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How to Be a Better Listener in Your English Conversations

How to Be a Better Listener in Your English Conversations

In our busy modern world, it can feel like it is becoming harder to focus on one thing at a time. However, being distracted can have a negative effect on our work and our relationships.

When you are talking with others — in English or any other language — make sure your conversations are as good as they can be by following a few tips for better listening. Some tips may seem obvious, but it's often the simplest things that are the most important.

Check out these tips and be sure to use them in your next English chat. Hopefully you're doing at least one or two of them already!

Use body language

Two seated women having a conversation while using body language

A very important part of conversation in any language is to not only listen but to signal to your partner that you are listening. We can do this in a variety of ways.

One is by making eye contact with your conversation partners. This makes a strong connection and lets the other person know that they have your attention.

Keep in mind that while eye contact is important, staring is rude and can make the other person uncomfortable. Therefore, be sure to keep the contact at an appropriate level.

In addition to eye contact, there are other ways that our bodies "speak" during conversations. Are you facing your partner? Listening with your body turned away signals that you are not completely interested or that you are giving some of your attention to something else.

Additionally, folding your arms shows that you are "closed" and perhaps not accepting what your partner is saying. Instead, "open" yourself by turning your body to face them, uncrossing your arms and giving a good amount of eye contact.

Finally, a big way to show that you are interested in your conversation is to put your smartphone away. Trying to speak with others while looking at your phone is disrespectful and a very common problem. Don't do it!

Use backchanneling 

Two women having a conversation while standing on the street

Of course, we also use our voices to show that we are engaged in conversations. After all, if the person you are speaking with remains completely silent, it might mean that they are not very interested — or perhaps not listening at all!

So what do we say while the other person is still talking? Only quick words to show that we are paying attention. This is called "backchanneling," and we've written an article on it already. 

What you say will depend on what your partner has said. Most of the time, you can say things like "OK," "I see" or even "Uh huh," which is only appropriate in informal conversations.

When your partner has shared surprising news, you can say things like "Really?" or "No way!" If they are talking about something sad, you can show sympathy by saying "I'm sorry to hear that."

It's important not to overuse these, but at the appropriate times, they are very helpful in keeping a conversation strong. Pay attention to English conversations from films and TV shows to see backchanneling in action — you may be surprised at how common it is!

Ask questions

A man having a conversation with his grandson on a small fishing boat

When we are interested in something, it's natural for us to want to know more about it. Therefore, great listeners ask questions to get more information about what their partners say.

Instead of using this technique randomly, only ask when you really want to know more; asking questions about unimportant details will only slow down the conversation and possibly annoy your conversation partner.

Our vacation was fantastic.
Oh, yeah? What kinds of things did you do?
I've been having problems at work.
I'm sorry to hear that. What's wrong?
I just won $1000 in a contest!
Wow! What kind of contest? / How are you going to spend the money?

Pay attention

Two young men smiling while having a conversation

This tip should be obvious, but it's still important to mention. Great conversations require everyone to have an equal chance to speak.

No matter if the situation is formal or informal, interrupting your partner by speaking before they are finished is rude and should be avoided.

Another mistake is thinking about your response instead of listening carefully. Language learners often do this when they are nervous about their skills or need time to think of what to say.

However, you cannot give a good response if you have not heard what your partner has said. So instead of thinking about vocabulary or worrying about grammar, focus on your partner instead.


Two young professionals speaking to one another in a casual office environment

Good listeners sometimes repeat parts of what their partner has said but with slightly different words. This is called "paraphrasing."

Paraphrasing helps you confirm that you understand and shows that you are giving your attention to your partner. In most conversations, paraphrasing is done in the form of a question.

So you're arriving on Monday with Mark and Jill?
The tickets go on sale tomorrow at noon?
So what you're saying is that we have only two more days to finish the project?


In many cases, listening only is not enough. Instead, the best conversations require using your words and your body to signal that you are interested in and focused on what your partners are saying. This can lead to more enjoyable discussions and deeper connections.

Remember that the tips we've shared here aren't only for people learning languages; using them well can help you have better conversations no matter what language you're speaking.