- Language level: upper intermediate & advanced / B2, C1, C2
- Skills: advanced English conversation and speaking skills
- Time: 7 minute read
How to improve your Advanced English Conversation Skills
Do you ever hit a bump in the road* when you have conversations in English? Do you ever feel like your mind goes blank and for the life of you, you cannot think of a single thing to say?
Does this ever happen to you in your own language? I’m sure it probably does now and again!
Having good conversation – in any language – is a skill. And like any skill, you can learn it.
hit a bump in the road* (idiom) : a problem that arises and interferes with forward progress (usually only temporarily)
your mind goes blank* (idiom) When your mind goes blank, you cannot remember a particular thing, or you cannot remember anything, or think of anything to say
Here are 16 ways to upgrade your advanced English speaking skills and become a better communicator when your conversations get a bit stuck!
16 ways to improve your English conversation skills
1. Listen to what the other person is saying
Well, duh! It seems so obvious. However, often during conversations we become too focused on what we want to say next and that can cause us to stop listening to what the other person is saying. (Especially if we are using a second language and we are nervous about making mistakes!)
At best this means we miss opportunities to follow up on* talking points. At worst, this can mean we aren’t really having a conversation at all; just a one-sided monologue.
When we listen properly to what a person is saying, we can respond appropriately and find out more. Not only will the conversation be more interesting and productive, you will also come across as* someone who has a genuine interest in other people. Moreover, further conversations will naturally come up*.
to follow up on * (phrasal verb) : 1 : to try to get more information about (something) 2: to take appropriate action about (something)
to come across as * (phrasal verb) : to seem / to be
to come up * (phrasal verb) : to arise, occur, happen
2. Ask questions and look for clues
Show an interest in the person you are talking to and you’ll have a better conversation.
TIP: If you don’t know someone very well, look for obvious clues* to use as conversation jumping-off points*.
For example, is the person you are talking to wearing clothes with a sport team logo? Is s/he wearing unusual or artistic jewellery? Are they using a brand new mobile phone? Ask about it!
clue (noun): signal / sign /a piece of evidence or information used in the detection of a crime.
jumping-off point (expression): a point from which to start something (a project, discussion, journey or activity)
3. Don’t ask yes/no questions
“Do you like working at The Company?”
Open–ended questions generate more interesting responses because they unlock more information from people.
Therefore don’t ask, “Do you …….?”
Try “Why do you …. ?”
You’ll get a more interesting answer if you do!
4. Ask follow-up questions
Remember tip 1? Listen!
When you ask a question, pay attention to the answer and ask a follow–up question about it to dig deeper.
5. Plan ahead
Just as meetings run more smoothly with an agenda, your social conversations could benefit from similar planning.
If you know you’re going to spend time with someone and you’re a bit nervous about the conversation, think of three or four things to talk about before you meet. Try to think of topics that you think would be pleasant and interesting to chat about and that will keep the conversation alive.
6. Learn to feel comfortable with silences
It’s natural for some of us to feel a bit uncomfortable when there is a long pause or silence in the conversation. However, a quiet pause in an otherwise lively conversation doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve become uninteresting.
Use these breaks to give each of you a chance to refocus, gather your thoughts and think about what else to talk about.
7. Be sincere
Try to be open and honest when you express your thoughts and opinions. People can sniff out* insincerity pretty well. They’ll be less likely to engage with you if they feel you aren’t being authentic.
sniff out (phrasal verb): to discover or detect something
8. Stay current
Stay on top of* current affairs and the news, and store some of it away* so that you can use it to chat about later.
Watch out here though!
Even though, current events can present interesting talking points, be careful to steer clear of particularly sensitive topics (like politics and religion!)
stay on top of * (idiom): to remain completely in control of, aware about, or on schedule with something.
store some of it away *(expression): remember it for later
steer clear of* (expression) avoid
9. Don't hog the conversation
No one likes the person who is ‘me, me, me!’
A conversation hog is someone who must be the centre of attention in all conversations and will not let anyone else get a word in edgewise.
to hog* (verb: informal) take or use most or all of something in an unfair or selfish way.
get a word in edgewise (idiom): to have an opportunity to speak
10. Don't ever be afraid to say you don't understand something
I think no matter how strong your English level is, there will always be times when you don’t understand something that is being said. It happens between native speakers all the time.
Maybe we didn’t hear properly, or maybe we just don’t understand what point the person is trying to make. Maybe we don’t know a word or expression they are using…
It’s always okay to say you haven’t understood something. It’s not ok to feel bad about it.
Read this article to learn What NOT to do when you don’t understand something in English
11. Use expressive pronunciation to sound more fluent
Using expressive pronunciation will help you add clarity and expression with native–like fluency.
Expressive pronunciation includes:
By using these when you speak, not only will you reinforce structure and meaning to what you are saying, it will also help you stay calm and keep your thoughts in order.
If you can master using greater form, clarity and expression when you speak in English, your conversation skills will improve and will allow you and your speaking partner to focus on the information content, helping you become fluent and proficient in conversation and discussion.
12. Check your rhythm
A simple thing you can implement immediately to improve your advanced English speaking skills is to check your rhythm: knowing when to pause and breathe!
Let’s think about writing for a second. In particular: PUNCTUATION.
Without commas, full stops, exclamation points, questions marks … reading becomes difficult and off-putting.
It’s the same when we speak: if you don’t pause and breathe in the right places, you are annoying to listen to! I.e. you’re not a great person to have a conversation with.
To practise this, grab an article and practise reading it aloud. Pause at the beginning of new sentences and where you find commas and remember to breathe!
13. Use emphasis to improve your advanced English speaking skills
Again let’s think of writing. We highlight words that are important. You have to do the same when you speak. Emphasising certain words when you speak is an essential part of making the meaning clear.
It will also help you sound more natural, and has the effect of making your voice more interesting and emotionally expressive.
14. Be aware of your intonation
Intonation can make or break you! In fact, it can be key to deciding whether or not you even want to interact with a person or whether that person wants to interact with you!
Intonation occurs when the voice changes in pitch and tone while speaking. That’s all it is. However, if you don’t practise it, you risk sounding monotonous and dull.
By learning the conversational uses of intonation, you can start expressing your emotions and attitudes much more.
15. Incorporate idioms & common expressions
Native speakers of every language use a lot of idioms and expressions in their everyday speech. If you can incorporate idioms and expressions into your speech you’ll speak better conversational English.
However, when learners are speaking, it is common to overlook many common and essential phrases (or chunks of words) that can drastically improve fluency.
Think of these “chunks” as formulaic expressions – the words in the phrase cannot change, otherwise the meaning behind the expression wouldn’t make sense.
Learn chunks as they are, because they can’t be translated directly in your language.
And finally, the last tip to improve your advanced English speaking skills ...
16. Practise English whenever you can!
You don’t become good at something unless you practise it!
There are several ways to practise speaking in English and all of them are valid.
Practise alone: Check out this post for inspiration to practise speaking on your own: 10 Fun and Effective Ways to Practise Advanced English for free
Practise with other language learners: It’s worth bearing in mind that speaking practice doesn’t have to be with a teacher! When you go to the gym, you can work out without supervision, right? It’s the same with language practise. Check out language meet ups and exchanges in your neighbourhood or online.
Join a structured conversation class: perhaps you want something more structured where you also get feedback and corrections from a teacher. If you’re an upper intermediate, advanced or proficient English speaker, check out our conversation course. We use a blended learning approach, which means a combination of digital lessons and online live sessions with a teacher. Have a look!
Want to join
our conversation class?
Check out our advanced English online course, Conversation Class! A premium online course for high–level English learners, designed to help you practise and develop your speaking skills and improve your vocabulary and pronunciation … and have fun while doing it!