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Making Conversation

Asking the Right Type of Question

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Have you ever tried to make conversation in English but found it difficult? If you answered 'yes', then you feel the same as many others! This page focuses on questions and strategies you can use when making conversation in English. You'll find suggestions and dialogues to practice and then try out on your own. Follow these tips and you will begin to have longer and more interesting conversations in English.

What Type of Question Gets a Good Answer?

The most important part of making conversation in English - or any language - is asking the right question. What's the right question? I'm glad you asked! The best type of question to help further conversation is an information question. Information questions ask for more details and will help draw out your partner in conversation. Yes / no questions, on the other hand, tend to lead to very short results. Here are few examples to explain:

Yes / No Questions - Boring!

Notice how the following questions lead to short answers with little detail. Yes / no questions don't ask for details, rather they only ask whether something is true or untrue, whether someone agrees or disagrees, etc.

Do you like playing Tennis?
Yes, I do.

Are you interested in art?
Yes, I am.

Information Questions - Interesting!

Information questions ask for more detail. When people provide more detail, you can ask further questions.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Illinois.
Which part of Illinois?
I grew up in a small town called Abingdon.
What was it like growing up in a small town?
etc.

Combining The Two Question Types

I'm sure you can understand the reason why information questions are more interesting than yes / no questions. In fact, I'm sure making conversation is the same in your language. You can combine the two questions types to make conversation in English by beginning with a yes / no question, and then following up with information questions.

Getting Started

Here are some questions that will help get the conversation started. They are yes / no questions and information questions, but will open the door for further conversations.

Have you ever ...?

Questions beginning with 'have you ever...' ask about experience. The question 'have you ever ...' is in the present perfect tense. However, once you start asking for details the conversation will switch to the past simple once you begin asking for details. It's fine to use the present perfect as long as you are asking about general experience, but details are often tied to specific events in the past. Be ready to switch back and forth between tenses. Here's an example conversation.

John: Have you ever been abroad?
Mary: Yes, I have. I've been to Europe and South America.

John: Oh, that's interesting. Which countries have you visited in South America.
Mary: I've been to Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

John: When did you go to Brazil?
Mary: I went there in 2002. It was great.

John: Why did you go? Were you there on business or pleasure?
Mary: I went as a tourist for three weeks.

John: Which cities did you visit?
Mary: We went to Rio de Janeiro, of course. We also visited Brasilia and Recife.

What's your opinion on ...? / What do you think about ...?

Asking for an opinion can lead to interesting conversations. Be ready to use more complicated forms such as the conditional, as well as agreeing and disagreeing with the opinion.

John: What do you think about the new class?
Mary: I like it, but we'll see how it goes.

John: How much time does it take for your homework?
Mary: That's the problem! I'll have to do a lot of homework.

John: Who will you go to if you need some help?
Mary: I'll ask my father if I need some help. He's good at math.

John: You're lucky. I don't have anyone to help me.

Do you like ...?

Asking about likes and dislikes can lead a conversation anywhere. Be sure to ask about why someone likes something if you'd like to extend the conversation.

John: Do you like Portland?
Mary: Yes, it's a great city.

John: Why do you think it's a great city?
Mary: There are a lot of interesting people, shops, and I love the parks.

John: Oh really. Which parks do you go to?
Mary: I like going to Washington Park and Forest Park to take hikes.

John: I didn't know you could take hikes. Where is Forest Park located?
Mary: Let me get a map ...

What's / Who's your favorite ...?

Finally, asking about a person's favorite band, author, artist, athlete, etc. will ensure that a conversation stays lively. People love to talk about their favorite things. Make sure to use the comparative and superlative forms in order to continue the conversation by comparing things and people.

John: What's your favorite type of music?
Mary: I love jazz.

John: Hmmm, I prefer pop music to jazz. Why do you like jazz so much?
Mary: Well, I think jazz is more interesting than other types of music. Pop music seems so trendy.

John: That's true, but I don't understand jazz.
Mary: Just listen to how they change the melody throughout the song.

John: OK, I'll try to listen to more jazz.

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