3 Ingredients of a Basic Conversation in English
After greeting someone, a basic conversation in English has three main ingredients.
The three ingredients are:
- A question
- An answer with some details
- A reaction and a follow-up question
Let’s look at an example of a short conversation that begins with a question.
Elsa: What are you doing after class?
Ollie: I’m going to head to the library.
Elsa: Oh yeah? What for?
Ollie: I have a ton of homework.
Elsa: Sorry to hear that. Good luck with it.
Ollie: Thanks. How about you? Where are you headed after class? (This is a transition, which switches the focus to the other person.)
Elsa: I have lunch plans.
Ollie: That’s nice. Who with?
Elsa: A friend from my English class.
Ollie: Oh, cool. Well, have fun!
Elsa: Thanks. See ya later! And good luck with your homework!
Ollie: Thanks. See ya!
After mastering this pattern and learning to use rejoinders and follow-up questions well, you can move outside of the pattern. Conversations are more flexible, but the basic pattern should be understood and learned first. For another example that is a bit more flexible in style, read this conversation between friends talking about seeing a movie that has just been released.
While we love using emoticons to react when texting, when speaking face-to-face, we need to react with rejoinders like “Really?” and “That’s great!”
Rejoinders are the emoticons of speaking.
Why do we need to use rejoinders?
Rejoinders help keep conversations going.
There are three things that rejoinders communicate to someone who is talking to you:
- I’m listening.
- I understand.
- I care. (Even if you don’t care, you should use them to be polite.)
*Note: There are many different types of rejoinders in English. We are only focusing on one type. Here are some natural and common ones organized into 4 categories.
If someone says something happy or good:
That’s great! Cool! That’s awesome! Nice!
If someone says something sad or bad:
Oh, no! That’s too bad. Sorry to hear that.
If someone says something surprising:
No way! Get out! For real?! Wow! (for happy surprise)
Really?! Seriously?! Are you serious? Wait…What?!
If someone says something neutral (not good, not bad, not surprising):
I see. Oh, yeah? That’s nice. Interesting.
Of course these are not the only rejoinders in English. There are many more! There are also nuances to which rejoinder is best for any particular situation. For example, while “I see.” and “Oh, yeah?” can both be used for neutral situations, “I see.” is weaker and more serious at times. If something is neutral, but most likely enjoyable, “Oh, yeah?” is a better choice.
We also use: uh huh, okay, yes, yeah, yup, right, mm hmm to confirm that we are listening. These are natural, but be sure to also use some of the ones above to be an even better listening partner.
Finally, it’s important to use the correct tone when using rejoinders.
- Happy and surprising rejoinders use a tone that is a little higher and faster than the other rejoinders.
- Sad rejoinders should be low and slow (otherwise they sound insincere).
*Stay tuned for an audio update to hear the tones.
Next: Follow-up questions