Want to go on a fun adventure?
Conversing (talking) with others in English can open up a whole new world of opportunities.
Thanks to English, you will be able to talk with people who don’t speak your native language.
This lets you hear ideas and opinions from people who grew up in different cultures. You might even make new lifelong friends!
Talking in English will also be adventurous because you will probably feel a little nervous and excited.
But if you push your comfort zone and just open your mouth, you will feel so accomplished (proud) and motivated to keep learning!
Plus, your English will improve a lot if you have more conversations.
So let’s get started! To help you on this trip, we’ve put together a friendly guide with basic phrases—from greetings and small talk to saying goodbye—that will walk you through your first conversation.
English for Beginners: 45+ Phrases for Your Very First Conversations
Starting the Conversation
If you need a push to start talking to people, watch this for motivation. Then, any polite conversation starts with a greeting (saying hello). There are many ways to greet someone, and your choice will depend on who you are talking to.
It may be an informal conversation with a friend or an acquaintance (someone you know, but not very well). Or you may use a more formal dialogue with a colleague, a teacher, a stranger or a government employee.
Let’s start with informal greetings. Here is how you can say hello:
(A universal greeting that works for every conversation.)
(A neutral and friendly greeting.)
(An informal and relaxed greeting.)
(This is quite formal and rare these days, but could be used humorously among friends.)
For a more formal way to greet someone, use the model “good + [time of day]”:
- Good morning!
(Reserved for any time before noon.)
- Good afternoon!
(Typically used between noon and 5-6 p.m.)
- Good evening!
(Any time after 6 p.m.)
Remember that “good night” normally means that you are saying goodbye. It is also commonly used right before going to bed.
What if you have never met the person you are talking to before? Then, after greeting them, it would be polite to introduce yourself and ask for their name. Here’s how:
- My name is ~. What’s your name?
(This is simple, neutral and always works well!)
If you met somebody once before, but you do not remember their name, you can say this:
- I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name. You are… ?
(This is a bit more informal.)
If you want to introduce a person to someone else, you can simply say:
- Please meet + [name]
Please meet my friend Tom!
- This is + [name]
This is Tom!
Now that you have introduced yourself, here is how to respond to someone’s introduction:
- Nice to meet you!
(The most common)
- Pleasure to meet you!
(Simple and polite)
- It’s a pleasure!
(Informal, but nice)
Great job! You are already having a conversation!
Making Small Talk
After you have exchanged names and greeted each other, you may go on to make some “small talk.”
Small talk is common in many English-speaking countries, especially in the United States, Canada and England. It is considered polite to add small talk to the beginning of the conversation before talking about the subject of the conversation, whether it is personal or professional.
The most widespread (common) question is “How are you?” In fact, it is so common, that it becomes automatic for people to say, even when they hardly know the person! “How are you” is often even considered part of the greeting (i.e. “Hi, how are you?”). That is how necessary it has become!
There are several ways to ask someone how they are doing:
- How are you? / How are you doing?
- How’s it going?
- How are things?
- What’s up?
An interesting thing about asking these questions is that an answer is not really required. Unless you are very close friends with someone, they are not expecting you to tell them an honest answer about your day.
Instead, a simple answer and a “how are you” in return is usually enough:
- I’m well. How are you?
- It’s going well, thank you. How are you doing?
- Fine, thanks. And yourself?
Note that you might often hear people say “I’m good” when they mean that they are well and doing well. “I’m good” is grammatically incorrect in this context, but it is very common, just like a few other mistakes English speakers make, so be careful!
Small talk can also be the primary goal of a conversation, especially when you are talking to people you don’t know and are unlikely to meet again. There are many ways to use small talk successfully.
Asking and Answering Questions
A conversation is an exchange of ideas, questions and thoughts. The best way to keep a conversation going is to ask questions!
There are two types of questions you may ask: closed-ended and open-ended questions.
Closed-ended questions are also called “yes/no” questions, because their goal is to confirm or deny certain information. For example:
- Are you having a good day?
- Did you just get to the office?
- Have you seen my email?
Compare the examples above to the open-ended questions below. They will ask a person to elaborate—that is, to give more information instead of simply saying “yes” or “no.”
- How is your day going?
(A perfect example of small talk!)
- When did you arrive at the office?
- What do you think about that email I sent?
Open-ended questions typically begin with “who,” “what,” “where,” “when” and “why.” They are important to make your English conversation informative and productive. See more examples here.
When the person you are talking to is asking you a question, listen for the keywords and pay attention to the verb being used. This will help you construct your answer using proper grammar.
Don’t worry about using difficult words—it is fine to keep things simple! And if you don’t understand a certain question or word, don’t be afraid to ask.
As a beginner, you may have trouble understanding everything being said in English. This is okay! You are still learning.
Asking for Clarification
You are getting good at conversing in English, but suddenly you realize that you are lost. Maybe the other person is speaking too fast. Maybe she has an unfamiliar accent. Maybe you didn’t hear the last thing she said.
It is perfectly normal to ask for clarification or to repeat something. Just remember to be polite!
If you don’t understand something, let’s say a word or even some idea relating to your conversation, you could say:
- I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please repeat that?
- I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please explain that?
- Care to elaborate?
(This very informal question is the short version of “Do you care to elaborate on this?”)
If you simply didn’t hear something, just say it like this:
- I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that. Could you please repeat?
- I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you please repeat?
- Say it again, please?
Don’t be shy to ask for help. People are generally very happy to explain or repeat something! Please don’t forget to thank them after they do.
Bringing the Conversation to a Close
Say you have got all the information you need from the person. It is time for you to go. Maybe you are running late and want to keep the conversation brief. No matter the reason, it is always nice to let the person know you cannot continue talking to them for much longer.
There are many ways to do it depending on the situation. For example, if you are late, say:
- I have to get going. / It’s time for me to go.
(This is polite and neutral.)
- I have to run; can we continue later?
(This is more informal, but also polite.)
And if you have all the information you’d wanted:
- Thank you so much for your help!
(A very common and useful expression)
- Got it, thanks!
(Very informal and friendly)
- I think I have everything I need, thank you!
(This is formal and may come across as rude if you don’t thank the person after, so use it with caution.)
Using Small Talk to End a Conversation
Hey, guess what? Small talk can be used at the end of the conversation too! Before saying goodbye, it is polite to say something like…
- Have a good day!
(This works in any situation.)
- Enjoy your day!
(This one is a bit more formal.)
- Good luck!
(If the person needs it; it will depend on the situation.)
- Talk to you soon!
(This is neutral and does not necessarily mean that you will really talk to the person soon.)
- Great seeing you / Great talking to you!
(This is informal yet common.)
- Catch you later!
(This is very informal and fun.)
And after that, the only thing left to do is…
This one is easy. You really cannot go wrong with just a simple “goodbye” or “bye.” You can also use any small talk expression to complement your goodbye. For example:
- Bye! Have a good day!
- Catch you later! Bye-bye!
And, as mentioned at the very beginning of this guide…
- Good night!
You are now an English conversation master!
Having a conversation in English does not have to be complicated. You may feel a little awkward and a little shy at first, but it is okay.
If you are scared of making a mistake, it is understandable. But mistakes are going to happen; it is absolutely normal. Making mistakes is a big part of learning. This is how you get better.
Just go for it. Just start talking, because now you know what to say!
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