Stop making these 2 English conversation mistakes!

 

French speaker: “Why are English speakers so weird?!”

Native English Speaker: “French people act so strangely. I just don’t get these people*!”

*to get someone- to understand (comprendre quelqu’un)

(Note: This applies to all non-native speakers, not only French speakers.)

 

Why the miscommunication?

It usually occurs because English learners don’t always understand cultural rules and conversation strategies that are so important for casual conversation and for interacting with people socially.

The reason for this problem is that these strategies are never taught in English class. Rather, students mostly learn situational English- how to get directions to the bank, how to order a cup of coffee etc.

 

Why are conversation strategies important?

Conversation strategies are really important if you want to fit in and be accepted by native English speakersThese strategies and cultural tips will change the way you interact and chat with native speakers from now on.

These will make a huge difference in how native English speakers treat you.

That’s why in this blog post, I want to address 2 conversation mistakes that you might be making. To talk about these two big mistakes, I’ll use two very likely scenarios.

 

Scenario 1

Meet Sarah and Elizabeth, also known as Liz.

Sarah did a presentation at an office meeting. After work, Sarah asked her French colleague Elizabeth what she thought about the presentation. Unfortunately, the delivery of the presentation wasn’t that great.

Liz’s response: “I didn’t like the presentation too much. You were fidgeting* a lot and it was really distracting. I think you should practise more before your next presentation so you can do a better job next time.”

“Oh no she didn’t!! (Comment a-t-elle osé!) ” Sarah thought.

She felt hurt and disgusted (blessée et dégoûtée) with her French colleague Liz. After that, conversations between Sarah and Liz were cold and a bit awkward (froides et un peu gênantes) in the office.

Liz’s response may seem innocent to you but it might be a big deal (un grave problème) to English speakers which leads me to our first big mistake. It is equivalent to social suicide in English.

*fidgety – constantly moving (French- agité)

 

Mistake 1: Giving direct, negative feedback

Native English speakers are not generally frank, direct people. We beat around the bush (tourner autour du pot). We sugar-coat (adoucir) everything. Let’s go back to the example of Sarah and Liz above.

“What did Liz do wrong? She gave her colleague honest, constructive advice,” you might say.

Is that what you’re thinking? Think again! (Détrompez-vous!)

Liz gave frank, negative feedback. You might wonder, “Why is that a problem? Sarah should value Liz’s honest opinion and view it as a way to be better next time.”

Oh no! It doesn’t work quite like that in English.

In English, when giving feedback, you must first look for something positive to say. Even if it is a teeny-weeny (tout petit) positive thing.

 

How to correct the mistake

Here’s how Liz could have better handled the situation (gérer le problème) above.

Liz: “I could tell you worked really hard to put together the presentation; you brought up some interesting points. But I couldn’t help but notice that you were a bit fidgety*, were you a bit nervous?”

Sarah: “Girl, I was shaking inside. So nervous!”

Liz: “I had a feeling so. Have you ever thought of practising in front of a mirror to become more confident?”

Sarah: “You know what, that’s a great idea! I’ll definitely try that.”

 

Why was it better the second time?

  • This time, Liz started with a compliment even though Sarah’s presentation was generally hard to follow due to her fidgeting. “I could tell you worked really hard to put together the presentation; you brought up some interesting points.
  • Then, Liz made an observation : “I couldn’t help but notice…”. This opened the way for conversation and Sarah admitted she was nervous.
  • Then, Liz made a polite suggestion. She didn’t say “You should practise…..”. Rather she said “Have you ever thought of…” which is a polite way to suggest something and therefore results in someone being more receptive to a suggestion.

After this scenario, Sarah now knows that she can go to Liz for honest feedback and advice.

 


Are you wondering  “What other conversation mistakes am I making when I speak with natives?” This FREE mini-guide and e-course can teach you the basics in 1 week. This information will completely change the way you interact with native English speakers!


Scenario 2

Meet Jacques and Anthony.

Jacques is a foreign exchange University student, originally from France, and Anthony is his American classmate.

They are at a social gathering and they start chatting. Watch how the conversation unfolds (se déroule).

Anthony: So, where are you originally from?

Jacques: "I’m from Paris and I’ll be here on campus until the end of May."

Anthony: "Oh Paris! Cool! That’s so cool dude! I’ve heard great things about Paris."

Jacques: *Smiles but does not reply* 

 

The conversation is now awkward for both Jacques and Anthony. Then, Anthony tries to start a conversation again.

 

Anthony: "So, is this your first time in the States?"

Jacques: "No, I’ve been to New York City and Miami before."

Anthony: "Oh nice! I love NYC!"

Jacques: *Smiles but does not reply* 

 

#AwkwardSilence once again. Anthony starts to think, "This is so awkward, chatting with this dude is hard! I need to find a way to end this conversation and make my escape."

awkward silence - silence gênant

What was the problem?

 

Mistake 2:  Not actively engaging in the conversation

to engage in a conversation - participer à une conversation

How to show interest in a conversation

Interest can be shown both in speech and body language. For example, regarding body language, if you have your arms crossed and are straight-faced (l'air sérieux) when speaking, people might get a bad vibe (un mauvais feeling) from you.

In this scenario, Jacques smiled but did nothing to further the conversation. He made no effort to actively participate in the conversation. 

 

How to correct the mistake

When Anthony said he heard good things about Paris, Jacques could have responded in several ways to show interest and further the conversation.

Examples of possible responses- Conversation 1

  • “I’m curious to know what good things you've heard. Ha ha."
  • “Hmm. Let me guess: it’s the city of cheese, good wine and romance. Am I right? Ha ha"
  • “Think you’ll ever go there one of these days?”

 

Let’s look at how the second conversation could have evolved. After Anthony said that he loved NYC, Jacques could have spoken about his trip or his opinion of NYC.

 

Examples of possible responses- Conversation 2

  • “Yeah! NYC is the bomb! I love to see the high-rise buildings and parks.”
  • “NYC is not really my cup of tea. Too face-paced for me!”

 

Why was it better the second time?

This time, Jacques either added supplementary information or asked follow-up questions to keep the conversation with Anthony going.

By asking follow-up questions, Jacques showed that he was taking interest in the conversation. Naturally, the conversation would then unfold from there based on Anthony's response.

 

Don’t let fear hold you back!

Granted, you might be scared to take the conversation further, wondering “What if I don't have the correct grammar or know all the cool expressions to use?”

Here’s the thing (Regardez), to improve your conversational English, you need to USE English and to practise often. If you don’t know a certain expression during a conversation, you can look it up in the dictionary later, so that you’ll know the expression for future conversations.

People will likely be understanding (compréhensif)  even if you don't have all the correct expressions because at least you’re making the effort to communicate.

However, if you don’t engage in the conversation, native English speakers will most likely feel awkward around you and possibly avoid starting future conversations with you. So never let fear hold you back!

 

Key Take-aways

  1. Be polite and kind when giving feedback. Avoid being direct and harsh. First look for something positive to say before giving constructive criticism.
  2. Actively engage in conversations with native speakers. Ask follow-up questions to keep a conversation going. Also, be mindful of your body language.

What is the next step?

Are you wondering  "What other conversation mistakes am I making when I speak with natives?” This FREE mini-guide and e-course can teach you the basics in 1 week. This information will completely change the way you interact with native English speakers!

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