Effective communication skills are central to having professional-sounding English.
To be seen as an effective English speaker, you need to show that you’re listening to what the other person is saying and respond accordingly.
This is often easier said than done.
When you’re learning another language, you’re often preoccupied with the way that you’re expressing yourself.
Since many of us start learning a language for specific purposes, such as passing an admission test or negotiating with colleagues from other countries, we often become extremely concerned about our precise words, our ideas, and our needs and goals.
Here’s the problem: when we’re focused on getting our message across, we may forget that good communication is a two-way street.
To be seen as a strong communicator, you need to focus on interactional language. These types of transitions and expressions improve the flow of conversation and create a stronger connection with the other person.
Why How You Interact in English Matters
For this reason, I want to encourage you to consider how you interact in English and think about how you can use the language to achieve these goals.
Remember, native speakers are less interested how you sound, and more concerned with how you present yourself in English, how you absorb information, how you contribute to a discussion, and how you respond during a conversation.
Have you ever been in the middle of a group discussion when it feels like there’s a balloon gently being tossed around and floating from one person to another?
This type of conversation energizes everyone and keeps them engaged.
But then suddenly one person abruptly states something unrelated and it’s like they popped the balloon!
Why does this happen? Usually, this person wasn’t really observing the flow of conversation and or noticing how everyone was interacting.
Instead of listening, he was formulating his thoughts and opinions.
When you’re worried about how you sound when speaking (whether you’re a native speaker or not!), you may spend much of the conversation trying to figure out the best way to phrase your ideas and stop listening to what people are actually saying.
So when you finally decide to contribute, you mention a topic that everyone else left behind five minutes ago. This is a conversation killer.
To avoid this, I encourage you to practice better transitions, phrases, and expressions that enable you to engage in conversations in English.
Rather than worrying about what you’ll say, you’ll be able to predict the flow of discussions and sound more natural when joining in.
When you demonstrate that you listen carefully and respond appropriately in professional situations, people want to work with you. It really is that simple.
Using the Transition Words You Already Have
You’re starting off on the right foot: you already have a lot of the transition words you need in your vocabulary.
If you’ve ever studied for the TOEFL or a similar exam, you’ve learned how transition words can help you put your ideas in order, ensure your listener follows your main point, and summarize your opinions.
Likewise, if you’ve given an academic presentation or led a business meeting or discussion, you’ve probably used transition words as “signposts” to state your purpose, outline your talk, move on to your next point, change directions, give examples, analyze an idea, finish speaking, and invite questions.
(If you need to review transition words, do a quick Google search for “transition words and phrases” – there are plenty of resources available.)
Transitions are best for situations when you’re unlikely to be interrupted and you need to clearly organize your points.
Using Transitions to Achieve Conversational Goals
In a more dynamic conversation or interactive discussion, you need to involve your listeners in what you’re saying.
For example, during a great presentation, you ask the audience questions and seek their feedback throughout the talk.
If they’re intrigued by what you’re saying, they may even just go ahead and ask!
Likewise, in an interesting conversation, people will interrupt you, share their own ideas, look for ways to connect with you, and expect you to respond to what they’ve said.
This is why you need to expand your use of transitions to include expressions and strategies that we use to achieve certain goals in conversations.
These expressions give you the opportunity to show your colleagues or classmates that you’re listening to them, you understand them, and you’re interested in responding to them.
(This might actually give you a serious advantage over native English speakers, who don’t always use these expressions consistently or fully embrace the power of conversation skills and communication strategies.)
Better Expressions for Specific Conversational Purposes
Now that I’ve convinced you that you should deepen your interactional vocabulary, here are some examples of expressions that are used for specific conversational purposes.
- Clarifying What You Mean – Let me try that again. Let me put that another way.
- Clarifying a Misunderstanding – What I meant to say was…
- Clarifying What You Heard – Would you mind going over that again?
- Confirming Your Understanding – So what you are saying is…
- Changing the Subject – That reminds me… Totally unrelated…
- Making Polite Requests or Suggestions – I was wondering if….
- Interrupting – Can I add something? Please go on…
- Putting Interruptions on Hold – Let’s come back to that.
- Responding to Interruptions – As I was saying….
- Responding to Uncomfortable Questions – Why do you ask? It’s a really long story.
- Finishing Up an Email or a Presentation – I look forward to hearing from you. I look forward to hearing your reactions.
- Inviting Feedback – Please let me know if you have any questions.
Now that you’ve had the chance to explore these expressions, I want to hear from you! Did I convince you to focus more attention on the language you use to interact?
Which types of expressions are you most interested in learning next? Leave a comment below and let me know.