A letter to the teachers of English: 101Conversation skills (1) [Archives:2006/908/Education]

January 2 2006

PROF. M.N.K.BOSE [email protected]
Professor of English,
Faculty of Arts, Ibb

Dear Fellow teachers,

After one hundred letters of discussion covering various topics of interest to you, I am now planning to present to you something different – a series of day-to-day conversations, involving students, teachers, head-teachers, administrators, people who are related to their lives such as booksellers and librarians. Dr Sahu, the Editor of the Education Page, has been presenting in his sections conversations of various sort – social, academic and personal – for the improvement of English of the readers. I am going to add a bit, but my conversations are going to be centering round the students and teachers only. I am aware that these are going to be 'tailored' ones, as the students of Yemen hardly have to use English for their day-to-day life except when they speak to foreigners such as teachers from India, tourists from countries like the USA, the UK, Germany etc. However, they will help you to learn the art of conversation. After a series of day-to-day conversations, which you may practice for the pattern of conversations using role play technique, I will bring in more natural conversations for your use.

Conversations, as you know, need some special skills, in addition to the spoken skills; for example, one should know when to participate in a conversation, when to pitch in and when to be silent, how to introduce a new topic in a conversation etc. We have come across people who interfere in a conversation to the displeasure of the conversationists, people who switch over to new topics without any warning, people who switch off suddenly in the middle of the conversation. These are people who are not aware of the conversation skills.

Conversation skills are most often mistaken for spoken skills; one who has good spoken skills is taken to be a good conversationist. It is not true. The spoken skills in English, for example, include one's knowledge of English sounds, stress, intonation and pause. But conversation requires, as stated above, more than those skills. In fact, conversation skills are not limited to any particular language; they are skills necessary for conversing in any language. We employ them in our conversations irrespective of the language we are conversing in. Some of them, for example, are

– When to enter a conversation

– When to leave the conversation

– How to introduce a new topic in a conversation

– How to enable the conversation to flow smoothly

– How to avoid controversies, if any

– How not to break the conversation suddenly

Look at the following conversation, for example:

Mother: why didn't you show your progress card to father, Ajith?

Ajith: Mother, they are giving books this afternoon, you see.

There is no connection between the question and the answer, either because Ajith wants to escape from the question or he is indifferent. Such turns in a conversation will not help to move the conversations smoothly. Sometimes people misunderstand each other because of the tone they use while conversing or the inappropriate words they use. I will continue the discussion in my next letter.

Have the power of speech; it's greater than any power.

Yours fraternally,

Dr M.N.K.Bose.