing and healthy living. When He is not working, Andrew loves to spend time with his family and friends.

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