9 Components That Will Help You Master the Art of Informal English Conversation
Whatsapp me the time, would you?
Gonna. In a jiffy.
Is this how you sound when you speak English?
Maybe you don’t, but you should know that other people might.
Native English speakers among them.
During my first few days in England, I was confused because I heard greetings like “How’s it going?” and “What’s up?” Nobody started their conversations by saying “How do you do?”—one of the phrases I had to repeat again and again in my English class back home.
I’ve learned that native speakers use an almost different language in their everyday conversations.
We’ll be discussing this distinction between informal and formal English by investigating the components of conversational English in casual settings.
Once you recognize those elements, you can start learning them and incorporating them in your own conversations.
Online Resources to Practice Informal English Conversations
The most effective strategy to commit these elements to memory is to practice what you’re learning. Try to apply what you read in this article in actual conversations with native speakers.
If you’re not living in an English-speaking country, you can still practice using online language exchange platforms and podcasts.
While some podcasts are excellent resources to learn how native speakers converse informally, language exchange apps give you the opportunity to do it yourself.
This app helps you find native speakers of English, as well as other languages so that you can have an informal English conversation via video chat or text messages, right from your phone in your living room. You can also join the Tandem community of over three million users and start being social.
On italki, you can participate in free language exchanges as well as lessons with certified teachers or paid conversations with tutors. italki provides integrated calling and video chat, easy lesson or conversation scheduling and many other tools.
How Stuff Works: Stuff You Should Know
This podcast has a vast archive that will keep your curious mind satisfied. Charles Bryant and Josh Clark have a knack (talent) for explaining complicated matters, like nuclear forensics and narcissism, in a way that’s easy to understand. Their casual exchanges make it a great resource to hear informal English conversations.
In this BuzzFeed podcast, Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu chat with a guest and each other about everything. Their conversation varies from serious topics like racial bias and gender inequality to lighthearted matters like resolutions or fashion advice. Their casual manner and banter are something you don’t want to miss.
How to Navigate 9 Key Components of Informal English Conversations
In informal English conversations, speakers use everyday language. Their choice of words and expressions are often distinct from that of formal written documents and spoken communication in professional settings, like business meetings and presentations.
English learners will find that when engaging in informal conversations, native speakers will often use the following:
1. Slang words
These are words and phrases regarded as very informal and rarely used in written speech. Slang typically varies between groups of people, regions, professions or age groups. Sometimes it even varies in each field, like English internet slang, which you’ll need to learn to participate in social media.
Within the English speaking world, Americans have different slang compared to Brits and Aussies (slang word for people from Australia).
Following are more examples of American slang words and what they mean. You can also find common slang words from the UK here.
Meaning: a man / a friend
Dude is also used to address the other person to whom you’re talking to. Dude is mainly American, and its British equivalent would be “mate.”
Who’s Pete? — Oh, just a dude I met last week at a gathering (party, get-together).
What’s up, dude? — Couldn’t be better
Meaning: American dollar (the British equivalent is “quid”)
Oh, it’s only the 20th today. I have like a few bucks left in my account.
I’m thinking about having a garage sale to make a few quick bucks.
Meaning: completely exhausted
Man, it’s a long day. I’m zonked.
My husband works too much. He often comes home zonked.
Meaning: an adjective that describes something good or awesome
Here’s the bracelet you want. — Sweet! Thanks.
You should take it. It’s a sweet deal.
If you come across a word that’s unfamiliar, you can find its meaning using a slang resource like Urban Dictionary.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, an idiom “is an expression that’s peculiar either grammatically or in having a meaning that can’t be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements.”
While some idiomatic expressions might not make any sense to language learners, native English speakers use them freely and regularly in everyday conversations.
Here are some idioms commonly found in informal conversations:
Take a rain check (on something)
Meaning: a polite decline of an offer, with the intention of rescheduling on a later date
Do you want to come over tonight for food? — I’ll have to take a rain check on that, but what’s about next week?
Dad, let’s go fishing this weekend. — Sorry son, I have another plan. Would you take a rain check?
Get the cold shoulder
Meaning: to be treated in an unfriendly way by someone you know
What’s up with Lucy? I’ve been getting the cold shoulder from her for a week.
Don’t give me the cold shoulder. Talk to me.
Spill the beans
Meaning: to reveal secret information
Come on. Spill the beans. What’s the big secret?
Meaning: each person pays for their own part of a meal or drink.
Let’s go Dutch on the food.
3. Phrasal Verbs
A phrasal verb is an idiomatic phrase consisting of a verb and another element, typically either an adverb or a preposition. Phrasal verbs are more often used in informal conversations than their formal equivalents.
Here are some examples:
Meaning: to discover
I found out about her secret too late. (past tense)
Meaning: to escape
He left the door open, and one of the hamsters got away.
Here’s a list of some other phrasal verbs that you might want to know:
- run into (meet, collide)
- set off (begin a journey, start)
- break up (end a relationship)
- check (somebody/something) out (look at him/her/it closely)
4. Filler words
A filler word is a word, sound or phrase that a speaker uses while pausing in his or her speech. It could be an apparently meaningless word like “ah,” “uh,” “um” or a phrase like “Let’s see,” or “Let me think.”
Because having an informal conversation means unfinished thoughts and random ideas, speakers often have to use filler words to find time to think or to clarify a statement.
Here are some examples:
Meaning: typically, this shows you’re still thinking about something or expresses doubt
Well, you could be right about that, but I think there could be another way.
Let me think
Meaning: this means you need a little time to think about a decision
Tuesday? Let me think. I could do at 10 am, but I need to double check that.
Meaning: this word is typically used to contradict (oppose) a previous statement
He’s 89. Actually, I might have been wrong. He could be 91.
In informal conversations, native speakers almost always use contractions, where two words are merged together, unless they want to emphasize something, so I am becomes I’m, we are becomes we’re and so on.
I’ve got two hours left. (instead of “I have”)
He’ll call you. (instead of ” he will”)
6. Word-linking and Phrase Reduction
To speak faster, speakers tend to combine two or three words together.
Here are some examples:
I’m gonna eat the cake. (going + to)
If you wanna go, let’s go. (want + to)
Lemme go! ( let + me)
Whassup? (what + is + up)
7. Sentence Fragments
Grammar rules aren’t as strict in informal conversations as they are in formal discourse. Native speakers take the liberty to break some of English grammatical rules as often as you can notice.
A correct sentence requires a subject and a verb. When you speak English in informal settings, sentence fragments, or sentences that don’t contain both a subject and a verb, are acceptable.
In the following examples, you will first find the informal version and then the formal version of the same conversation:
Do you eat meat? — Not really. (instead of “I don’t really eat meat.”)
Fancy a beer? — Maybe in a bit. (instead of “Maybe I’ll have one in a bit.”)
8. Ending a Sentence with a Preposition
The rule is that you’re never to end a sentence with a preposition, a word that typically precedes a noun or pronoun (with, by, up, down, etc.).
That means that you wouldn’t typically see the following sentence: “The child cried when she was taken away from her new friend whom she was already bond with.”
However, native speakers don’t tend to take this rule seriously when they have informal conversations. You’ll hear sentences like the following all the time:
Where could I plug this in?
Which images should I look at?
Let me find a mat to put my plate on.
9. Double Negatives
The use of double negatives, two negative elements in a sentence, is frowned upon when you write or have a formal conversation (like in a business meeting). However, when English is spoken informally, this is sometimes heard.
Check out these examples:
I don’t want no part in this.
She didn’t have nothing to do with the broken glass.
Informal English conversations are distinct in the way speakers choose words and expressions and how they put all the elements together.
Learn the components of informal spoken speech to help you speak English fluently and sound like a natural!