Common English Phases to Keep Your Conversation Going!
These common English phrases will help you when you get STUCK in English and help you to keep your conversation going!
When you speak in English… There are bound to be moments where you get stuck… But what if you had all the English phrases you need to ‘get yourself out of trouble?!
At those times when you…
😐 Completely forget your words.
😵💫 You don’t understand what someone said.
Or the person you are talking to is looking confused – they haven’t understood what you said!
In this lesson, you’ll learn 30 common English phrases to get UNSTUCK and help you keep your English conversations going!
Do you feel frustrated when you get stuck in English conversations? You want to keep your conversation going but you don’t know what to say or maybe you freeze because you don’t understand them. You completely forget your words. You don’t know what to say. Or they don’t understand you.
I’m Emma, creator of mmmEnglish, where I help millions of English learners around the world develop confidence and fluency in English.
Today I have thirty awesome phrases to help you get unstuck during English conversations so you know what to say and you can keep your conversation going.
I’ve also made you a free PDF workbook with all of these useful common English expressions plus a quiz to help you make sure that you can use them accurately when you speak. The link to download it is in the description below. You’ll need to add your name and your email address so that I can send it to you. You can also join my weekly newsletter so you never miss a lesson or a free PDF.
EVERYONE uses these everyday phrases!
Every confident English speaker, whether they’re native or non-native, uses the phrases and these strategies that I’m going to share today to help them communicate. Native speakers use these phrases all the time because it’s a really natural part of communicating. We don’t always know what to say and it doesn’t always come out perfectly.
Sometimes native speakers don’t explain themselves clearly and we have to use the expressions and phrases in this video to react and to keep our conversations going.
But the difference is that native speakers or proficient speakers are more likely to be confident English speakers. They just know how to quickly get themselves out of trouble if they need to, if they get stuck during a conversation. They know how to fix it without panicking too much. And this is the main difference between you and them.
When you don’t understand them
You just need to know what to say in those situations to get yourself unstuck. And there are plenty of phrases and expressions to help you in those situations.
Imagine that you’ve just run into someone that you know, perhaps a colleague or a professor at your university and you’ve just started chatting in English. Things are going well but suddenly, you don’t understand what they’re saying. They’ve used a couple of words that you don’t recognise or perhaps it could be because their accent’s not one that you’re familiar with. So in these situations, you could say:
- I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.
- Could you repeat that?
Maybe you just didn’t quite understand what they said because they were speaking so fast. In this case, you can ask:
- Could you say that again a little more slowly?
- Sorry, I’m not following you.
We use this when we don’t understand what someone means. When the meaning is a little bit unclear, if you’re a little bit confused, then you can use it.
- I don’t think I understood clearly. Could you say that again?
Okay so studying and memorising these phrases is step one. But to make them your own, to make them part of your own active vocabulary, you need to practise putting them into use, using them in different situations, with different people in different contexts.
You know that I’m a huge supporter of Hey Lady! an online speaking community for women learning English. Inside Hey Lady!, you can join daily conversations and regular workshops to develop your conversation skills. And any eligible mmmEnglish student is able to join with a fifty per cent discount off your first month. Click the link down in the description to join Hey Lady! and use the code MMM50HL.
When you forget your words
Okay here’s a new situation. You’re talking with someone but suddenly you forget your own words. It’s like every English word in your head just disappears all of a sudden. Or you forget what you’re talking about after you’ve already started talking. This is the worst because the other person that you’re talking to is looking at you, waiting for you to continue. Their full focus is on you and you’ve lost your words. This happens to everyone, native speakers too.
So what can you say when you forget your words?
- What’s that word?
- It’s on the tip of my tongue.
We use this idiom to describe that very familiar feeling when the word is so close, it’s so close in your mind, it’s right here but you just can’t get it. So frustrating!
- I’m sorry, I had a mental blank. I can’t remember the word in English.
At this point, the person that you’re talking to will probably help you to remember or remind you of the word that you’re looking for. You could even say:
- I forgot the English word. Do you know what I mean?
Even if you can’t find the word, don’t let it stop you. Say something like:
- Never mind.
And change the topic.
- Tell me about the new project you’re working on.
- Never mind, it might come back in a minute.
This will help you to change the topic and keep moving forward in your conversation. You don’t need to get stuck. Sometimes it’s not just a word that you’ve forgotten but you completely forget what you were talking about altogether. When this happens to me, I just say:
- Hang on, let me start over.
- Let me try that again.
- Oh, I completely lost my train of thought.
- Hopefully, it’ll come back to me in a moment.
You have the choice to feel embarrassed and get frustrated with yourself or you have the choice to just hit that reset button. You just need to signal what happened to the person that you’re talking to so they know what’s happening but then the conversation can keep going.
Listen to what I say but also how I say it. Notice that I’m not taking myself too seriously. I’m using facial expression just as much as the words that I’m choosing to help communicate what’s happening.
And this is a really important point. Honesty is really important in conversation. If someone is listening to you speak and then for some reason, you get stuck. All of those expressions that we just went through will help you to explain what happened and it’ll give some clues to the person listening so that they can help you out.
And let’s be honest, it’s going to happen to you a lot on your journey to English fluency and once you’re fluent, it’s still going to happen. Fluency does not mean perfect. It just means that you have all of the phrases and the expressions that you need to have successful conversations in English even when you mess up.
When you don’t know what to say
There are plenty of times when you just don’t know what to say. Maybe because you’re not properly prepared. Maybe you’ve never talked about this topic before so you have no idea what to say or how to contribute. Or you might need a little bit of extra time to think about your answer. It’s not something that you know instantly. And there are tons of things that we say in English when this happens.
- To be honest, I’m not really familiar with the political situation in Venezuela.
If you need a little more time to think about your answer, then try:
- That’s an interesting question. Let me think for a moment.
- That’s tricky, I’ve never been asked that before.
- I’m not sure. Give me a second to think about it.
- Just give me a second to think how to explain it in English.
All of these phrases will give you some extra time, just a few seconds so that you can take a deep breath, get your thoughts in order and think about what you’re going to say next.
If you’re in a group conversation, you can even direct that question towards someone else.
- I need some time to think about my answer. Does anyone else want to jump in?
When it’s a topic you don’t know
Another really common situation, especially at work, is when someone asks you to share your opinion or your ideas about something but they catch you off guard. You don’t have anything to share with them, yet. If you don’t know what to say in these moments, you might freeze. You might start searching for words and it feels like every word has escaped your head and you’ve got nothing to share. So in this situation, you can try to return the question back towards them.
- I’ve never thought about that before. What about you?
- Oh gosh, I’ve never been asked that before. What do you think?
Or even more casually.
- What’s your take?
This does two things. The other person will start talking so you’ll have some extra time to think about your answer but if you don’t really have an opinion or an idea to share about this topic, you’ll probably get some ideas from what that other person is saying. They might inspire you to think of something to share or to say. Or maybe you agree or disagree with something that they said but it’s a way for you to keep the conversation going.
When you’re not comfortable answering something
What if someone asks you something that you’re not entirely comfortable with? This can happen in a lot of different situations and it’s okay to not answer a question or not talk about a topic if you don’t want to. So I’ve got a few phrases to explain that you’d prefer not to answer and you want to change the topic.
- I’d rather not answer that, if that’s okay, for personal reasons.
- Is it okay if we talk about something else? What are you doing this weekend?
When they don’t understand you
You might find yourself in a situation where you’re talking but you notice the face of the other person changing. They don’t seem to be understanding you. That’s okay! It might be your fault. Maybe you weren’t being clear. But it could also be them. Maybe they got distracted or they weren’t paying attention. So if you feel like this is happening, you could say:
- Am I making sense?
- Are you following?
Remember we used the word following earlier in this lesson. We said:
- I’m not following you.
So it’s a good one to use in the context of a conversation.
- Are you following me?
Both of these questions are used to check and to allow the person you’re talking to to ask a question if they need it. If you feel really confident that they are not following, you could say something like:
- I don’t think I’m being very clear. Let me try that again.
Sometimes, despite all of our best efforts, miscommunication happens. They haven’t understood you. But it’s totally normal, we just need to be prepared to handle those situations when they come up. So you can say:
- Sorry, I think there was a misunderstanding. What I meant to say was…
This allows you to rephrase your ideas in a different way to help the other person to understand. You could also say:
- I don’t think I explained myself clearly.
- I think you misunderstood.
But the important point here is that you’re putting the blame on the person that you’re talking to when you say that. It’s quite rude to tell someone else that they have misunderstood you. It just tells them it’s their fault, not yours. So you want to be really confident that they are the one who misunderstood if you use it.
Notice how in the first sentence, we use the passive voice. There was a misunderstanding. I’m not specifically saying who was responsible for the problem and that’s usually the best way to go. You either assume that it was you and apologise and quickly fix it or generalise there was a problem here.
Okay so now you have thirty useful expressions to help you when you’re stuck in English and you need help keeping your conversation going. If you enjoyed this lesson, make sure you give it a like, leave me a comment down below, I love to hear from you. I suggest that you take all of these phrases and practise using them in real conversations.
If you’re eligible to join the Hey Lady! community, use the link in the description below and the discount code that will get you fifty per cent off your first month of membership.
Want to keep practising? You know where to find me. See you in there!
Links mentioned in the video
11 Advanced English Expressions for Casual Conversations 😎
How To Start a Conversation in Australia & Practise Speaking English!
Practise Speaking With Me | Daily Routines