1 When you are speaking your own language with someone who is not a native speaker of the language, do you change the way you speak? For example, do you:
- talk more slowly?
- talk more loudly?
- use simpler words?
- repeat and explain?
- avoid long conversations?
2 When people speak to you in English do they do any of the above?
How do you feel if and when they do these things?
3 Talk about your experience speaking English with a native speaker / speakers. What particular difficulties do you have? What, if anything, do you do to make conversations easier?
When a person is not a native speaker of a language, it is easy to lose control of a conversation. Native speakers may not give all the information you need to understand something, or they may interrupt you before you are finished speaking. They may misunderstand something you say, or you may misunderstand them. Staying in control of the conversation and guiding it are possible even if you are not a fluent speaker of the language. There are different skills that you can use to help you guide the conversation. They are:
- asking for focused explanation;
- holding your turn;
- correcting misunderstandings;
- other ways of guiding the conversation.
The following are definitions and examples of each skill:
1 Asking for focused explanation. Focused explanation is like focused repetition, except that you are asking someone to give more information or another explanation.
1) Use question words.
For example: “Where do you want me to put it?”
2) Repeat the word(s) that came just before the word you want repeated.
Make your voice rise as it would with a question. For example:
A: “Put the eraser next to the ashtray.”
B: “Put it next to the…?” (The speaker will then say, “ashtray”)
3) If you cannot repeat the words the other person has said, ask the
speaker directly. For example:
“Could you say that last part again?”
“Could you repeat what you said after___?”
Ask the speaker to explain what he said. Guide the speaker to use different words, examples or more details:
Ways to ask for focused explanation /repetition:
“I understand this, but could you explain the (other/next/first/last) thing you said?”
“I got what you said about the first part, but I didn’t get the next part.”
“Do you mean that I need to enter more than one piece of information in the computer? (Also: Did you mean…?)
“Can you give an example of this?”
“I’m not sure (how/ when/ where) to enter the data.”
2 Holding your turn. When you hold your turn, you are telling the other person that you have not finished speaking and that you will say something in a few seconds.
Show that you want to speak, but you need time to think first.
Ways to Hold Your Turn
“This weekend?” (Repeat part of the other person’s question, with a question voice)
“I think…” “Uh…” “Well…” “I’m not sure….”
“Let me see…” “Let me think…”
“Just a ‘sec’” (Just a second) “Um, how can I say this…”
“Let me try to say this correctly…” “Well, let me think for a minute…
3 Correcting Misunderstanding. If you feel your partner did not understand you correctly, interrupt and explain what you mean.
Ways to Correct Misunderstanding
“Uh, it’s Western Business machines.”
“Uhm, well…. actually my name is pronounced (pronounce your name).”
“I think the homework is actually due tomorrow, not the day after tomorrow.”
“Actually, I understood the opposite.”
“I think you may be mistaken. I heard that we do get the day off on
“Let me see. You said to put another butter knife on the table.”
“Let me see if I understand” (Repeat the information or explanation briefly)
“Okay. So I put the cole slaw here?”
“Okay. So you want me to put the knives on this table?”
“So you’re going to remove the napkins now?”
“So he will call the bus boy? Is that right?”
“In other words, I need to bring new dishes now.”
Ways to Ask for Meaning
1 Try to repeat the word or phrase that you didn’t understand. Use a question voice: “Cold salad?”
2 Ask for spelling: “Cole slaw? How do you spell that?”
3 Say: “Cole slaw? What does that mean?”
“Uh… I don’t understand. Cole slaw?”
“Excuse me, what does ‘cole slaw’ mean?”
Phrases and Expressions for Checking
“So you mean… they never received the typewriter?”
“So the hospital is still waiting for the typewriters?”
“Do you mean that they haven’t received them?’
“In other words they still haven’t received them?”
“So you want me to call Pierre?”
“You call this cole slaw?”
“It’s called cole slaw?”
“I’m sorry, did you say cole slaw?”
4 Summarizing: There are two reasons why it is important to summarize when you are speaking in a second language.
1) You can make sure that you understood everything correctly.
2) You can help the other people feel confident that you understood them. For most Americans, it is usually acceptable to summarize what another person has just said, especially on the job or in a class. In fact it can be helpful to other listeners.
Repeat information or explanations briefly to show the speaker what you’ve understood.
“Let me see. You said…” “Let me see if I understand….”
“Okay. So…” “Okay. So you want me to…”
“So you’re going to…” “So he will…”
“In other words, I need to…”
5 Other Ways to Guide the Conversation:
“Could you speak a little more slowly, please?”
“I’m sorry, but I can’t hear you very well.”
“Could you speak louder, please?” (“More loudly” is also used)
“Sorry, I didn’t hear that.”
“I’m sorry, but could you use simpler words?”
“I’m not a native speaker of English. Would you mind using simpler words? Thanks.”
Ways to Delay Your Answer. Sometimes you really don’t want to answer a question when someone asks it. You want to think about it first and talk about it later. You need to delay your answer.
“How soon can you start this?”
“Uhm…can I get back to you on that?”
“Could you give me some time to think about this?”
“Let me get back to you about that tomorrow/ this afternoon/ after the meeting/ on Wednesday, etc.”
“Uh… we’re working on that. I’ll have to get back to you.”
Other ways of guiding conversation such as hints, expressing doubt and uncertainty are used. A hint is something that you say to show what you are thinking or feeling, without saying it directly. There can be strong and mild hints. Strong hints are not conventionalized and thus require more inferencing activity on the part of the hearer.
e.g. (Intent: getting a lift home) (strong hint)
Will you be going home now?
Mild hint contains no elements which are of immediate relevance to the intended proposition, thus putting increased demand for context analysis and knowledge activation on the interlocutor.
e.g. (Intent: getting a lift home) (mild hint)
I didn’t expect the meeting to end this late.
On the whole English people are still rather reserved and restrained, at least in comparison with Slavonic people. This means that they are reluctant to assert their opinions too forcefully, or express their feelings strongly, at least to strangers and mere acquaintances. It also leads them to play down the seriousness of their misfortunes and failures. These tendencies are reflected in the following conversational habits:
1) wide use of such words as well, personally, as a matter of fact, etc. and question tags (e.g.: Sally’s a nice girl, isn’t she? It was a good concert, wasn’t it?);
2) use of understatement:
e.g.: a) (When one is very ill) – I’m not too well at the moment.
b) (When one has failed to get an important job) – Well,
naturally I’m rather disappointed.
This particularly desirable when speaking of one’s own possessions or achievements (to avoid seeming boastful).
e.g. – Congratulations on winning the chess championship.
– Thank you. We didn’t do too badly, did we?
Well, In a way, It all depends…:
Well is used to express hesitation or uncertainty, often before answering a question:
a) e.g. – Shall we go to the pictures tonight?
– Well, I really ought to stay at home and write some letters.
b) e.g. – Is it easy to get tickets for their concerts?
– It depends (who’s conducting / what’s on the programme).
Doubt and uncertainty is the fact that something is not known or has not been decided.
I’m not sure / certain. I think so.
I’m not quite at all sure / certain. If I’m not mistaken.
I can’t /couldn’t say (for sure /certain).
As far as I know. These may also be used when one knows some-
If I remember rightly. thing but does not wish to seem dogmatic.
1 Study the phrases and situations used to hold your turn:
“I’d like to know”.
2 Match the following phrases with the skills of guiding the conversation:
“Could you give me some time to think about this?” delay an answer
1 “So you’re going to…” _____________
2 “In other words they still haven’t come to any agreement?”______
3 “I’m not sure….” ___________________
4 “I’m sorry, did you say square deal?”___________________
5 “Can you give an example of this?”_____________________
6 “Let me get back to you about that tomorrow.” ____________
7 “I’m not sure (how/ when/ where) to enter the data.” ________
8 “Um, how can I say this…” ____________________________
9 “So you mean… they never received the tapescript?” ________
10 “I’m not sure… but I think….” ________________________
3 Study the following example of ineffective communication and answer the questions given below.
Situation: Pierre is from France. Pierre works for Western Business Machines Company. He works in the Shipping Department. At the moment, he is calling Maria Garcia at Alameda Hospital about the late typewriter delivery. The receptionist at the hospital answers the phone.
Receptionist: Alameda Hospital.
Pierre: Hello, is uh… (He looks for a piece of paper on his desk.) …uh, is Mr. somebody Garcia there?
Receptionist: Um…we have several Garcias here. Do you have a first name?
Pierre: Uh…oh! Here it is! (He finds the piece of paper). Maria Garcia.
Receptionist: Maria Garcia’s not in right now. She’ll have to call you back.
Receptionist: She’s out. She’ll have to call you back later. (The
receptionist begins to sound irritated).
Pierre: (He is confused. He doesn’t say anything).
Receptionist: Do you want to leave a message?
Pierre: Uh…You see, uh… she ordered some uh, typewriters, but I don’t
think that we… we delivered them, and…
Receptionist: Why don’t you just tell me your name and number and she
will call you back?
Pierre: What? Oh, my name is Pierre Dupont. My company is Western
Receptionist: Pierre Dupont, Western Machines… okay… give me your
number. (The receptionist is speaking quickly).
Pierre: (He thinks to himself, “No, it’s Western Business Machines.” He
doesn’t say anything).
Receptionist: Does she have your number? (The receptionist sounds
Pierre: Oh, yes. Ah… my number is 733-2084.
Receptionist: Okay. I’ll give Ms. Garcia your message. Good-bye.
Pierre: Ah… thank you. Good-bye.”(Pierre hangs up the phone. He thinks to himself, “Sometimes I hate making phone calls.
a) Analysis: Can you explain?
1 The receptionist does not say the name of Pierre’s company correctly. Why do you think Pierre doesn’t give her the correct name?
2 Why do you think that the receptionist’s voice began to sound irritated during the conversation?
3 How could Pierre have improved the conversation?
b) Say whether the following statements are true (T) or false (F):
1 In the conversation above, Pierre talks to Maria Garcia about the typewriters.
2 At first, Pierre cannot remember Maria Garcia’s first name because he doesn’t have the piece of paper with her name on it in front of him.
3 The receptionist says the name of Pierre’s company correctly.
4 Pierre cannot remember his own telephone number.
4 The following interaction shows Pierre interacting more effectively with the receptionist. In this interaction, Pierre uses some of the skills for guiding the conversation. Read the skills listed below and then read the dialogue. Identify the skill that is being used and saying “What is happening”. Act out a similar situation.
Dialogue What is happening?
Receptionist: (She answers the phone)
Pierre: Hello, this is Pierre Dupont Pierre introduces himself and
from Western Business his company at the beginning of the
Machines (He looks at a note conversation. Pierre knows Maria
on his desk). Could I speak to Garcia’s full name before he
Maria Garcia? telephones.
Receptionist: Maria Garcia? I’m afraid
she isn’t in right now. Can I…
Pierre: I’m sorry, she’s not…? Pierre interrupts to ask for focused
repetition when he doesn’t under-
stand the phrase “She is not in right
Receptionist: She is not in…. (She The receptionist repeats what she
waits for Pierre to respond). She’s out. said before because Pierre guided
She’ll have to call you back. her with a focused repetition
question. Then she says the same
thing in a different way.
Pierre: She is out?.... Oh, I see. Pierre holds his turn while he
Uh… will she be back today? decides what he wants to ask.
Receptionist: Yes. She’ll be in the office
later this afternoon.
Pierre: I see…uh… could I leave a Pierre holds his turn while he
message? thinks of the correct phrase,
“Could I leave a message?”
Receptionist: Sure. (She waits for Pierre
Pierre: Please tell her I called about Pierre knows the correct phrase to
the typewriter delivery. use to leave a message. He doesn’t
try a long message to the
Receptionist: …the typewriter The receptionist repeats Pierre’s
delivery…. information as feedback that she
Pierre: Uhm hmm… Pierre gives feedback that means,
Receptionist: Okay…and what’s your number?
Pierre: ‘My number is 733-2084.’
Receptionist: 733-2084. All right. And what’s
the spelling of your last name?
Pierre: I’m sorry, could you speak a Pierre controls the receptionist’s
little more slowly? speech by asking her to slow down.
Receptionist: Certainly. How do you spell
your last name? (She speaks more
Pierre: D-U- P-O-N-T.
Receptionist: All right, Mr Dupont, and that
was Western Machines Company…
I’ll give Ms. Garcia a message.
Pierre: Uh… it’s Western Business Pierre politely corrects the
Machines. receptionist’s error.
Receptionist: Oh, I’m sorry. Western Business
Pierre: Yes, that’s right. Pierre gives feedback.
Receptionist: Okay, Mr. Dupont, I’ll give her the
message. Thank you for calling.
Pierre: Excuse me… so… she’ll call me Pierre summarizes what he
back this afternoon. understood.
Receptionist: Yes, she should call you
back before 5.00.
Pierre: Okay. Thank you. Good-bye.
5 Read the following conversation between Dan, an American man, and his Chinese co-worker, Moy. Then answer the questions following the dialogue and act it out making it more effective.
Situation: Dan and Moy are working together on a new product design. Dan calls Moy at his home to talk about the design.
Dan: Hello, Moy. This is Dan.
Moy: Oh, hi, Dan. How are you?
Dan: Fine, uh…have you had a chance to look over the designs I left on your desk?
(There are 2 or 3 seconds of silence)
Dan: Moy? Are you there?
Moy: Yes, I am sorry, I didn’t get to them.
Dan: Oh, that’s’ okay. Will you have a chance to take a look at them this weekend?
(There are 2 or 3 seconds of silence)
Dan: Uhm… but if you don’t get to them until Monday that’s fine. Is that okay? (There are 2 or 3 seconds of silence)
Moy: I think I can look at them tomorrow afternoon. Can I call you tomorrow night?
Dan: Sure. Talk to you then.
Moy: (He is silent for a couple of seconds) Okay. Good-bye.
Dan: Bye. (As Dan hangs up the phone he thinks to himself, “I guess Moy is angry that I want him to work over the weekend.”)
1 What did Moy do that made Dan think he was angry?
2 Do you think Moy was angry?
3 Why do think Dan talked so much?
4 Why do you think Moy did not reply quickly to Dan’s question?
6 Say whether the following statements are true (T) or false (F):
1 If someone (for example, a teacher or a supervisor) has given you an explanation that you don’t understand, it is not rude to ask questions about the explanation.
2 If you are talking to someone and you can’t think of what to say (for example, you’ve forgotten a word), it is better to be silent than to try to say something.
3 If you do not answer a question quickly, most Americans will understand that you need time to think and time to translate from your language to English. They will wait patiently for you to speak.
4 It is usually rude to correct misunderstandings. It is better to not say anything about them.
5 It is helpful to summarize what a person has said because both you and he will know that you’ve understood.
7 Expand the following statements trying to use phrases and expressions of guiding the conversation: asking for focused explanation; holding your turn; summarizing; other ways of guiding the conversation:
1Your friend: “My roommate is a real slob. She never lifts a finger to clean up after herself.
2 You: “Are you going to Nadia’s party tonight?
Your friend: “No, I can’t make it.”
3 Your friend: “Is it important for you to know English if you want
to get ahead in your career?
4 Your friend: “Have you ever been really upset with an American?
5 Your teacher: “In your culture, do people often interrupt each other? Can anyone interrupt anyone else – for example, can a younger person interrupt an older person?
6 Your supervisor: “Is work in this country (Great Britain / the U.S.) like work in your native country? What are some of the differences?
7 Your group mate: “We are having a pot luck dinner at our house this weekend.”
8 Your group mate: “My friend has been trading stocks for six years. He was lucky and it was a good opportunity to get ahead.”
9 Your teacher: “To operate the terminal, you need to plug in this cord, check to see if this light is on, and then wait for it to warm up.”
10 Your neighbour: “My dad has never lost money on the stock market. He plans to buy a house in Malibu, California.
8 Correcting Misunderstanding. Your teacher or a partner will say some things to you that are incorrect. Use the phrases to correct the misunderstandings. Then with the other students, make incorrect statements and have them correct you. For example:
Teacher: “The bank closes at 3.00 on Fridays.”
You: “Uh… I think it closes at 5.00.”
1 Your name is___________, right?
2 You’re from___________, aren’t you?
3 You work at ___________company, don’t you?
4 Haven’t you been here for three years?
5 You already knew English before you came here, didn’t you?
6 Class begins at 9.30.
7 A person can have either full-time or part-time job.
9 Express doubt or uncertainty in reply to the following questions:
1 What time does the programme about H.G. Wells start?
2 Who’s the book by?
3 Is Martin an only child?
4 When did the English change over to decimal currency?
5 Why was the excursion cancelled? Because of the weather?
6 Are these mushrooms edible, do you think?
7 There are some changes in traffic rules.
8 The apartment manager refuses to rent an apartment to Barry and Frank.
10 Using the words given, make up questions, to which another student replies, expressing doubt or uncertainty:
1) Paul – on the phone; 2) the film – American; 3) when – Sally’s birthday; 4) what – you – do at the weekend; 5) far – to the station; 6) feel – about having a new roommate; 7) Rosemary – to have a hard time. 8) Rosita – (not) get a job in an expensive restaurant because of her appearance.
11 Choose the words and phrases used to give a hint, express doubt or uncertainty:
Well; anyway; in a way; it all depends…; I’m not sure / certain; moreover; I think so; I’m not quite at all certain; I couldn’t say for sure; by all means; I’d prefer; I’m afraid I have no idea; if I remember rightly; you were…, weren’t you? I wasn’t at the lecture yesterday; I wish I had…; If I’m not mistaken.
12 Address your friend / fellow-student / co-worker giving him /her a hint:
1 you want to ask for help;
2 you want to know the opinion about your new co-worker;
3 you give a hint to your friend that it’s better to go on vacation together;
4 you’d like to get a piece of advice;
5 you want to know if it is possible to change careers in other countries
13 Respond to the following situations and act them out staying in control of the conversation and guiding it:
a) Some students are discussing how a certain holiday is celebrated in your country.
b) Your friends are discussing how weddings are celebrated in different countries.
c) Your co-workers are discussing how to use a machine that the other person doesn’t know how to use.