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Basic Structure of a Conversation in English

What is the basic structure of a conversation in English?

The basic structure of a conversation is simple. By applying the pattern below, you can begin to start speaking more and be a better listener. Once you learn this simple structure, you can adapt it for conversations with two or more people. All good listeners use two important components: reactions and follow-up questions.

Let’s compare speaking to bowling, tennis, and basketball. In each case, the ball represents speech or talking.

Ready to Bowl

Imagine someone is bowling. How many people bowl at once in a group of bowlers? Just one, right? This is not a conversation. This is a monologue or lecture where the other participants are only watching and listening. Eventually, they will get a turn, but this is not a natural conversation in English.

Tennis Ball, Racket, Court

Imagine two people are playing tennis. They hit the ball back and forth, each having a turn. This is like a conversation between two people. It’s important for both people to pay attention and hit the ball during their turn. Otherwise, the game (and conversation) doesn’t go well.

Basketball game

Imagine a game of basketball. There are two teams with 5 active players (and more on the bench) all trying to get the ball and score. This is a group conversation, where the ball moves around a lot, everyone participating in the conversation. It can become chaotic (disorganized, in a state of confusion and disorderat times, but it can also work in an organized way if it is done well.

First, we are going to focus on a conversation between two people. Then we will play a game of doubles, expanding the conversation to four people. In the beginning, it is important to learn and use the proper form. Later, we can be more flexible. What does this tennis match look like? What is the proper form?

Follow this pattern:

A: Ask a question to start the conversation

B: Answer the question with a detail (You can give a couple of details, but not too many! Be careful not to start bowling!)

A: React with a rejoinder + ask a follow-up question

B: Answer with one or two details

A: React with a rejoinder + ask a follow-up question

B: Answer with one or two details

A: React with a rejoinder + ask a follow-up question

B: Answer and ask “What about you?” + the original question (*Transition)

A: Answer with one or two details

B: React with a rejoinder + ask a follow-up question

A: Answer with one or two details

B: Rejoinder + follow-up question

A: Answer with one or two details

B: Rejoinder + follow-up question

A: Answer

B: Close conversation with a rejoinder

You can find a basic example here.

It's All in your Hands

That’s it! You now have the magic formula to start and continue a conversation in English!

Have fun putting your new skills to use!

Get lots of practice and it will start to get easier and easier. If you don’t have anyone to practice with, watch Emma’s video, and use her 4th strategy to practice your conversation skills.

The most difficult part of a conversation for many people is asking questions. To learn more about how to ask questions in English, read Short Simple Natural Follow-Up Questions next.

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