How to start an English language conversation with anyone


As an English teacher, one of the most common questions I am asked is: “How can I improve my English?” My answer is always the same: spend more time speaking in English. Yes, of course there are many great English books, television shows, podcasts, etc. that can help you learn English, but the bottom line is this… the only way you’re going to get better as an English speaker is by speaking English.

If you are fortunate enough to be learning English in an English speaking country, the opportunities you have to practise speaking with native English speakers are endless. You are surrounded by native speakers, many of whom would probably be happy to speak to you! There is a problem, though – talking to new people can be quite intimidating. How do you start a conversation with someone you’ve never met before? What should you say?

In this blog, I’m going to coach you through the process of starting conversations with someone you don’t know so that you can reach English fluency faster.

A few general things before we begin…

Firstly, you don’t have to approach random strangers on the street if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. There are many people whose jobs require interaction. I’m talking about the employees at the coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores you visit. From personal experience, talking to these people is the easiest and most comfortable way to practise having conversations with strangers.

Secondly, it always helps if you have a big smile on your face. More important than what you say is how you say it. Whenever you want to start a conversation with someone new make sure you take a second to smile – even if you’re not having the greatest day.

So, once you’re smiling, here are three easy ways to start an English language conversation with anyone:

1. How is your day going?

I use this question VERY regularly. It’s simple and easy, and opens the door for a conversation. Most people love to talk about themselves when given the chance, and this question invites the person you’re speaking with to do just that. You’ll be surprised by how much information some people give you in response to this simple question. For example:

You: “How is your day going?”

Coffee shop employee: “It’s going okay. How about yourself?”

This then gives you the opportunity to practise telling this person about your day or to ask another question. You’re having a conversation!

2. Did you do anything fun last weekend?” / “Any exciting plans this weekend?”

Depending on which day of the week it is, you can use one of the phrases above. You can even use this phrase after you ask, “How’s your day going?” For example:

You: “How is your day going?”

NS (native speaker): “It’s going okay.”

You: “Do you have any exciting plans this weekend?”

NS: “Yes, actually. It’s my husband’s birthday. We’re going to have a big party.”

Most people don’t want to sound boring, so if you ask them about their plans, most of the time you’ll get a good answer.

3. Compliments

Everyone loves a compliment, and it can be a great way to start a conversation. Find something that you really like about the person you’d like to speak to, such as their clothes, their hairstyle or their shoes, and tell them about it. Just make sure that your compliment is genuine! For example:

You: I really like your glasses.”

NS: Oh, thank you!”

You:How is your day going?”

It’s that simple. You don’t have to have say much at all to start an English language conversation. And, even if the conversation ends up being a short one, it will help you as an English speaker. I hope these tips help you, and if you’d like to know more ways to improve your English, there is a free eBook available on my website.

Why not try Jacob’s tips and let us know how it goes? We’d love to hear from you in our comments section below…

In this article