Hey there, and welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll have fun becoming fluent in American English. I’m your English coach Christina, and let me ask you a question.
Has this ever happened to you? You’re in a conversation, and suddenly, you don’t have a specific word you need. You hesitate. You search for the perfect word. The conversation stops and there’s that terrible awkward silence while you’re looking for your words. Ugh. Frustrating.
Today, you’ll learn how to avoid this situation, and continue the conversation fluently, even when you don’t have the exact right word.
Before we start, let me share with you the site italki, where you can increase your speaking fluency and get lots of conversation practice. Plus, you’ll get $10 in italki credit when you buy your first lesson, because I have a special partnership with them. Click here for more information.
Now, what if you don’t have the exact word you need?
Here are 3 ways to continue the conversation fluidly.
Use “silly” words
I call them silly words, because they sound funny! But they’re actually very common expressions that we native speakers use. In fact, if you use them people might be so impressed that they don’t notice you didn’t have the precise word you’re missing!
These are words like “thingamajig” another one “whatchamacalit”. Or perhaps the most common “thingy”. We use these words in the place of the precise word we don’t have.
For example this little part of a puzzle piece. Do you know what it’s called? I don’t! So I might say “The little thingy on the puzzle piece is missing.” Or “The little thingamajig on the puzzle piece is missing.”
Maybe I want Romain to give me this (watch the video and you’ll see what I’m talking about!) so I can take my Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven. If for some reason I forget the precise word, I would say “Romain, hand me the…the whatchamacalit so I can take the turkey out of the oven.”
Notice that I gave a little description of what I want to do, so that the other person can guess what I’m talking about! If I just say “Hand me the whatchamalit” or “Hand me the thingy”… It’s hard for the other person to know what you’re talking about.
Use general words
“Christina, what’s the English translation for “oto-rhino-laryngologiste?” Sometimes, I get questions like this, where students ask for very, very precise words. They feel like they need to have this very specific vocabulary to sound intelligent or correct.
But even we native speakers often use simpler, more general words. For example, there is an exact translation of “oto-rhino-laryngologiste”. It’s oto-rhino-laryngologist. Good luck with that pronunciation! Even for us Americans it’s hard! So we use the more general “ear, nose, and throat doctor.” Simpler, easier, just as effective!
Another example? Let’s talk about food. Mmm. Maybe you have one word in English to designate the ensemble of fork, knives, and spoons. In English, we do too! Cutlery, or silverware. But if you don’t have this specific word, you can use the more general “forks, knives, and spoons.”
Maybe you don’t know the exact word for this (watch the video to see what “this” is) or this (watch the video) you probably know the general word “boat.” Is it less precise? Yes. But does it allow you to continue the conversation fluidly? Yes. So it’s better than silence!
Describe the thing
Let’s take those last examples. You want to tell your American friend about your last weekend, where you went to the beach and you went on a boat. In your head, you’re thinking of this type of boat. You’ll see an image in the video. But you don’t have the precise word for it. So you can describe it!
For example, “I went on a small boat that uses wind to move forward.” And then your friend will probably confirm your description by saying “You mean ‘a sailboat’?” And bam! You’ve learned a new word! A sailboat!
Another example, let’s say you’ve lost your …. You’re frantically looking for it, and your American colleague asks “What are you looking for?”
You don’t have the precise word for…but you can describe it “I lost my little bag I put pencils in” . And they’ll answer “You mean your pencil case?” And again, new word for you!
When we describe things, we often use relative clauses, like
“a person who…” “a person who…”,
“a thing that…” “a thing that…”,
“a place where….” “a place where….”.
You don’t know the exact word for this job: Describe it as “a person who sells fruit & vegetables at the market.” You don’t know the exact word for this object: say “the thing that opens wine bottles”. And if you don’t have the word for this place: say “the place where you have a lot of stores and you go shopping.”
You can use the vocabulary you already have to describe the things you don’t know the exact name for.
It’s the same technique we native speakers use, and being able to do this is part of speaking fluent English, perhaps even more so than knowing every single precise vocabulary word!
(Watch the video to see the images of all of those things! Otherwise, this article makes no sense!)
Now, what about you?
Do you use any of these techniques in your conversations?
Did you know words like “thingamajig”, “whatchamacalit”, and “thingy” before you watched this video?
Tell me your stories in the comments below, so we can all learn from you!
And be sure to check out italki, with this link so you can practice using all these techniques in real conversations.
Thanks so much for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next week!
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