The basis of conversation


Did you know that there are four elements in conversation?

Before you can take part in a conversation, you have to be able to do four things:

  • ASK
  • SAY

These are the skills you need to develop in order to participate in transaction, interaction and argument, which we have discussed in previous articles. Obviously you can’t even begin to have a conversation if you understand nothing or very little.

Answering and asking are among the most common features of any exchange. Saying is the spontaneous ability to speak and is basic to conversation. All these skills can be taught. How are they taught in Direct English ?


You are trained to understand right from the very first lesson and throughout the course. There are always two important steps in the Companion and on the CD Rom before you view each new episode of the video.

First, there is a brief explanation of the situation with background information, so you don’t waste time guessing what is going on.

Second, you are given a “listening objective”, in the form of a question, to focus your attention. Here, for example, is what happens in Book 3, Unit 19, Lesson 1:
Situation : Heather is a radio reporter. She is talking to a young boy named Scott.
Question : Heather once had a very unusual job. What was it?

You now listen to the episode spoken at normal speed. You can, of course, listen to slowed-up versions on tape and CD Rom, but the intention is to get you used to understanding spoken language delivered normally by native speakers of American English.

Answering and asking

Reading texts are introduced from Book 1,
Unit 4, Lesson 1. Question and answer practice is based on these reading texts throughout the course. This gives you the opportunity to answer and ask all kinds of questions using the entire variety of forms available in the English language.

Of course, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get these forms right first time, because you are given frequent opportunities to practice until you become highly skilled at recognizing what is required when giving an answer to a question. You are also trained intensively how to ask questions fluently and correctly. These forms are particularly difficult in English, so you master them slowly, not all in one go.


In Books 3-1, training is highly controlled, so that what you are taught to say is fairly brief. Occasionally, where appropriate, you are given the opportunity to speak at greater length. Here is an example from Book 2, Unit 18,
Lesson 1:

Invent a similar dialog giving true information about any village, town or city you know well in your own country.

By the time you get to Book 4, you will have had plenty of practice in making up short sentences. From now on, you are given systematic training in speaking on a great variety of topics.

You are trained to take the parts of the speakers, answer particular questions about a topic, make notes about a topic and then speak by referring to your notes. This training requires you to think in English, so that your speech is natural and spontaneous, without interference from your mother tongue.

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