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The Five Most Essential Conversation Skills in English (& Why You Should Learn Them)

You already know that improving your speaking skills can have a positive impact on your personal life and professional opportunities.

Understanding the natural flow of English conversations gives you confidence that you can handle a wide variety of social situations.

When you first start taking English classes focused on speaking skills, you often learn basic functional phrases that help you navigate simple conversations with a partner.

These usually involve turn-taking (deciding who will speak first), asking and responding to simple questions, saying “please” and “thank you,” and asking for more information.

For example, in your very first beginning English classes, you probably learned to say, “Pardon?” “Sorry?” and “Could you repeat that?” when you didn’t hear something or didn’t fully understand every word.

(That’s because just saying “What?” can actually sound a little abrupt or even rude in English!)

While these phrases are super useful, native speakers usually use slightly more complex expressions and conversation strategies to ask for clarification and find out more information.

If have a strong foundation of English grammar and vocabulary but have been struggling to sound fluent in English, you’re probably missing some of these essential conversation skills. Here’s why:

Most advanced conversation classes usually focus on more involved topics so that students can practice talking about complex issues using a higher level of English.

However, there’s an important step that usually gets skipped: learning the language and expressions that go in between and around your thoughts, opinions and ideas in order to keep the conversation flowing.

Why It’s Important to Learn Essential Conversation Skills

The reason these conversation skills are so important is that people expect to hear you use them comfortably and consistently.

When you effortlessly explain what you mean, clarify what you heard, or confirm your understanding by rephrasing what the other person said, people trust what you say, that you are listening carefully, and are often more interested in keeping the conversation going.

In this way, using essential conversation skills is a subtle but effective way to show that you speak *and* understand English at a higher level.

When you jump from one topic to another without transition phrases or have trouble clarifying your thoughts, people have trouble following your ideas.

In addition, though listening skills develop more quickly than speaking skills, people judge our ability to understand what they’re saying based on how we interact in conversation.

Not coming up with the appropriate phrase or response causes the other person to assume that you don’t understand as much as you actually do.

For this reason, essential conversation skills are useful just about anywhere: in university discussions, at networking events, in the workplace, at professional offices, and even in personal relationships!

Learning them and using them frequently will help you navigate a variety of interactions with ease.

On top of that, improving your conversation skills helps you sound much more natural, more like a native English speaker, and emphasizes your mastery of the English language!

It’s not always about learning the most complicated words, it’s about making conversations seem effortless.

The Five Most Essential Conversation Skills

If you are serious about improving how you sound in conversations, I suggest starting with the five most essential conversation skills:

  1. Clarifying What You Heard
  2. Confirming Your Understanding
  3. Clarifying What You Mean
  4. Clarifying a Misunderstanding
  5. Changing the Subject

In the video above, I describe each of these conversation skills in detail, give you key expressions you can use to naturally use them in speech, and explain how native speakers use each of these skills.

These skills make up the core anatomy of a conversation in English. This means that the conversation would not flow well without these skills.

Imagine if you didn’t understand and you didn’t do anything about it, or if someone didn’t understand you and just continued the conversation without knowing what you said.

If you never changed the topic, you would be stuck talking about the same thing forever!

The other important thing to remember about essential conversation skills is that they all work together.

You can focus on mastering them one at a time.

They build on and reinforce each other so that you become a great conversationalist, slowly but surely. 🙂

If you’d like to read more about the five most essential conversation skills in English, check out these articles and video lessons:

Your Turn

Now it’s your turn! Did any of my picks for essential conversation skills surprise you?

Which was most useful for you to learn? Are there any important ones you’d add to the list?

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