How To Make Smoother Conversation

Learn to speak English fluently at Language Link VietnamQuestions are a terrific way of opening talk up. After all, we often open conversations with easy questions – How are you doing? Hey, how’s it going?

Today I want you to think about some techniques for making communication go more smoothly. About that…and about tennis.

Think of conversation like a friendly table tennis match: I hit a question to you; you hit me an answer right back. But you need to be relaxed about this. You don’t want to sound as if you’re a policeman questioning a suspect!

Here’s how to promote ‘give and take’ when you talk to someone. The secret is: be aware of question tags, and how they’re used in conversation.inflatable football tunnel

Using Question Tags
Remember question tags? They’re those add-on bits at the end: They help communication, don’t they?

Yes they do. And if you remember the rules of pronunciation stress as well as the grammar rules, you’ll know there are TWO ways to use Q tags.

EXAMPLE 1  – the Q rises at the end, on the tag, like this:

Mark’s from England, isn’t he?

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The rise tells the listener that the speaker is asking a REAL question and is expecting a proper response.

The speaker isn’t confident about the fact and needs an answer. So the answer might be, No actually, he’s from New Zealand.

EXAMPLE 2the Q tag falls at the end, like this:

Jeesh, this traffic’s terrible, isn’t it? 

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The speaker here isn’t asking a real question. In this case, the speaker expects you to agree, to think the same as him or her.

In both cases, however, question tags serve an important conversational function: they keep the conversation flowing.

Keeping The Conversation Flowing
How do tag questions keep conversation flowing?

The way the question tag is spoken helps you to understand the speaker and to reply appropriately. In fact, question tags indicate the speaker’s own confidence about what s/he’s saying:

  • Speaker is NOT very sure of the facts = rising at the end.
  • Speaker is sure of the facts = falling at the end.

You need to understand the difference between when the speaker is asking a question, or simply making a statement that he or she expects you to agree with. For example, if a speaker says:

“Hanoi’s traffic sure is peaceful and calm, isn’t it?” (falling tone)

You don’t really think the speaker BELIEVES that, do you?

In conversation the speakers often need to be on the same wavelength as each other (or else the conversation becomes an argument!). Question tags help you understand how a speaker feels about what he or she says. With this information, it becomes easier to respond.

Responding to Tag Questions
When responding to tag questions, you need to be careful about one thing. Like native speakers, you have to respond to the tag, not the statement before it. Try this:

Oh dear. Another car accident. Tuan’s not very careful, is he?

Would you answer ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to that question?

A native speaker will answer No, which means, “I agree; he isn’t very careful”. You don’t say ‘Yes’ to the statement before the question tag (= Yes, Tuan’s not very careful). Remember to answer the tag.

Sample Questions and Responses

Questions Answers
It sure is raining hard today, isn’t it? Yes, it is!
You’re not going to tomorrow’s meeting, are you? No, I’m not.
That was a boring movie, wasn’t it? Yes, it was

A final suggestion to make your conversation flow smoothly and naturally – always use the abbreviated form in a question tag. You might sometimes read, for example, “…, did he not?” instead of “…, didn’t he?” but this is very old-fashioned. It’s much too formal for friendly conversation.

And you want to be friendly, don’t you?? 

What Do You Think?
Do you understand the difference between the two different types of tag questions? Is it easy to hear the rise or fall in a question tag? Do you have any other techniques for making conversation flow? Let us know in the comments area below!

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