Get Unstuck In English Conversation Using These Advanced Phrases

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In this lesson let's practice how to get unstuck in English conversation using these common advanced phrases. Learn how to boost your strategic competence in English when you feel stuck. I teach you phrases to use to clarify information, verify a statement, double check information, and confirm that you are understood.

When you tense up and freeze, forget what it was that you were about to say, or you don’t have the words in English to express what you want to say, this lesson will help you get unstuck.

I’m sharing strategies for times when you feel stuck during English conversation. You can use these strategies in casual conversation as well as in business settings.

Ultimately, what we’re doing here is buying you some thinking time so that you can create a response that you are comfortable with and you feel reflects well on you, which is important in particularly professional situations.

The techniques I’m sharing with you will improve your Strategic Competence which is an important component of Communicative Competence.  

Let’s get into it.


(1) Strategy One: Hedging

We have a great expression in English: don’t beat around the bush. Meaning, don’t hedge, just get to the point. But when you need to buy yourself some thinking time, you should beat around the bush. And this is when we can implement hedging strategies.

If someone asks you a question that you weren't able to answer or weren’t expecting, you can say the following:
1) Great question, let me think about that
2) That’s interesting. I hadn’t thought of that.
3) Hmm, let me find out. 
4) Just give me a second to process this.

(2) Strategy Two: Ask them a question back

If someone says something or asks something you don’t understand and thrust you’re not sure what to say next or how to answer what do you do? Well, you can ask them a question back.

Let’s say someone wants your opinion about something you’re learning about for the first time and you don’t know how to respond. You could say: “What are your thoughts on the matter?”

Or let’s say someone asked you a question but you need to think about it some more or your nervous that you’ll say the wrong thing. Instead, you can say “What’s your take on it?”

This will get the ball in their court and they’ll flesh out their own response. And once you get people talking they usually keep going. Better yet, get someone to talk about something they’re super interested in. Then they’ll never quiet down. That’s a little secret to communication.

That brings me to the next strategy.

(3) Strategy Three: Strategically Switch Topics

The idea behind this is to switch to a topic you know they're interested in. For example, if you know they’re a basketball fan, you can ask them what the final score was in last night’s game.
If you know they love talking about their hobby, ask them a question about it or find a more subtle way to get them to talk about it by tying it into something you’re already talking about.

Of course, when you get unstuck, and feel like you’ve got something to say you can chime in and add to the conversation.

(4) Strategy Four: Ask for Clarification

There is no shame in asking someone to clarify something. If it wasn’t clearly communicated, that’s not your fault. The onus is on the communicator to effectively convey their message. And if there is a communication breakdown meaning the message didn’t get successfully transmitted, then they need to clarify or explain.

You could say:

“What are you referring to?” / “To what are you referring?”
“I did not catch your meaning. Could you expand on that?”
“What do you mean by XYZ?”
“I’m not clear on ABC, mind explaining that a bit?”

(5) Strategy Five: Acknowledge a Miscommunication

You can say the following:

There seems to be a miscommunication here. Let’s see where we went wrong. When you said XYZ I understood ____. Was this your intended meaning?

You can also say this:
Hmm, well it’s clear now that there’s been a misunderstanding. I think we can get to the bottom of this together.

And this way you can retrace your steps so to speak, and figure out where there was a communication breakdown.


So these are five terrific strategies that you can use to buy yourself thinking time, clarify a message, or clear up any miscommunications or misunderstanding. Depending on the type of communication (business or casual) and what the situation is, you can implement these different strategies. In any scenario, you’ll find that these techniques will help you get unstuck in English. Having this Strategic Competence will enhance your overall ability to communicate in English, which is what we refer to when we talk about a language learner’s Communicative Competence. So be sure to implement their strategies and practice getting unstuck in English.


Alright Advanced English learners, thanks for joining me in this lesson.

The full transcript of this lesson can be found on our blog, so be sure to check out advanced english dot co forward slash blog. If you prefer to listen to this lesson, check out our podcast; it's available on our website. And if you love the podcast, be sure to leave us a 5 star review, that really helps us out! See you in the next one where we’ll continue advancing your English together! Until then, keep up the awesome work.