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Conversational English: Tips and Tricks for Effective Communication

Has this happened to you? You’ve spent years studying English in class, read a stack of textbooks, and used all of the apps. You feel confident in your knowledge, but when you actually try to have a conversation, you’re stuck. What did they just say?! Were those real words?! 

While learning a language through traditional means like a class can help you grasp the more foundational aspects —vocabulary, verb conjugations, sentence structure — what you learn is not usually representative of how people actually speak in everyday life. Instead, you will most often find exchanges that are incredibly formal, leaving you to sound like a walking textbook. That’s because natural language is full of slang, colloquialisms, and regional dialects, which are rarely taught through formal instruction. 

Let’s take a look at some of the more common ways in which spoken English can differ from what you’ve learned in class. 


What Does Real Conversational English Sound Like?

Going to becomes “gonna” 

Want to becomes  “wanna” 

Got to becomes “gotta” 

What are you becomes “whatcha” 

Let me becomes “lemme” 

Kind of becomes “kinda” 

You all becomes “y’all” (you will hear this one, especially in the southern US) 

While you aren’t likely to see these in written form outside of text messages, you will hear them all the time in the conversation! For more examples, google “informal English contractions.” 

We also absolutely love our formal contractions, so make sure you brush up on those. Essentially, we love shortening words! 

Starting A Conversation. 


Most likely, your textbook once told you this is how a normal greeting in English sounds: 

“Hello. How are you?” 

“I am well, thank you. And you?” 


While there is nothing technically wrong with this exchange, you are going to sound like that walking textbook. Instead, here are some more common ways we greet people in conversational English: 

To say “hello”: Hey, heya, hi 

To say “how are you doing?”: 1) “How ya doin’?” 2) “What’s up?”/“what’s goin’ on?” 

To respond:  1) “good” (yes, “well” is more grammatically accurate, but no one says that!) 2) “nothin’ much” “nothin’” (see here how we drop the “g” in “nothing” - we do this all the time with words ending in “ing”)

To say “goodbye”: “bye,” “see ya” “see ya later” 


Conversational English Slang

Like any language, there is a mountain of slang in English. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few you are bound to hear quite often:  

bucks: dollars 

sweet: excellent, fantastic. Often used as a response to show excitement. 

bummer: disappointing 

no worries: it’s ok. Also used as a response to “thank you” 

chill: relaxed (adjective); telling someone to relax (verb) 

hang out: to meet/spend time with 


UK English vs. US English 

If you learned British English, you might be surprised at how many differences there are between the two dialects. Let’s take a look at a few of the most commonly used words and phrases that hold very different meanings in the US. 


              UK                                  US

lift elevator
torch flashlight
flat apartment
trousers pants 
pissed (means “drunk”) pissed (means “angry”) 


Resources for Learning Conversational English

Here are a few recommendations for improving your conversational English:  

  • An online or in-person course specifically on idioms, slang, colloquialisms, etc. 
  • Practicing with a fluent speaker through sites like italki or by reaching out to people in your extended network via social media or word of mouth. Many people are especially interested in language exchanges. 
  • Watching recent movies or tv series. This is one of the best ways to get much exposure to the most current conversational English. For some, it helps to turn on the English subtitles at first so you can match the sounds to words since, as mentioned earlier, we often don’t fully pronounce words when we’re speaking quickly. 
  • Listen to radio programs or podcasts. Again, here’s a great (and free!) way to get much exposure to very natural conversational English.