Did you know that there are three types of ‘conversation’?

  • transaction
  • interaction
  • argument

In a previous article, I dealt with transaction; now it’s the turn of interaction.

Interaction is the most common kind of exchange we have with other human beings. It simply involves exchanging information with other people. They tell us about their health, their family, their work, etc. and we tell them about our health, our family, our work, etc.

This is easily the most important area of conversation we have to master when we’re learning a foreign language. It’s very important in business, too. After a hard day’s work when two or more business people have been selling telegraph poles to each other, they’re likely to have a meal together at the end of the day and the last thing they want to talk about is telegraph poles.

What are they going to talk about? Their health, their family, their work, etc.! In other words, they will be interacting with each other about common human concerns.

You will remember that in transactions, the setting is important, the sequence of events is predictable, the relationship between the provider and the customer is based strictly on business and is generally de-humanised.

By comparison, when we are interacting with others, we are sharing common human
interests, the setting is unimportant, the sequence of topics is unpredictable and we have to negotiate our turn to speak. We can be talking to a friend at a bus stop and discussing a whole range of subjects: the setting doesn’t matter.

Books 3-1 of Direct English concentrate mainly on transactions, but towards the end of Book 3, we are invited to take part in discussions from topics like how we would fit a new kitchen (Book 3, Unit 25, Lesson 3) to ‘difficult’ subjects like trade and education (3:26:3).

From Book 4 onwards, the concentration on interaction becomes intense, dealing with such topics as: Famous people, Moving house, Making ends meet, Breaking up (a relationship), Keeping in touch with old friends, How much homework should teenagers have?, Would you like to work the nightshift?, Modern communication, Favorite colors, Paying bills on time, etc.

This is the way Direct English trains you to speak: first you take the parts of the speakers, then you answer some questions about the topic, then you continue talking about the topic based on notes you have made.

Here, for example, is how we practice talking about breaking up a relationship (4:29:7): Let’s talk about … Breaking up – Look at the dialog. Danny is telling Michael how Jeannette broke up with him.

• First listen, then listen and repeat.
• Listen and take the part of Michael. • Listen and take the part of Danny.

Continue practicing by yourself, varying the information as much as possible.

Listen to the questions on tape and answer them as briefly as possible in English. Refer to the printed questions below only if you need to. 1 Have you ever broken up with someone and if so, how long ago?
2 Who made the first move to break up? etc. [at least six questions]

Base your ideas on real life or fiction. You have just broken up with someone. Think in English about this relationship from its beginning to the moment of breakup. Make a few notes in English.

Look at your notes and tell us about this relationship. You may begin like this:
I first met [name] [when] …

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