Imagine you meet your friend Marina for a coffee in downtown Athens.
You hug and cheerfully comment about how long it has been since you last met.
You sit down and order coffee at a small, busy coffee shop.
She asks you about your news and how is your family doing. You tell her a bit about your trip and your parents, your partner…
Marina eagerly goes ahead and asks you about the problem you had at work, the new hobby you had mentioned on Facebook, the book you had recommended … She can’t wait to catch up with you.
So far everything looks good, doesn’t it? But let’s zoom in a bit more to this dialogue.
Both Marina and you are interested in one another’s lives, you want to hear news, give your opinion about significant matters, talk about hobbies, suggest new books or movies.
However, if you look closer you’ll find that she’s the one asking questions and you’re the one giving answers.
Recall your last conversation in Greek. Is this what happened?
While Marina knows you and likes you, the communication between you and her seems imbalanced. You might be:
feeling interrogated, even with Marina’s best intentions
struggling to keep up with the pace of a native speaker
switching to English often in order to communicate better
Speaking is not necessarily communicating
You’ve probably heard and experienced that speaking in the language you learn is the hardest of all skills.
But is it speaking, or rather communicating that is hard?
Because when you speak, you have the task of forming a sentence.
But when you communicate, you have the tasks of:
nodding, using body language
giving your opinion or comment
And it’s this last one action that determines whether the conversation keeps on going or not.
Imagine that “asking back” is like a hook: It gives both people the opportunity to connect their thoughts and eventually be connected with each other.
If your part in talking lacks the hook, then your Greek friend has nowhere to hang their thoughts.
In Greek, we use the very fitting word “συνομιλητής, συνομιλήτρια”, to describe the people who interact in a conversation (in this case, your Greek friend).
According to the Dictionary , συνομιλητής means the person who co-talks with another person (coming from συν-ομιλώ).
In English the word translates as interlocutor (although I’m not sure how common this word is to express anyone who takes part in any kind of conversing: from short, casual chats to deep, long conversations.)
So, how are you going to bring a conversation back to life? How will you show you are curious and eager to find out more about your friend’s life and to show them you’re genuinely interested in them?
By simply asking them.
This is something we automatically do in our own language - and this is one of the reasons you or your friend switch to English/ the language you are both comfortable speaking - but we tend to avoid it in the language we learn.
This might happen for many reasons:
we freeze, expecting the native speaker to hold the conversation for both of us
we try to say as many things as we can, taking advantage of the fact that we can eventually speak the language with someone after months of lessons, therefore we get carried away
we have difficulty in forming questions, because they require a different structure in the sentence
we become so self-conscious, that we strive for perfection, which means putting more effort and time to form a proper reply, then we’re too exhausted to attempt a question
we can’t keep up with the pace of the conversation and eventually stick to replying only.
To save time and probably some headache as to how to form questions that will enliven your conversations with your Greek friends or relatives, here’s a list of the most common ones:
Questions about their opinion or advice:
Πώς σου φαίνεται/φάνηκε ο/η/το …; How does it seem/looks like to you?
Ποια είναι η γνώμη σου για ..; What’s your opinion about …?
Τι θα με συμβούλευες να …; What would you advise me to …?
Πού προτείνεις να πάμε για …; Where do you suggest we go to …?
Εσύ, τι θα έκανες στη θέση μου; And you, what would you do if you were me …?
Τι νομίζεις /τι λες /τι πιστεύεις για …; What do you think/say/believe about …?
Questions about life events, current news:
Κι εσύ τι …; And you what …(insert the same verb they just used to ask about you)?
Πώς πήγε ο/η/το …; How did it go?
Και τι τους είπες; Και τι έκανες; And what did you tell them? What did you do?
Και μετά τι έγινε; And then, what happened?
Μου έλεγες για …. Τι γίνεται τώρα; Πώς πάνε τα πράγματα; You were telling me about … What’s going on now? How do things go?
Questions about personal stories, habits and hobbies:
Πού γνωριστήκατε με τον/την …; Where did you meet …?
Τι συνηθίζετε να κάνετε σ’αυτή τη γιορτή/ημέρα/περίσταση; What do you usually do on this celebration/(special) day/occasion?
Εσένα, ποιος συγγραφέας / ηθοποιός κτλ σου αρέσει; And how about you, which writer/actor do you like?
Εσένα ποιο βιβλίο / ποια ταινία σου άρεσε; And how about you, which book/movie did you like?
Τι κάνει ο / η / το …; How is …?
A question to offer help with something:
Έχεις πολλή δουλειά; Χρειάζεσαι βοήθεια; Are you busy? Do you need any help?
Don’t skip the study part!
I love lists but only if they bring a meaning to your learning. Stacking one sentence after the next will not help you; using them meaningfully, will.
Find here some bonus ideas about how to eventually add them to your conversations:
When you record yourself speaking, always remember to add a few questions in between
Use them as a foundation and add more words, creating your own varieties. For example, you might want to ask: Τι νομίζεις για (την παράσταση στο θέατρο ΑΒΓ); or Μου έλεγες για (το ατύχημα που είχες). Πώς πάνε τα πράγματα τώρα;
When you chat on social media or via any private chat with your friends, add a question for every question you receive or initiate the conversation by asking them first. Because chat and social media is less direct than actual conversation, but more direct than emails or cards for example, you can take advantage of the time you need to form sentences but also enjoy a chat at a live or almost live time. In fact, this is what we do in our small, chatty Facebook group which you can find here. Join us!
Practice, practice, practice. To make meaningful discussions and connect with the other person (your “συνομιλητή”/ “συνομιλήτρια”), questions need to be part of your speaking.
Similarly to learning vocabulary and everyday phrases, you need to learn how to make questions in order to organically add them in any conversation.
Try it today and let me know how it goes with a comment below!
Do you feel inspired to chat more? Then join our small & friendly Facebook group here.