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If you’re like most advanced or fluent students of the English language you’ve likely had the experience of feeling left out of a group conversation. Most advanced and fluent students feel pretty confident in one-on-one conversation. But most feel much less comfortable in a conversation involving many people. In this video I show you my top 5 tips for making group conversation more enjoyable, rewarding and fun!
Let yourself imagine this: You’re in a group at work or at school, and everyone else is a native English speaker. These are the kinds of moments you’ve been studying and preparing for! You want to be in the middle of it! But how do you participate in that conversation? Everyone is speaking so quickly and the conversation is taking twists and turns. People are talking over one another and it feels impossible to keep up, let alone figure out how to say something!
Today we’re going to go over my top 5 tips and strategies for participating in group English conversation.
I’ve had lots of students explain this scenario and ask for advice. When you’re speaking with all native speakers, the pace of conversation can be fast. And when you’ve said something and it doesn’t really get acknowledged, it’s hard to know what to do. Sometimes the pace of the conversation is fast, the ideas continue, and the conversation moves on without you having expressed yourself clearly.
Here, a student of mine is explaining a scenario that you probably know well if you live in North America. He’s talking about when he’s in a group of native speakers.
But recently I have a program, the group project. I get to discuss at a time, they are heating up, and if I speak English not fluently they ignore me ’cause they’re serious to talk so I think it’s problem, and I want to improve that. That’s a problem.
But may be because I translate from Japanese to English and then it is weird for English people. That’s why. I am fine to break into the conversations when that happen in Japan.
So you feel that once you’ve said something, you know it’s kind of complex, may be you haven’t articulated it very clearly, perfectly and then do they just sort of move on?
They kind of ignore it without getting clarification? I felt like they don’t understand what I mean– And they don’t ask you?
Hey what do you mean? Sometimes they ask me, but they are working on some thing they don’t want… This brings up a good point.
So let’s talk a little bit about some strategies for that.
And then we can also talk about a couple things like I am hearing you say woking, and so that means you’re not saying working. I am putting an R sound in there, and when you’re saying it, I’m not hearing the R sound.
So that’s something we can talk about in a second. Yeah it’s the problem. I think this is something that’s really useful for everybody. Because I’ve had a lot of people tell me that when I’m in a group, it’s really hard for me to speak my mind because the conversation’s moving more quickly than when it’s one on one.
You’ve figured out how to just say what you want to say but you know that sometimes
it is not totally clear. And the people who are hearing you, the conversation is moving on.
They’re not taking the time to stop and understand.
So, an important…
It’s important for you to take that role then. If they’re not going to do that, then when you’ve articulated something, and when you know that it might not have been that clear, you can say, I am not sure I said that right, do you understand what I mean. I think it’s probably important for you to take the initiative before they move on. You can usually see it on somebody’s face if they don’t quite understand Yeah, exactly. And so that, as soon as you start seeing that look, flip it to them and don’t let them move on. Because you’re going to ask them a specific question about, you’re going to continue to engage them. Are you understanding what I’m saying?
So Tip #1 there is to take the initiative and make sure you’re being understood. You’ve said something, and you’re not sure people understood you. Immediately say one of these sentences:
Does that make sense?
Do you understand me?
Or you can even say, I don’t think I said that right. Do you know what I mean?
You can even acknowledge that you may not have been clear, that opens the door for someone to ask for clarification. “I don’t think I said that right, do you know what I mean?” Or, “Do you understand?”
By doing this, you will definitely get your point acknowledged, and likely it will be further discussed.
But I would say phrase a question to them.
To stop, you know, that will, unless they’re extremely rude people, which they are probably not, that will stop them from moving on, to actually seek clarification.
Some people will not ask for clarifications because they feel bad that they didn’t understand, so this is just a way of acknowledging, hey, I am not a native speaker here.
We’re talking about complex things. I might not say something the way I should. You’re going to go ahead and stop the momentum a little bit to make sure that they understand and then that’s the kind of thing that can lead to them asking you a question and making sure everybody’s on the same page, making sure you’re still able to contribute.
In this kind of situation, if you can, if you have a smart phone, if you can record it, then you can go back and you can, ’cause they might be helping you out.
When you say, do you understand what I mean, and they say no, and then you explain a little more, when they understand what you mean, they’re going to say it the right way.
That was tip #2. If at all possible, record group conversations like this with your smart phone if you have one. If you’re going into a group conversation, maybe with a group of students about a project, or a group of colleagues, pull out your phone and start a voice memo before you begin. You can even say, “I’m going to record this to work on my English.” That will remind everyone that you’re not a native speaker, and these kinds of conversations aren’t as easy for you as they might be for others.
They’re going to say, oh, blah blah blah blah blah and then you’re like, yes. And so they’re giving you the right phrase. Unless you write it down in the moment you’re going to forget it maybe and you don’t want to stop the momentum more by writing it down. So if you have recorded it, then you can go through and you can listen to that and write down those phrases and this is also a way that you’re going to start building not just specific vocabulary but sentence construction, whole phrases to talk about the kinds of things you need to talk about in your field.
Tip #3: Screen capture is your friend. If you’re recording a voice memo or a conversation, that could be a really really long voice memo. Well, if you can keep your phone out, then you can screencap certain parts to remember to go back later. Let me show you what I mean.
Okay this is my phone, it’s a note 9, and I am recording a voice memo. Hello, hello, hello! So as you’re in the group conversation, if there’s something that you think, yes, I want to be able to remember that, to come back to it. Know how to do a screen cap on your phone. For me, I have to press two buttons at the same time for about two seconds and then it takes a screen capture of what is on the screen. Now, the voice recorder is still recording. So later, I can go back and I can look in my gallery at my photos, I can see about what time that happened within the voice memo, and I can skip to that part in the voice memo. That can save you a lot of time if you’ve recorded a very long conversation. You can just go to the points where you really need to review quite easily.
Tip #4: Collect these words and phrases. Write them down. The student that I was speaking with in this class was studying Economics. So discussing topics in Economics is something he is going to want to do for the rest of his working life. In a conversation with a native speaker, he is going to learn the phrases to use to express ideas relating to economics. Keep a notebook of English phrases and vocab words you’re using, you’re learning. Look over them for several days after you learn them. If on your audio file, a native speaker has said them, imitate them on your own, out loud. Practice it, try to say it just like the native speaker did. Try to get comfortable with that pronunciation.
And Tip #5: take it a step further. Go to Youglish.com and type in the word or phrase you’re learning. Hear lots of other examples of native speakers using that word or phrase, and pay attention. What are they talking about? What context are they in? Does that lead you to other useful phrases that are related? This kind of work will really pay off. Youglish is a search engine for YouTube videos with English subtitles and you can filter it to American English. You can skip from clip to clip and you can also move forward or backward within a clip to get the full context, a great resource.
Group conversation is tough, but by using the phrases in Tip 1 and the method in Tips 2, 3, 4, and 5, you can get a lot more comfortable and confident speaking English in these kinds of environments.
In the Comments, I’d love to hear from you. What is the most important area where YOU can improve your group conversation skills? And which of these tips are you going to try out? If you’ve put some of these tips into action I would love to get your feedback.
To study some real life English conversation, check out my Real Life English playlist. You’ll learn new vocabulary words, idioms, phrases, and of course you’ll learn a lot about pronunciation too. I’ll link that playlist in the video description.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.