Hot Buttons in a Language Learning Context

Have you ever been in a situation where the conversation came to a halt and turned awkward? You started feeling uneasy and – if it was an important situation for you – you might have even become panicky.  I think we all have.

Getting to know somebody is sometimes quite a challenge, if you run out of topics, but long silences during a conversation can be uncomfortable and a rather loud indicator of a conversation getting shipwrecked.

Would you wish for a button that could “work” on another person making it easier for you to converse with them? Would you like to do away with halts and silences?

Hot buttons are not real, but you can still think of them as virtual buttons. For a language learner, they are an especially handy tool. You just press the right buttons and the conversation gets reinvigorated immediately. And the good news is: you can learn how to work them.

It should not be considered just as a trick. If you ask exam takers what scares them the most, many will answer “speaking.” It is pretty clear why: this is a skill that requires instant recognition and response, meaning you have to be ready all throughout. There is no time to look up your answer in a dictionary or to think about it for long. You have to say it without delay.

What to do? Make small talk.

If you are genuinely interested in the conversation, you already have an advantage.  To get the most out of the interaction, try using the following techniques:

Control your anxiety. As conversations follow certain principles, all you have to do is apply some basic rules and you will be fine.

Ask as many questions as you can but try to avoid rapid fire fashion; it is not intended to be an interrogation.

Be sensitive and let the other person open up to you. Find out what topics work well – which ones give you a response to work with. The subject that gets your person responsive, perhaps even excited, will be their Hot Button. (The everyday definition of this expression is somewhat different from what I intend to present here)

But don’t stop just yet! One subject is hardly ever enough to keep a conversation going for long. Try more and remember the ones that prove useful.

When you have found something to follow up on – take another step further in that direction.

When you have depleted that particular subject, check the list for another, just like you would naturally do. And THAT is exactly the point. Make your conversation natural-sounding. Cooperate, do not coerce. Imagine it like a nice waltz. You are leading but both of you are having a good time and going into the same direction.

Not being born a natural chatterer myself I also had to bump along and discover how to deal with situations in which I just didn’t feel like talking. However, I got help from my best friend and my wife who opened my eyes to the benefits of striking up – or just keeping alive a good conversation.

This is what I believe in and promote in my lessons and on my website, and I am offering you the same help.

Let me know if I can be of any help to you.

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