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Learn English: How to start a conversation

Two people discussing with each other
Two people discussing with each other.

Flickr CC: Chloe Muro

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Meeting new people can be a challenge – so we've got some great tips to help you start a conversation, and keep it going!

Say hello!

There’s no perfect way to start a conversation: the best tip we can offer is to be yourself, and be confident. 

In most cases, the type of conversation you have will depend on where you are, and what you have in common with the people around you. 

Of course, you will probably start with a greeting:

'Hi my name is Jason.'

A cat saying hello
Be confident and say hello when you see someone.

Flickr CC: Pierre Anquet

Sometimes you can begin by asking the person a very general question or offering a compliment:

Hello, I love your red shoes. Where did you get them?

Is that a new camera? It looks amazing.

Or you could ask about the weather, or something taking place nearby:

It's so hot today. How are you coping with the heat?

I'm so sick of this rain. Is it always like this here in winter?

Whatever your opening line, be brave and have a go. Remember not every conversation has to lead to friendship. Sometimes a small interaction, like asking for directions or offering a compliment, can help you feel more confident. And if the conversation doesn't go well, don't worry about it. There are lots of other people you can talk to, so try again with someone else!

Looking around
Look around the room and see if you can speak to someone.

Flickr CC: iDJ Photography

Look around

If you are at an event, like a party, a dinner or a concert, you already have something in common with the people around you.

You can start a conversation with a question related to the event:

Have you seen this band play before?

Have you tried the birthday cake, it’s delicious!

How do you know [the person hosting the party]?

Or you can start with a fact about yourself, then follow with a question:

This is the first Australian rules football game I’ve ever been to! Who do you think will win?

If you're at work or school together, this is also a good starting place for a conversation.

This is my first day here, could you help me to find my lecture theatre?

What subjects are you studying this year?

How long have you worked here?

Can you recommend anywhere good to eat around here?

Group conversation
Join a group conversation when you can.

Flickr CC: Sagar

Join in

In a group situation, you can sometimes join an existing conversation.

It is a good idea to listen in and make sure it's appropriate to join. If it's a personal or private conversation, the speakers might not want you to interrupt. You'll have to use your own judgement.

If they seem friendly and open, you can try to find something interesting to add. 

You could try one of these phrases for joining in:

Excuse me, I overheard you talking about…

Hi, my name is...

I heard you talking about…

Did I hear you say…?

Here are some examples of ways to use these phrases:

Excuse me, I overheard you talking about travelling to Australia. My sister went there last year. When are you going?

Hi my name is Shirley. I heard you talking about Adelaide university. I’m a student there, too. What do you study?

Did I hear you say you’re watching the new Game of Thrones series? I’m half way through it, I love that show. Where are you up to?

If you find it hard to find a natural way to join the conversation, you can say:

Excuse me, would you mind if I joined your conversation? I don’t know anyone here yet, and you look interesting to talk to.

Talking to each other
Talking to each other is important in language learning.

Flickr CC: Eva Funderburgh 'Conversation + Stilts'

Keep talking!

Once you have found someone who is interesting to talk to, you can keep the conversation going by showing your interest.

Words and phrases we use to keep a conversation going include: 'really', 'I see', and 'that's interesting'.

A: I went to the beach yesterday.

B: Really?

A: Yes, it was so nice to go swimming.

A: I usually walk along the path by the river.

B: I see.

A: It's lovely there in the morning.

A: I've been thinking I'd like to travel next year.

B: That's interesting.

A: Yes, I can't decide if I should visit Thailand or Indonesia.

Ask questions
Asking people questions is an important part of language learning.

Flickr CC: Hector Parayuelos

Ask questions

Of course, to make a conversation successful you have to ask questions about the other person.

It's never fun to talk to someone who only talks about themselves - so show your interest in the other person and their ideas.

You could ask a short question to keep the conversation going:

I’m really looking forward to the party on Saturday.

Are you?

Yes, I think everyone will be there.

We can also repeat part of what the other person has said to lead into our question.

I live in Paddington.

Paddington, that’s very close to the city isn’t it?

If the person seems open to continuing the conversation, you could expand by asking a question that will help you to learn more about them.

What do you do for a living?

Do you live around here?

Do you have any exciting plans for the weekend?

You can also ask about the other person's opinion or experiences, but it is better to avoid personal topics like politics until you know them better.

What did you think about the show?

What was your experience of studying here?

What do you like about this neighbourhood?

A smiling lady
Be yourself and share your honest opinion when you want to start a conversation.

Flickr CC: Hsuanya Tsai

Be yourself

Remember to be yourself and share your honest opinion.

Many English learners worry about speaking in English because their grammar is not perfect. But having a conversation is not like passing a test - you don't have to be perfect!

The most important thing is to communicate, and that isn't all about language. Smile, laugh, be friendly and confident - these are skills that will help you in conversation, even if your language skills are not yet perfect.

Ending the conversation

If you want to end the conversation you can use phrases like:

Well, I should let you get back to what you were doing.

I just realised you are probably busy, I will go now.

I should let you go.

I should get going.

Remember to thank the person and tell them if you have enjoyed the conversation.

I should let you get back to work, but it's been great talking to you.

I have to get going, but thanks for the chat.

Thanks for talking to me today. It was great to hear your opinion about the neighbourhood. I will have to try out that pizza restaurant you recommended.

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