Small Talk: Explaining Yourself in English

Small Talk Explaining Yourself in English

Small Talk: Explaining Yourself in English
What’s the word for that?

Today, we’re gonna talk about ways to explain yourself in English to figure out  a word that you don’t know or can’t remember in English. Imagine this: you’re talking and talking and enjoying yourself in English. Then, you come across a word that you’ve forgotten.

And so then after dinner, we went out to the… oh, what’s the word for that… you know, that place where all the boats are?
…the harbor?
Yeah, yeah, but where there’s lots of restaurants and clubs and really nice boats and stuff.
Oh, you mean the marina.
Yeah, then we went out to the marina and…

Common Expressions for Forgetting a Word

Sometimes you just need to remember a word you’ve suddenly forgotten:

Try out some Speaking Practice for these expressions:

Use these phrases in English instead of changing back to your native language.

  • It’s on the tip of my tongue.
  • I just had it.
  • Gimme a second, it’ll come to me.
  • The word just slipped my mind.
  • Ah, what’s that called?
  • What’s the word for that?

Common Expressions for Not Knowing a Word

Sometimes you don’t remember the word at all.

Try out some Speaking Practice for these expressions:

  • I have no clue what that’s called.
  • I really don’t know the word for that
  • I’ve completely forgotten it.
  • It’s gone.

Want more English Small Talk?
Check out our other Small Talk posts here

Common English Mistake

Watch out for the common error of – How do you call it? This isn’t correct!

How do you say/spell that? is used only for pronunciation or spelling.

How do you say this word here?
Actually, it’s squirrel, it can be difficult to pronounce.

My name is Katarina.
How do you spell that?
K-A-T-A-R-I-N-A

Intermediate and Upper Intermediate Students and Teachers: Wanna get all of these MP3s, along with Free English Worksheets to practice and improve your listening skills? Get them all for free here:

Explaining yourself in English – Talking about Things/Objects/Nouns

What do you call it? What’s the word for that?

Using this or that

This

If something is right in front of you, you can easily point to it and ask about it using this.

  • What’s this stuff called?
  • What do you call this?
  • I forgot the word for this.

Dialogue Transcripts:

Dialogue 1:
Hi there, we’d like to order another one of… sorry I’ve forgotten the word, what’s this dish called?
Sure no problem, that’s our goat cheese quiche, it’s really popular.

Dialogue 2:
Hey, could I borrow a five?
Yeah, hold on, I’ve got cash in my… oh man what do you call this thing?
Most people call it a wallet, but a lot of guys in the US call it a billfold.
Ah okay, yeah I’ve got cash in my billfold.

That

If you can’t see it, or you’re describing a word in your head, we will usually just use the word that.

  • What’s that thing called?
  • What’s the word for that?
  • What’s that/it called?

Dialogue 1:
Hey, what’s the name of that Korean food? You know, the one that they eat all the time and it’s made from cabbage or whatever?
Oh, you mean kimchi?
Yeah, yeah, kimchi. I love that stuff.

Dialogue 2:
What’s the word for that stuff you use when you make bread.
Like, the dough?
Well, yeah, but, before you make the dough, it’s one of the ingredients.
Well there’s flour, the white stuff, yeast which makes it grow and puff up…
Wait, yeast? How do you spell that?
Y-E-A-S-T,
Ah okay, I need to get some of that from the shop.

Dialogue 3:
What do you call them – those things at the gym?
The machines?
No, no, those heavy things you can pick up and put down.
Ohhh. You mean weights.
Yeah, yeah, that’s it.

Explaining yourself in English – Talking about Places

Dialogue Transcripts:

Dialogue 1:
Hey, what was that place (that) we went to last week?
The cafe or the restaurant?
The cafe downtown.
Oh, Rustic and Blue, that place is so pretty.

Dialogue 2:
What do you guys call a soccer field in England? I remember you told me there’s another word for it.
Ah, a pitch. We call it a football pitch.
Ah yeah that’s right.

Dialogue 3:
What’s the name of that place where you can look at the stars?
Oh, yeah, the uhm, oh man what is the name of that place? Oh, an observatory! We actually have one outside of the city, it’s pretty cool.

Dialogue 4:
What do you call it – that restaurant in Brazil where you just eat a ton of meat?
I have no idea! Let’s Google it.

Explaining yourself in English – Talking about People

Dialogue Transcripts:

Dialogue 1:
What do you call people from Belgium?
It’s kind of similar, we call them Belgians. So a person from Belgium is Belgian.

Dialogue 2:
What do you call someone who works on a plane?
I’d call them a flight attendant, but some people still say steward or stewardess, personally, I think flight attendant is better.

Dialogue 3:
What do you call the person who works at the bar?
The guy behind the bar? He’s a bartender.

Explaining yourself in English – Talking about Activities

Using where or when

We can use the word where while explaining activities, but when is used as well.

Simply put: try using these phrases to choose which one:
That activity where… describe the activity in the present tense
What do you call it when… describe the activity in the present tense

Dialogue Transcripts:

Dialogue 1:
What’s the word for that sport where they hit each other in the face?
Oh, that’s boxing. Yeah it’s pretty popular in a lot of countries.

Dialogue 2:
What do you call it when two people run away to get married?
Ah when they… oh you mean ‘eloping’

Dialogue 3:
What’s that game called where people kick a ball into a net? Soccer.
What do you call it when people kick a ball into a net? Soccer.

Dialogue 4:
What’s that activity where you go up mountains? Hiking.
What’s it called when you walk up mountains? Hiking.

Want more English Small Talk?
Check out our other Small Talk posts here


Don’t forget you can download all 19 Listening Practice clips plus 3 pages of Worksheets here:

We hope that you feel more comfortable explaining yourself in English, if you have any other questions, let us know in the comments below!

Mark and Kat

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