How to listen in conversations

There are two kinds of listening:

1) radio, tv, videos

2) person (face-to-face or on the phone)

When you are talking to a person, you need to learn and to use the strategies native speakers use.

Conversation Management Strategies

  1. Asking for repetition
  2. Asking for explanation
  3. Repeating what you understood and asking the speaker to fill in the blanks
  4. Asking questions
  5. Guessing


1 Asking for repetition:

“Could you repeat?”

“Could you say it again?”

“Sorry?”  / “Pardon?”

This strategy is easy to do but it is not very helpful, for example:

A: We went toeloragorge.

B: Sorry, could you repeat please?

A: Sure. I said we went toeloragorge.

The speaker will often repeat the same unclear sentence.


2 Asking for explanation

“Sorry, could you explain please?”

“Sorry, could you explain more slowly? English is not my first language.”

This strategy often works better for students. When you ask a person to explain, they will try to choose different words which are easier to understand. Asking them to speak slowly and giving them the reason (English is not my first language) can also be very helpful.

In Canada, remember to thank a person who tried to speak slowly for you: “Thank you, I really appreciate your patience.” You can say this sentence in the middle of the conversation too to remind a person to slow down.


A: Do you buckle up in a car?

B: Sorry, what does ‘buckle up’ mean?


A: Do you avoid GMO food?

B: GMO… what does it mean?


A: Do you like hiking?

B: Hiking? What do you mean?


It is often very helpful if you ask a person to explain the meaning of a word you don’t understand. Repeat it first and the ask the speaker to explain it to you.


3 Repeat what you understand and ask the speaker to fill in the blanks

This is what native speakers of English do in a conversation. Look at these examples:

A: We wen toeleoragorge.

B: Sorry, you went WHERE?


A: I was talking to myblahblah.

B: Sorry, you were talking to WHOM?


A: I forgot dedei.

B: Sorry, you forgot WHAT?


A: We waited for tintin hours.

B: Sorry, you waited for HOW LONG?


Notice how the listeners repeats the part of the sentence that was clear and then asks a question for the unclear part. This is a very effective strategy.


4 Asking Questions

Look at this example of managing a conversation:


A: Blah blah blah went on a trip blah blah blah blah.

B: Sorry, did you say you went on a trip?

A: Yes, I did.

B: Where did you go?

A: To Chicago.

B: Did you go with your family or by yourself?

A: By myself – it was a business trip.

B: Oh, I see. How long did you stay there?

A: For three days.

B: Nice.


In the beginning of a conversation, speaker B (listener) understood only one word – ‘trip’. But by taking control of the conversation and asking question, they were able to continue that conversation successfully and get all the information.


5 Guessing

One of the most effective strategies used by native speakers is guessing. Take a look at these examples:


A: Oh my god, it’s awesome!

B: You mean you like it?


A: It’s a no-brainer. I’ll get it done in 5 minutes.

B: You mean it’s easy?


A: Yes, I’ve signed up for the service. Now I have an account with them.

B: You mean you registered?


A: It’s all blurry. I can’t see.

B: You mean it’s not clear?


A: It’s getting late.

B: You mean you want to go home?



English is not easy to understand. Native speakers of English don’t always understand everything. In fact, they often don’t understand some things. The difference is: they don’t worry. They know how to use the conversation management strategies to successfully manage and understand the other speakers.

It is impossible to understand everything in English. What you need to learn is how to TAKE CONTROL and manage a conversation.