In this episode we look at the things you can say to someone you've just met.
WAITER: Another drink sir?
WALTER: No thankyou.
SUE: Excuse me - is anyone sitting here?
WALTER: No - please have a seat.
SUE: That's better - my feet are killing me!
WALTER: Have you been here long?
SUE: No, but I just flew in this morning, and I haven't had a chance to sit down since then.
WALTER: Oh, where have you come from?
SUE: From Manila.
WALTER: Is this your first visit to Australia?
SUE: No, I have been once before, but it was a long time ago.
WALTER: And have you been to Sydney before?
SUE: No, it's an amazing city.
WALTER: Yes, it has its points. But you're lucky to live in Manila. It's a fascinating city.
SUE: What about yourself? Do you live in Sydney?
WALTER: No, I live in Melbourne. I'm just here for the conference.
SUE: I'm going to Melbourne later. What's the weather like there?
WALTER: Not too good in winter, but at the moment it should be okay.
So, how's your hotel?
SUE: It's good. Very convenient - just near the harbour.
WALTER: Have you seen the Opera House yet?
SUE: Yes, we flew right over it!
WALTER: Excuse me - there's someone I must talk to. (stands) It's been very nice to meet you. I'm Walter by the way.
SUE: You too. I'm Sue. Perhaps we'll meet later.
WALTER: I hope so.
Today we're looking at a typical conversation you might have with someone you've only just met – at a conference for example. What sort of thing can you talk about – and what topics should be avoided? Let's look at how Walter and Sue get acquainted.
Sue breaks the ice – or starts the conversation.
We can tell from how Sue speaks to Walter, that they haven’t met before. She is very polite, and so is he. But then she says something more personal, and this is the ‘icebreaker’.
Sue is letting Walter know two things – firstly – that she is tired, and secondly that she is willing to have a friendly conversation with him. By making a more personal, or casual remark, she is inviting him to respond.
Walter asks ‘Have you been here long?’
To start a conversation like this, it’s fairly safe to talk about what people have just done.
For this, we use the present perfect –‘have’.
Practise with Walter some typical questions like this you could ask.
Have you been here long?
Have you been to Sydney before?
Have you seen the Opera House?
Have you tried any restaurants?
Questions that start with ‘have you’ are yes/no questions, so they have a rising tone:
Have you been here long?
When answering these questions in a situation like this it is helpful to add some information, not just say yes or no.
If you just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, people may think you don’t really want to talk.
Instead – notice how Sue helps the conversation along by giving some extra information.
Sue has said that she flew in this morning. So this gives Walter an obvious next question.
‘Where have you come from.’
This is a different type of question – it’s asking for information.
Questions beginning with ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘what’, ‘why’, ‘who’ are all questions asking for information. Notice the difference between
‘Where have you come from?’ – meaning where did you fly from, and ‘Where are you from?’ – meaning what is your nationality.
Notice also the falling tone with these questions:
‘Where have you come from?’
This makes the question sound friendly. But be careful not to ask too many questions like this all together – the other person may think you’re being too nosy.
Of course – some questions like this are alright – but try not to sound too inquisitive – and offer some information or ideas yourself.
Sue doesn’t just answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – she adds some extra information. And Walter finds the opportunity to give his opinion, and to compliment the place Sue comes from.
Now it’s Sue’s turn to ask a question.
Sue wants to ask Walter about himself – this is showing interest. So she says ‘What about yourself?’
Practise some useful phrases to introduce a question.
And what about yourself?
And how about you?
These phrases should be followed by a question. Practise again, with the question to follow.
And what about yourself? Do you live in Sydney?
And how about you? Have you been here before?
When meeting someone new on business, but in a social setting – there are a few safe topics – we can talk about travel and accommodation, basic questions about the other person, about the city you are in, interesting sights to see, and of course, the weather.
Finally, let’s look at how Walter ends the conversation. He needs to make sure the other person doesn’t think he is bored.
He gives a reason why he must go, then says ‘It’s been very nice to meet you.’ Practise some useful phrases for ending a conversation, with Walter and Sue.
Well, it’s been very nice to meet you.
Nice to meet you too.
It’s been good to meet you.
I have enjoyed talking to you.
So have I.
I hope we can meet again.
So do I.
Perhaps we’ll meet again.
I hope so.
In conversation, when asking questions remember to use a rising tone for yes/no questions – such as those starting with ‘do you’ or ‘are you.’
Questions starting with ‘Do you’ ask about regular actions, and about likes and dislikes, or opinions:
‘Do you travel often?’
‘Do you like the weather here?’
‘Do you think this session will be interesting?’
Questions starting with ‘Are you’ are asking for personal information:
‘Are you from Manila?’
‘Are you going to the dinner?’
Questions starting with where, when, what, why or who are asking for information, and they often have a falling tone:
‘Where do you come from?’
‘When are you going back?’
People from different cultures have different ideas about what are reasonable topics for conversation between strangers – so at first, it is safest to stick to general topics – such as travel, the weather, places, and of course the business you are in.
And remember, to keep the conversation going – offer information, don’t just ask questions.
That’s all today on the Business of English. See you next time.