Get into a better flow
All interesting conversations have one thing in common: flow. People lose track of time and are energized by interesting conversations. It’s almost like being plugged into some invisible source of energy.
But making a conversation interesting takes a lot of work. For non-native speakers, having interesting English conversations can be especially challenging. This guide will go over some intermediate-level tips for anticipating, giving details, simplifying, and rephrasing.
Anticipate and give details
First, continuing from the previous article The Basics of Talking Like and Interesting Person, let’s look at this next scenario.
Scenario 4: Adding details
Ryusei: Do you listen to BabyMetal every day?
Tsubasa: Everyday? No, I like to listen to many different bands. I usually listen to BabyMetal when I go on a long drive.
Ryusei: Ah, okay. I like to listen to Dragonforce when I’m taking a cold shower.
Tsubasa: A cold shower?!
Ryusei: Yeah. I take cold showers after I exercise. It helps me recover faster.
Notice how they both add extra details. Tsubasa didn’t ask Ryusei if he listens to Dragonforce everyday. However, he anticipated her question, so he gave extra details before she could ask. He also gave an interesting detail about his life (cold showers) that she didn’t ask for, either.
By anticipating questions and giving extra details, you can increase the speed of the conversation. It makes it easy for your partner to ask questions or give their own details. Contrast the above scenario with this:
Scenario 5: Slow conversation
Ryusei: Do you listen to BabyMetal every day?
Tsubasa: Everyday? No, I don’t.
Ryusei: Ah, okay. Do you like other bands?
Ryusei: Which bands do you like?
Tsubasa: Well, I like Foo Fighters, Imagine Dragons, Avicii, and a few others.
Ryusei: I see.
Tsubasa: Do you listen to Dragonforce everyday?
Ryusei: No, I don’t.
Tsubasa: Okay. Do you like any other bands?
Tsubasa: Which bands do you like?…
It’s now a very different conversation. It feels slower and less natural. You might hear a conversation like this in an English class at school. The romance is growing colder by the second…
Tip 6: Anticipate questions, add interesting details.
Adding details requires a lot more vocabulary and grammar abilities. If you aren’t confident in your ability to add details, no problem. You can simplify, instead.
Simplify and Restate
Non-native speakers have two challenges to overcome: a lack of vocabulary and grammar knowledge. You know what you want to say in your own language, but you don’t have the tools to say it in a foreign language. What do you do?
Ignoring unimportant details is essential for living. You are ignoring perhaps thousands of unimportant details as you read this. You are ignoring how dirty the bottom of your shoes are. You aren’t worried about what the other people around you are talking about. The structural integrity of the walls around you? Not on your mind. How much shampoo is left in the bottle at home? Not relevant right now.
We work very hard to make details irrelevant to us. Why? Because we only have limited mental and physical resources. We simplify our lives so we can focus on the important things in life.
That’s precisely what you have to do when you are speaking a foreign language. You need to focus on the important details.
Consider the following scenario
Too complex. Nice and simple.
Micah: Hey Denny.
Denny: G’day, Micah.
Micah: Long time, no see. You wanna get something to eat?
Denny: Sounds good. Have anything in mind?
Micah: How about we grab a kebab?
Denny: Okay, but what’s a kebab?
At this point, Micah needs to describe a kebab. A 100% accurate description might look like this:
Micah: Kebabs are various cooked meat dishes, with their origins in Middle Eastern cuisine. We are going to a place that sells what are called doner kebabs, a popular kind of fast-food variant. It is a pita bread pocket filled with grilled meat, vegetables, and some kind of sauce or dressing. Typically, people eat doner kebabs with their hands.
When I said to add details, that’s not what I had in mind.
Micah’s description is accurate, but difficult to understand (and difficult to say). The good news is that Denny is smart.
Denny: You mean they’re like pita bread sandwiches?
See what Denny did? Micah’s explanation was long and difficult. It included unnecessary information. Denny understood Micah’s explanation, simplified it, and restated it to him. It was much easier to say and understand.
How did Denny do that? He compared kebabs to something that both Micah and he know about: sandwiches. Kebabs are like sandwiches.
That is one of the ways that you can simplify your own thoughts.
Here’s another scenario:
Balancing simplicity and detail
Mikasa: So, Eren, do you have any hobbies?
Eren: Yeah, I like macro photography.
Mikasa: Macro photography? What’s that?
Now Eren is in one of the most common situations: He needs to describe something to someone else. He has a few options:
- Taking pictures.
- Taking pictures of things like bugs, rings, water droplets, stuff like that.
- Taking pictures of small things.
- Taking pictures of things like bugs.
All of those are true. But, the ideal option is probably the last one.
“Taking pictures” is true, but it leaves out an important detail: macro.
“Taking pictures of things like bugs, rings, water droplets, stuff like that” is true, too, but there are unnecessary details added. Also, it is probably difficult for non-native speakers to say.
“Taking pictures of small things” is pretty good, but a little non-specific. It’s difficult for me to imagine how small.
“Taking pictures of things like bugs” hits a sweet spot, I think.
One more example scenario.
Explaining culture is like quicksand
Ricky: Oh, what’s this?
Yuki: This? It’s a hina doll.
Ricky: Is it a toy?
Yuki is now in a difficult situation. She needs to tell Ricky the meaning of hina dolls. But, she paid attention in school, so she has an answer ready:
Yuki: No, it’s a decoration for Hinamatsuri.
Nice…Or is it?
Ricky: What’s Hinamatsuri?
Oh, dear. This conversation is turning into English quicksand. Yuki’s in trouble. She says what she was told in school.
Yuki: It’s Girl’s Day.
Will that be enough?
Ricky: What’s Girl’s Day?
Holy lord, Ricky is asking tough questions. Probably best to just dump him, Yuki. Find a stupid boy that won’t ask so many questions.
This scenario shows that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by simple questions about your culture. How would you answer?
- It’s a day for girls.
- It’s a day to celebrate girls.
- It’s a day to wish for girl’s happy, healthy life.
- It’s a day that parents pray for their daughter’s happy, healthy life.
This is a tough choice. The best answer is also the longest and most difficult to say. If you can’t say it, try to say 80% of what you want to say. If you can’t, try 50%. 50% isn’t perfect, but it get’s the job done.
Tip 7: Simplify your thoughts.
I hope you improve the flow and energy of your future conversations with these tips!
In my next post in the Talking Like an Interesting Person series, I’ll teach some more intermediate level tips.