The other day I went to the store to buy a new phone. Almost immediately I was greeted by a Japanese salesman who shot off a line of rapid-fire Japanese insisting that I check out the latest campaign.
In an attempt to understand any of what this guy was saying, I started asking questions that could slow down the conversation. These questions were simple but open-ended.
I did this intentionally with one thing in mind; getting the most out of the conversation. This article post will be about how to milk your conversations down to the last drop! If you aren’t familiar with that metaphor it simply means getting the most out of the surrounding situations. In this case, the situation we’ll be talking about is “conversations”.
Pacing Your Language Learning
Slowing down the conversation is an important lesson in language learning. By learning how to do this we also learn how to control the conversation. This isn’t as easy as it seems because generally, the stronger speaker has control of the conversation.
Had I not asked that salesman the sales plan on the new phone I bought, I probably would have paid double than what I should have.
Have you ever seen one of those clips where someone is speaking really fast, and the people listening to that person just nod their head like they understand every word that’s being said? You might have even seen this or done this in real life – you’re fully aware that you don’t understand what’s being said, but you pretend as you do and this usually ends up in a mess.
Paying attention is critical in language learning especially in situations involving everyday survival. The slightest misunderstanding in conversations can lead to consequences. However in language learning these consequences aren’t dire, and should be seen as a learning experience.
Learning How To Set The Pace And The Conversation Level
One day when it’s all said and done, you WILL be fluent in your target language, provided that you’re motivated and focused. When that time comes you’ll be engaging in conversations naturally and more often. Setting the pace of those conversations will prove to be quite an enjoyable experience. Slowing down the conversations we have while learning our target language(s) can prepare us for the moment when our conversations become more than just a learning opportunity.
Slowing down the conversation also sets its level. The native speaker will have the advantage when it comes to output ability of the language. However, that doesn’t mean you’re at a disadvantage!
Reducing the speed of the conversation opens up a brief space where you’re allowed to bring the conversation down to your level of comprehension. If you can find that moment you’re guaranteed to have an easier time, and you’ll be sure to notice that you’ve found it once you find yourself understanding 90% of what is being discussed.
Control The Conversation
Doing my run-in with the persuasive Japanese salesman there were certain questions I asked that both extended and clarified the conversation.
Okay, I understand but what about the support plan?
I think the payment plan is amazing but can I get an option to pay at a different rate?
What other phones do you have, and how do they compare to the one you’re showing me now?
These questions are structured in a manner that shows the person who’s leading the conversation that you’re interested in what they’re saying. Some simpler, less complexed questions you can try asking are open-ended questions starting with the words: What, How, Can, Where, Why?
What is this exactly?
Can I do A using B?
How can I _______?
Where does it come from and how was it made?
The Power Of The Question “Why?” In Language Learning
Why is asking why important?
“Why” is a very important word we can use in our language learning journey. “Why” is the word we use when we want to ask for a simplification of terms we don’t understand. Everybody uses “why” when they don’t comprehend something, and the response to the last “why” is always simpler than the last. In short, it’s a great way to extend the conversation when you’ve run out of short ended questions.
Why is why an important question?
It allows us to extend the conversation easily.
Because we are asking for more information
Because we don’t understand the conversation entirely.
Because we just didn’t…
Alright, alright…don’t push your luck folks.
Yes, No Questions
Generally, “yes, no” questions should be avoided when trying to extend your conversations since they prove to do the exact opposite of what you’re trying to accomplish. However, that doesn’t go to say that they don’t have their place in overall comprehension. If you’re able to ask a complex “yes, no question”, then, by all means, go ahead.
These kind of questions are more of a benefit to the speaker than the listener (you). They show that you’re an attentive listener and if the speaker picks up on that they’re more likely to continue the conversation. So, while “yes, no” conversations don’t necessarily do a good job of simplifying the conversation, they can be effective at extending its length.
Questions normally follow this framework: The answers will always be more complicated than what was originally asked. “Yes, No” Questions cancel out this idea by skipping the explanation part of the answers entirely. It’s a bold tactic, but it doesn’t have its merits.
Too many yes, no questions can make a conversation very one-sided. Try to use them or when you sense that the conversation is dying down.
What You Should Ask Instead
Avoiding “Yes, No” questions aren’t easy since they’re so easy to come up with, but there is an alternative method you can take when trying to extend your conversations. Asking questions that have a limited range of answers is a suitable substitute for these yes or no questions. The advantage of questions with a limited answer range are as follows:
- You have a higher percentage chance of understanding the answer.
- You probably already know what the answer is going to be anyway.
- You can ask a multitude of these questions!
Take the Challenge!
Always remember that you have the power to control the conversation, no matter your level of experience in the language. It won’t be easy at first, but you’ll certainly get the hang of it the more you practice. And yes, practice does involve getting into conversational situations. It doesn’t have to be with a Japanese phone salesman either. You can be in a bakery, grocery store, coffee shop, hair salon etc. However, the closer your interests align with the conversation the easier it becomes. The life-blood of languages is the continuous exchange in words between people, so don’t let that run out! Keep it healthy, prosperous and make sure it lives a nice LONG life.
Dear Language Learners,
It is okay if you feel that the conversation is running away from you.
It is okay if you’re left dumbfounded by a group of native speakers.
It is okay if seeing and hearing real-life conversations in your target language makes you feel hopeless.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and just take that chance. You never know how much you know until you put what you know to good use. So try extending your conversations, you’ll be surprised when you realize just how many words you can comprehend if you’ve been up to date on your studies. Put your skills to the test, and take the challenge. Be sure to check out the worksheet provided for a valuable asset.