TOP 5 TIPS For When You Get Stuck or Forget a Word in English Conversation

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You don't need to speak perfect English to communicate effectively. When you get stuck in English or forget a word in conversation, use these five strategies I share in this Advanced English lesson! Strategic Communicative competence is how to prevent communication breakdowns.

We have a saying in English which is “The enemy of the good is the perfect.”

Have you ever silenced yourself because you didn’t know how to express yourself perfectly in English? Maybe you had a wonderful idea to share or a suggestion to make but held yourself back because you didn’t know how to say it in English 100% the same way you would in your first language?

Doing so, holding back like that for fear of not saying it perfectly is actually depriving the world of your amazing ideas. Essentially, by not sharing your thoughts you’re doing the world a great disservice. As I often like to remind you, perfect is not the goal. Intelligibility is the goal.

In this lesson, we’re going to discuss a few communication strategies you can use when you might not know the exact words, expressions, or phrases to express yourself and what to do in that situation.

Let’s get into it.


Keep in mind that sometimes we have to take a more circuitous approach when explaining something. While this might not be the best when it comes to communicating in general, if you are unable to find the exact words then this more roundabout explanation is completely fine!

(1) Simplify

Alright, so the first thing you can do is to keep it simple. We’ve got an acronym in English which is KISS and that stands for “keep it simple, silly” and so this is a good starting point. You don’t need to use the word you were looking for, say it in even simpler terms. You can use rephrasing in this situation and try to come up with the simplest explanation. A good rule of thumb is that simple is best. So don’t be tempted to complicate matters, thinking that’ll be more impressive.

(2) Define

Though you might not have the exact word, you know its meaning. You can define the term or phrase using other words. And yes, while it might extend your explanation because you’re forced to use more words to fill the gaps, it’ll enable you to get your point across! And since you know the meaning of the word you’re searching for you might also know other words that are similar in meaning. And that brings me to my next point.

(3) Similarize

Find synonyms for the exact word you’re thinking of and try to find similar words or phrases in its place. This way you can get your point across in a more compact way. A good way to start building up your synonym knowledge is to check a thesaurus every time you learn a new word. That way, you’ll be prepared to pull out a similar word or phrase if need be.

(4) Contradict

Sometimes to explain what you want to, you might need to deceive the antonym. If you can say the opposite of what is on your mind then you might be able to get your point across this way. Keeping a list of antonyms in your vocabulary journals is a good way to stay up to date on words with opposite meanings so that you have those in your back pocket for times like these.

(5) Generalize

If you are stuck trying to find the exact words, think bigger picture. If you can find a broader way of explaining something, do it. You don’t need to go into much granular detail to convey a point. If the listeners want to know more, they’ll ask follow up questions. Don’t feel pressured to be overly precise and exact by providing extensive details to your listeners. They will assess if that information is necessary and ask you to elaborate or expand on what you’ve just said. And at any rate, you don’t know what they’ll latch onto and be interested in exploring further so feel free to be as succinct and concise as you can and let the other person speak.


Alright, nice work! So we’ve covered five ways of dealing with a situation where we can’t find the exact word to express our thoughts. Instead of holding back and staying silent, you can implement one or more of these strategies to enable you to get your point across.


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