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Sunday, July 17, 2016

EwR Speaking - Keeping a Conversation Topic Alive


Second language speakers of English have a disadvantage over native speakers when they are in a conversation together.  The problem is that the native speaker usually dominates and controls the conversation between the two of them.  They know how to extend the main topic of a conversation for a certain amount of time until both speakers get tired of the subject.  Even though the topic is stimulating for both of them, the native speaker is usually the one who has control over the situation and knows how to keep the conversation about that topic alive and interesting.

However, there is hope for the non-native speaker who wants to "take the reins" and continue talking about a topic during a conversation, but in an interesting and stimulating way.  There are techniques that a second language speaker can use just like a native speaker, so that the topic of the conversation doesn't get lost in uninteresting side-comments that are not even related to the original topic at all.

This is what today's featured article is all about.  Let's examine four techniques that a non-native speaker can use in order to extend the topic of an interesting conversation and keep it alive.  All of these techniques take practice, so don't expect instant results in the beginning.  Little by little you will be able to (1) identify the main topic word of an interesting conversation in order to stay on track with the topic, (2) keep your feet on the ground and determine when a topic is no longer of interest to the other person, (3) endure moments of silence during the conversation about the topic, and (4) offer sincere and genuine compliments to your listening partner when it is appropriate.

First and foremost, when you are talking with someone about an interesting topic, you need to be able to distinguish the general overall subject of the conversation.  It is important to know what the main topic is, and identify it using "one" only word, so that you don't get off track and talk about something different.  If the subject is interesting to both of you, then you don't want to lose this conversation with the other person.

In order to identify the main topic word of an interesting conversation, you need to pay attention to the group of words that are related to the main topic. For example, imagine that your conversation with someone else includes the following group of words:  beach, vacation, picnic, park, August, heat, and swimsuit All of these words are related to just one main topic.  Quickly determine what the main topic of your conversation is.  Find one word that easily identifies the subject of your conversation.

Maybe you are thinking of "summertime" as the main topic.  The aforementioned group of words are all "specific" examples of the "general" idea, or the topic word "summertime".

Now that you have identified the main topic word of your interesting conversation, remember to stick to it until both of you begin to lose interest in this subject.  If you start talking about something else that is not related to "summertime", then you will probably kill this topic, and possibly even lose the interest of your listening partner.

Of second importance, don't forget to keep your feet firmly planted on the ground, and pay attention to your listening partner's reactions during the discussion about the topic.  If they are getting disinterested in the subject, you can tell by observing changes in their behavior, or by witnessing defensive body gestures.  For example, listen to the tone of their voice, and observe how they move their body.  If your listener is getting tired of the main topic, they might start crossing their arms, or lowering their tone of voice.

It's important to keep the conversation about the subject interesting for both of you.  Don't try and push your listening partner to give you information they don't want to reveal.  Avoid asking questions that are too personal.  Be polite and maintain a carefree attitude when talking about the topic.  Above all, avoid negative statements that could kill the subject of your talk.

If you discover common interests that you both have, which are related to the main topic, talk briefly about them.  But don't forget to pay attention to your listening partner in order to know when to stop talking too much about the interests that you both have in common.

Thirdly, an important aspect of keeping a conversation topic alive is something that you probably haven't ever considered.  Don't forget to use "silence" once in a while.  Yes, "silence".  Most people feel uncomfortable when no one is talking, especially when both of you are enjoying a conversation together.  But it's absolutely normal, and sometimes is necessary.  If you find yourself rambling on too much and dominating the conversation, then it's a good idea to learn to stop and use silence.  Listen to the other person, and sometimes even listen to neither of you talking.

Silence gives both of you the chance to pause briefly and have the opportunity to think about something more that you want to say related to the subject of your conversation.  It allows you time to form your opinion, and to think of questions that you might ask the other person in order to keep the conversation alive and stimulating.  When you need time to think, try using a couple of seconds of silence, and smile at your listener.  Use body language and facial gestures that make the other person feel comfortable and relaxed with you during these quiet moments.  Learn to endure moments of silence during the conversation about the main topic.

In addition to all the foregoing, if there is an opportunity to offer a sincere and genuine compliment to your listening partner, and the moment is right, then try giving them one.  However, make sure that your compliment addresses something that the other person "did", and not something about how that person "is".  Compliment actions, not a person's physical characteristics or attributes.  For example, if you compliment the other person for their nice glasses, they will probably say "thank you", and that will be the end of this part of the conversation.  However, if you compliment them for something that they did well (e.g., "I really enjoyed your presentation that you gave last week."), then they will probably continue talking about that experience with you.

It's best to use few compliments because too many of them will appear to be insincere.  When you give someone a compliment during an interesting conversation, be sure to appear sincere.  Use authentic words of enthusiasm in order to keep your listener motivated and interested in what you have to say.

In summary, practice the four techniques mentioned above in order to learn how to maintain a conversation about an interesting topic with someone else.  Don't leave the responsibility of maintaining an interesting conversation to the other speaker.  Remember to determine what the main topic of your conversation is, and stay focused on it.  Pay attention to your listening partner's interest in the topic, and learn to enjoy short moments of silence between the two of you.  Only offer a compliment related to the other person's actions, which is not based on their character.  On top of everything, be sincere and demonstrate that you are enjoying the conversation about the subject with the other person.

Don't forget to give yourself time to practice these four techniques, and eventually you will be able to extend the main topic of a conversation, and keep it alive for a certain amount of time until both of you get tired of the subject.  After a lot of practice, it will seem natural for you to keep your interesting conversations with others lively and stimulating.

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