English Conversation Skill 5

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Paraphrasing During a Conversation

In English Conversation Skill 3, we explained how to control a conversation. By using questions skillfully, you can keep a conversation flowing smoothly. However, what happens when you forget a word? Many times, when a student can't remember a word, the conversation comes to a sudden stop as he or she seeks the right word. This is totally unnecessary. All you need to do when you are stuck is to paraphrase, that is, you need to use other, simpler words to explain your meaning.

Imagine you are talking to someone from another country. He does not speak Chinese, so you cannot explain in your mother tongue. You have forgotten the word "impossible". Maybe you say "intentional" or "imperfect" by mistake, and your partner doesn't understand you. How can you paraphrase the idea? You might say, "I mean, when something cannot be done, or there's no way to do something". You might might give an example. "We can fly in an airplane, but there's no way we can fly by using our arms, right?". I think your partner can guess that you mean "impossible".


Let's practice with some easy words. How could you paraphrase the words below in the simplest, most direct way? Think about each word before looking at my answers.

banana ..... camera ..... run ..... hello ..... tomorrow

Here's how I would explain these words:

1. banana: it's a long yellow fruit, often eaten by monkeys.
2. camera: it's a little machine for taking pictures.
3. run: we can walk slowly, but if we are in a hurry, we can pick our feet up and move very fast.
4. hello: it's the first thing we say when we see someone; the opposite is "good-bye".
5. tomorrow: this is the day before today; it's the opposite of "yesterday".

Do you get the idea? Now practice with a friend using some of the words below.

apple ..... orange ..... cat ..... elephant ..... yesterday ..... France ..... Australia

sing ..... read ..... hungry ..... thirsty ..... white ..... father ..... sad

happy .....radio ..... ice cream ..... wine ..... paper ..... television

laugh ..... sleep ..... yes ..... eat ..... stars ..... meat

You can practice with a friend anytime by thinking of your own words. Here are some things to keep in mind when you try to paraphrase:

1. Start with a broad, general description. Don't be too specific at first.
2. If your conversation partner does not understand immediately, give more then one clue.
3. Use examples or opposites to communicate. Do whatever it takes to communicate successfully.

Paraphrasing not only helps you to keep the conversation going, it is also a good learning technique. Often when you paraphrase, the person you are talking to will tell you what the correct word is. You can increase your vocabulary quite quickly by speaking often and using paraphrase when appropriate.



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