Nothing helps your speaking more than practising with others. In a controlled environment (i.e. a classroom) speaking English with others is relatively easy, as you’re probably practising particular expressions or vocabulary.
But in the outside world, lots of things can go wrong. Maybe you don’t understand the other person – or maybe they don’t understand you. Maybe it’s the subject you’re talking about which is difficult, or maybe the other person uses a lot of slang or English idioms that you don’t understand. Here are some phrases you can use when there are communication problems.
You don’t know the word
Don’t let the conversation stop. If you don’t know the word, try to say it in another way. Define it, give an example, or give a synonym.
For example, if you can’t remember the word “mug” you can try these:
Definition: “It’s something you can drink coffee from.”
Explanation: “It’s made of china. You use it for drinking coffee.”
Synonym: “It’s like a cup, but bigger.”
The other person doesn’t understand you
You’ll probably guess that this has happened from the blank look on the other person’s face.
Ask a question such as “Do you know what I mean?”
Or use a rephrasing phrase, such as “Let me say that again”, or “Let me put that another way.”
You run out of things to say
A conversation is a two-way thing. The easiest way to get the other person to contribute is by asking a question.
You can try a short question like in this example from our page on how to keep a conversation going:
“We tried out the new Chinese restaurant last night.”
Or you can ask a more direct question, such as “What do you think?” or “what’s your opinion?”
You don’t know how to end the conversation
Some conversations should be short. For example, asking someone for directions, giving directions, asking for information in a shop are all situations where the conversation comes to a natural end. In these situations, a simple “Thank you” (where the typical response is “You’re welcome” or “Not at all”) shows both people that the conversation is over.
But in other situations, you might just be chatting, with no particular purpose. End the conversation with a phrase like “I’d better get going” or “I think that’s my bus / train” (if you’re waiting for public transport, say) to end the conversation naturally.