The best way to start up a conversation with someone you don’t know is to ask a question that’s not too personal.
Here are some examples of polite questions you can ask to get things going:
Even better, start a conversation by noticing something about the other person and commenting on it in a nice way. Here are some examples:
Note: whatever you see in [brackets] can be substituted for something specific to your conversation.
Now that you’ve started talking, you will need to elaborate on the established topic and continue talking.
If they answered your question, you can ask one or two follow up questions to get more details, such as:
Next, provide some context to why you asked them the question in the first place. Here are some examples:
And, as always, if someone is being helpful, don’t forget to thank them!
You can usually tell when a person is losing interest in a conversation. If you reach that point, then excuse yourself and be on your way.
However, if you feel like the person may be receptive to a longer conversation, then why not talk a bit more and get to know them better?
Here are some more general questions you can ask to keep the conversation going.
Each of these questions can be used to extend the conversation and learn more about the other person.
The idea here is to find common points of interest.
When they mention something that relates to you and your life, this gives you an opportunity to explore that topic more fully.
When your conversation arrives at a topic that you’re comfortable speaking about in English, then this is your chance to discuss it in more depth.
As an example, let’s say that you discovered your conversation partner has a cat. You have a cat too. Time to show some photos of your cat on your smartphone!
Or, if the person mentions they are a vegetarian and you happen to be vegetarian, now you have something in common. Why not ask about their favourite vegetarian recipes?
Here are some sentences and phrases that may come in handy to dive in deeper with a topic:
The idea here is to let them know you share a common interest, then ask them to share more details.
Remember to talk about the other person more than yourself. For example, instead of going off on a long tangent about your favourite recipes, ask them for theirs.
It shows that you are truly interested in getting to know them and they will be more open to continuing the conversation.
Everyone has an opinion on something, and many people like to share them with others.
Here are some questions you can ask to get the other person’s view on a situation or topic:
Once people start sharing their opinions, you open up the door for a whole new area of conversation.
Just be careful not to probe too far into sensitive topics such as politics or religion.
Sometimes a conversation can start to fade and you find things are winding down.
If you sense your conversation partner is losing interest in talking about your impressive collection of snow globes, it’s probably time to change the topic!
Here are some ways you can switch to other topics:
Or, if you want to make a more abrupt change, you can just say it directly with:
After about 10 or 15 minutes, it’s worth checking that your conversation partner wants to continue talking.
Get confirmation that they want to be in the conversation so you can be sure they aren’t just being polite.
Here are some questions you can ask to see if it’s possible to maintain a longer talk.
These sorts of expressions show that you are being considerate of your conversation partner’s needs.
Part of being a good conversationalist is knowing when to stop talking.
When the conversation ends, find a way for them to get in touch with you in the future.
If you feel like they might want to chat again, you can give them an opportunity with some of these phrases:
And remember to make them feel appreciated too!
Not all your conversations are going to be a one-on-one encounter. Sometimes you will be joining a group where others are talking.
The most important skill in group situations is listening. Pay attention to the conversation and interject only when it is relevant.
Many of the phrases you’ve learned so far in this article can work in group situations.
You can also add to a group conversation with other types of phrases, such as sharing your experiences or thoughts, asking questions to the group,
or making connections between two people.
Here are some phrases you can use:
Sharing Experiences or Ideas
If you have something to add to the conversation, here are a few examples of how you can do it:
You don’t need to share too much, but let the group know that you have more information to add. If they want to know more, they can ask for details.
If you notice that some people in a group aren’t participating as much in a conversation you can ask questions for the whole group.
Here are some questions to stimulate more dialogue:
Or, you can direct it to an individual. Just be sure not to single them out in an uncomfortable way. Here are some examples:
You may realise that two of the people in the group have something in common.
You can make people feel included and connected by sharing these observations with the group. Here are some ways to do it:
This can help people feel like a part of the group. Of course, don’t let out anyone’s secrets!
If you have to get going and want to excuse yourself from the group, here are some quick and easy ways to do so:
Often what you say directly relates to where you are.
Whether you’re in a restaurant, the airport or on the job, you should have some phrases handy to start up a conversation that relates to your location.
Here are phrases and expressions you can use to start and maintain a conversation in a restaurant or cafe:
Finally, here are some phrases you can use at the end of your conversation:
If you’re visiting someone’s home you’re in luck! There are an endless supply of possible things to talk about.
Just look around the house and you’ll see many things to bring up and discuss.
And here are a few home-specific statements that you can say when leaving someone’s home:
Sometimes you bump into someone when you are out and about. They might be sitting on a park bench, or waiting in line at the bus stop.
Here are some questions and statements you can use to start and keep up a conversation:
From personal experience I know that airports are often a place where you have to “hurry up to wait”.
You rush through customs or security only to sit at the gate waiting for your plane for several hours (or longer if it is delayed).
This is a great chance to chat to someone in English. Here are some phrases that can get things started:
Because you’re flying somewhere, odds are you will never see your conversation partner again.
That means you don’t have to worry about making a fool out of yourself because your connection with them will be short lived and temporary.
Plus, there is a good chance someone you talk to may have some great suggestions about places to see or things to do in your destination city.
If you’re working among English speakers, then this is a perfect chance to strike up a conversation.
After all, you already have something in common! Here are some phrases you can use to start up a conversation with a work colleague:
You may be a student and find yourself surrounded by English speaking students, or perhaps there is an English speaking student at your school.
Why not get to know them better? Here are some questions you can use:
As you can see, you really can make friends anywhere, and you should never be at a loss for a way to start up a conversation.
You’ve been invited to a special event and want to be able to start up a conversation with the people there.
The wonderful thing about events is that you automatically have a point of common interest.
Just explore that common thread further to weave a full tapestry of interesting conversations.
A birthday party is a fun place to get to know someone and it’s really easy to start speaking with a total stranger. Here are some phrases to help you get going:
The joining together of two people in marriage is a joyous event, and while you’re there throwing
confetti and dancing the Conga, be sure to sit down and have a chat with someone new! Try out these phrases to help break the ice:
A match or game can be a perfect opportunity to make some fast friends.
Connecting with others who share a passion for sport seems to automatically create a bond between people.
Here are some questions you can ask at the next big game:
Music fans love seeing their favourite performers on stage.
If you have tickets to an event or are just sitting in a cafe watching someone strum a guitar, be sure to strike up a conversation with other music enthusiasts near you.
There you have it. One hundred and twenty five different ways to strike up a conversation and keep it going strong.
Sure, it can be intimidating when you consider talking to a total stranger. Especially when they speak a different language than you.
Getting over your fears is the first step, not only in language learning, but in being able to meet fascinating people and make long-lasting friendships.
Just remember these main points:
We’ve covered a lot of potential situations and questions or phrases you can use in each one. But whether you use these approaches or just throw on some random accessories, the goal is to speak at every opportunity.
You’ll notice I didn’t say the goal is to talk for 15 minutes. And I didn’t say the goal is to bring up a specific topic. The only goal is to open your mouth and start talking in your target language.
Getting a conversation started is the biggest hurdle. It is the one action that will have the most significant impact on your language learning (and friend making) success. Be open to whatever happens from that point forward and you will multiply your chances of improving your English.
Learning English can be easier than you think. Check out our in-depth guide, Why English is Easy.
And finally… One of the best ways to learn a new language is with podcasts. Read more about how to use podcasts to learn a language.