Expressing Sympathy

When someone dies it can be difficult to know what to say in your first language. Therefore in your second language even more so. The main reason for expressing sympathy is to offer concern and compassion to the person who has had someone close to them die. 

What to say:

I'm so sorry for your loss.

How are you doing?

I'm here for you, if you want to talk.

This must be so hard for you.

Let me know if I can do anything for you.

What to write:

Thinking of you at the this most difficult time.

In deepest sympathy.

My/Our thoughts are with you and your family.

What not to say:

At least he/she had a long life.

Be strong.

I know how you feel.

There is a reason for everything.


How To Respond To How Are You?....and other conversation starters!

There are some very common questions that we  hear at the start of conversations. I'm sure you have heard these questions many times, but do you know how to answer them naturally? No? Well, read on......

How are you?

Good, thanks. - polite, relaxed and informal.

Very well, thank you.- polite and formal.

Not too bad, thanks. - polite, informal, neutral.

After each of these examples it is polite to say And you? EG Good thanks. And you?

I've been better. - used when the person wants to tell the listener something that is wrong.

How are you?

I've been better.

Oh no. What's wrong?

I have just lost my job.


How's it going?

This is very common in British English and you can answer with the same responses as above. Also you can answer like this:

It's going well, thanks. And you?


What's up?

This has a different meaning in British English compared to US English. In US English people use it in a way to ask what is going on in your life. It's used in informal situations.

What's up? - informal

Not much. Just work and stuff./ Loads, actually! Work, birthdays....

In British English people use this if they think there is something wrong.

What's up?

Oh, I don't feel too good and I've got lots of work to do.


How are things with you?

This is used when someone wants to know a little bit more. Good for formal and informal situations.

How are things with you?

Good, thanks. I have just moved house and I'm going on holiday next week.


I hope you find these useful. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments box. Practise your English conversation skills for free in a trial class with me here.



Easy conversation topics : Family

Do you find it difficult to think of something to speak about, when you don't know someone very well?

Finding "easy" topics to talk about when you have just met someone or don't know them very well, is a really important factor in feeling confident when speaking English. If you are taking IELTS, this is also helpful when they ask you to talk about yourself. Of course, we want to avoid awkward silences and most of the time people always have something to say about their families. People love talking about themselves!

Let's look at a typical conversation two people may have when they don't know each other too well.

Are you married?

Yes, I am. And you?

No...not yet!. Me and my girlfriend have just got engaged.

Wow! Congratulations. When are you getting married?

Oh..not until next year. What does your husband do?

He's an IT consultant. He works from home, so we share the childcare.

You have kids? How many?

I have 2 daughters and a son. So, do you live with your fiancee?

No, we both live at home with our parents. We have to save up some money...!

The fundamental skill in having a conversation is listening and responding. In the conversation above we see two people asking each other questions and responding appropriately to each other's information. It's like passing a ball between each other!

Here are some phrases and key vocabulary for talking about your family:

  • Are you married?

  • I have been married for... ( eg 10 years)...

  • What does your wife/husband/girlfriend/boyfriend/partner/fiance/fiancee do?

  • Do you have any children?

  • To live at home with parents- adult children living with their parents

  • To share childcare- both parents take care of their children

  • To be engaged- a couple who are going to get married

  • partner- a person you are in a relationship with (man or woman) . EG My partner is a doctor.

  • fiance/fiancee- a man/ a woman engaged to be married

  • mother-in-law/ father-in-law /sister-in-law/brother-in-law- parents/siblings of husband/wife

  • siblings- brothers and sisters

  • immediate family- mum, dad, siblings

  • extended family- family like cousins, aunts etc

Would you like to practise this type of conversation? CLICK HERE to book your FREE TRIAL class. Would you like some clear steps to take to sound more natural in English? CLICK HERE for my FREE GUIDE. Leave a comment or question below. I would love to hear from you!



How To Start A Conversation

Do you ever find it difficult to start conversations with people you don't know? Well, how about starting a conversation in English??

I have been teaching English conversation classes and studying how people learn languages for many years and the best students in English conversation are not always the students at the highest academic level!

Many students expect the teacher to ask all the questions and start all the conversations. But of course, real life is not like this! In my experience some of the best speakers in English are lower level students who are simply good at asking questions.

Conversations with them "flow" more naturally. These students most definitely have good conversation skills in their first language. If you use some well-practiced questions when you meet people for the first time, you will sound interested in the other person and your conversation will "flow" better. 

So here are my top ten questions to start conversations in English:

  • What do you do? (What's your job?)

  • What company/ Who do you work for?

  • How long have you been doing that? (studying, working, hobby etc)

  • Do you like it? (work, where they live)

  • Where are you from?

  • What did you think of the ......? (conference, meeting, show etc)

  • Do you like it here? (on holiday)

  • Are you married?

  • Do you have any children? How old are they?

  • It's lovely, isn't it? (weather)

Of course you don't want to sound like you are interrogating them (to ask questions of someone closely, aggressively or formally). So it is important just to use a couple of these questions to get the conversation started and then keep it going with a couple more.

Remember that having a conversation is not so much : "What am I going to tell you?" as "What are we going to talk about?".

Finally, don't forget that research shows that people are more likely to want to speak to you if you are smiling!

Good luck :-)

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