Asking questions in English is a great way to build ongoing conversations, and building up and using a bank of questions can help you to communicate more effectively!
In this episode, you will find out how to use questions to improve your level.
Do you have any questions?
All the best!
Here is the full transcript:
How to ask questions effectively in English.
Hi there, I’m Paul Urwin, and welcome to the Business English Community podcast, where the world of business meets the English language. We discuss culture, strategies, techniques, vocabulary, grammar, and much, much more. Find out more at businessenglishcommunity.com.
Hi, Paul here, and welcome to Episode 13 of the Business English Community podcast. How has your week been so far? I hope you’re having a great week. I hope you’re making progress on all of your projects, and I hope you’re making progress with improving your level of English. That is of course where I hope to be able to help you even more and help you to take your business English to the next level.
Well, first of all, before we get started, a couple of very quick reminders. The first one is that if you wish to follow the text for this podcast, then it is already up on the website. The full transcripts are up on the website: businessenglishcommunity.com. While you are on the website, I also recommend that you download your completely free training, so that’s also available on businessenglishcommunity.com. Right, let’s get cracking.
Okay, well, today I want to talk about how to ask questions effectively in English. The reason for this is that I really believe that questions can help conversation flow, it can really help you to communicate more effectively. If you are communicating more effectively, then quite simply, you are going to achieve more, you are going to get more things done. Questions not only help to start conversations, but they also help to keep conversations going. They help you to find out information, they help to move business forward.
Let me give you a really simple example. This is super simple, but hopefully will get my point across.
“How are you?”
“How are you?”
Well, that is a very short conversation. Now I’d like you to compare that with this conversation:
“How are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
So that second question at the end there is the question that is going to generate interaction, is going to keep the conversation going. So with those two people having a conversation, if the first person says, “How are you?” And the second person says, “I’m fine.” then that takes the conversation to a certain point. But if that second person not only answers with, “I’m fine”, but then also asks another question, “And you?” then that is going to help to keep the conversation going, and if we keep the conversation going we find out more information, we help to move business forward, and we help to get things done. So, many reasons why we should keep the conversation going. It helps to really build relationships.
How are you going to build a relationship with someone? Well, by having a conversation with them. Okay, well, I’m going to suggest now that in order to keep those conversations going you build up a portfolio of questions. I don’t expect you to go into these conversations unarmed or unprepared, and therefore you might find it a little bit difficult. But if you have a series of questions, let’s say 30 questions built up before you go into these live situations, then you are going to be in a much better position, you’re going to be able to ask for help, you’re going to be able to ask for guidance in different situations. Remember, people actually like providing help or giving guidance on certain topics, it helps them to feel part of the action as well, if you like. So a number of our questions should be designed or prepared in order to ask for help or to ask for guidance.
Another thing that I would point out is that questions don’t need to be complicated at all. One thing or one mistake that I see some students making is that they try and ask too many questions at the same time, so they try to ask three different questions in one sentence. Don’t do that. Ask one thing, try and ask one thing at a time. You can always ask another question as a follow up, but try and keep things nice and simple. A nice simple question to keep the conversation going.
Okay, well let’s have a look at some questions. There are several ways to build up questions within the English language, and I’m going to give you a few pointers here. What I would suggest is that you write down your own questions, and remember, once you have these questions written down, it’s very easy to adapt them, it’s very easy to change the names and to change the subjects and the objects of these questions, depending on your specific needs. It’s really about having the base there in place that you can then adapt depending on the circumstances.
Okay, so the first way of building questions in English that I’m going to talk about is to use WH questions or question words, I’m referring to the following words: why, where, how, when, who, and what. Why, where, how, when, who, and what. Well, by using those question words it’s very easy to build up a whole range of questions. It’s one of the easiest ways in which to start to build questions in English. Let me give you a few examples using those question words.
Why is she late? Why is she late?
When is the conference? When is the conference?
Where shall I meet you? Where shall I meet you?
Who is the new accountant? Who is the new accountant?
How can I help you? How can I help you?
And, what time is it? What time is it?
Okay, so I hope you can see that by using those WH questions or question words, that it’s very easy to build up questions, and that is certainly one of the ways that I would recommend that you get started.
The second way is to use what’s called subject-auxiliary inversion. So we are going to invert the subject and the auxiliary in order to make a question. Let me give you an example. In English, I’m not going to say something like, “We are going to Boston”, unless it is an affirmation or a statement. So, “We are going to Boston”, that is something that we are going to do. In many languages I can simply form a question from that by changing the tone. So to give you an example, and obviously this doesn’t work in English, but to give you an idea, in another language I might say something like, “We are going to Boston? We are going to Boston?” So simply by changing the tone of my statement I can make a question.
Well, in English, you can’t really do that. So we have to invert the words in order to make a question. So let’s take that statement again, “We are going to Boston”, and now I’m going to invert the subject and the auxiliary, so the subject is we, and the form of the auxiliary word is are, so I’m going to invert those and I’m going to say, “Are we going to Boston? Are we going to Boston? Are we going to Boston?” “Yes, we are.” So you see, I’ve created a question by inverting those two words.
Now, that doesn’t always work. That really only works with auxiliary verbs such as to be and to have. I might have an affirmation such as, “You like finance. You like finance.” So in this example the verb is like. So what I can’t do now is the inversion, because I don’t have the correct verb. So I cannot say, “Like you finance? Like you finance?” That is not going to work, so the inversion is not going to work in this case. I need an auxiliary verb, and the auxiliary verb that I need is do. So I’m going to put do at the beginning of the sentence, and I’m going to say, “Do you like finance? Do you like finance?” So the statement was, “You like finance.” The one that doesn’t work is, “Like you finance?” That doesn’t work. I’m going to say the one that does work, which is with do, the auxiliary verb, so, “Do you like finance? Do you like finance?” That’s building up questions with the auxiliary verb to do.
What about in the past tense? Again, very straightforward, “Did you get my message? Did you get my message? Did you get my message?” Remember, once you have mastered these structures, very, very easy to adapt to any question at all.
Finally, questions with modals, words such as: could, can, and would. Let me give you a few examples here. “Could you please help me with the calculations? Could you please help me with the calculations?” What about this one? “Can you please give me a hand? Can you please give me a hand?” Finally, “Would you like to meet on Thursday? Would you like to meet on Thursday?”
So in summary, we’ve looked at, number one, questions with question words; number two, subject auxiliary inversion; number three, questions with the auxiliary verb to do; number four, finally, questions with modals.
I hope that helps you to start forming your own bank of questions, create your own questions bank. If you have any questions on your questions, please let me know, I’m on Twitter @PaulMUrwin, that’s P-A-U-L M U-R-W-I-N, or you can contact me via the comments on the website of course.
Very easy to build this up, very easy to get your question bank going. Then what can you do with it? Well, as we talked at the beginning, get the conversation going, get that conversation, get those conversations going with all different types of people in English.
So thank you so much for listening today. Finally, if you have enjoyed today’s episode, I invite you to check out our online learning platform and community at businessenglishcommunity.com. The Business English Community is the essential resource for intermediate and advanced learners looking to take their business English to the next level. We offer an extensive audio and video library packed with great information, together with an active community where you can get answers to all of your business English questions. So what are you waiting for? I’ll see you on the inside.
That’s it from me for this week. All the best, and until next time.
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