029 : How to talk about relationships in English



Okay, I want you to picture something with me. I want you to picture yourself walking into a room about to take an English speaking test. Now, maybe this test is for the IELTS speaking test, or maybe it’s for an English interview, or maybe it’s for some kind of test that is very popular where you live. But the fact of the matter is, you have just walked into the room, and you look to the left, and the person that is about to give you the questions you’ve prepared for so long is sitting down staring at you. They tell you to walk in the room and they say, “Please have a seat,” so you sit down. You may cross your legs. You may fold your hands, trying to find a way to be comfortable as you sit looking at this person and awaiting the first question.

So the first question comes, please introduce yourself. Well, you’ve practiced this for a long time, so you’re very confident in your ability to introduce yourself and you do a great job. But then the next question comes. The person says, “Oh, would you mind telling me about your best friend?” Now, you have a best friend. You have many close friends, and you have a best friend, and you know that person very well. So you pause for a second, and then you muster up the courage to speak about your best friend. But for some reason, you’re only able to say two or three sentences. And then you stop, and there’s a long silence. The interviewer is looking at you as if to say, “Please continue,” but no words are coming out of your mouth, and you begin to sweat profusely. Beads of sweat are rolling down your face because you don’t know what else to say about your best friend. The person that you’ve known the longest, the person that you spend so much time with, all of a sudden is equated to two to three sentences.

Well, you see, what has happened here is you’ve never learned how to talk about relationships in English. I’m going to teach you the four steps for talking about relationships in English. These four steps will help to improve your English fluency and help you finally sound like a native English speaker. And you won’t ever have to worry about sweating when you go to an English test or interview.

Welcome to the Speak English With Tiffani podcast, a podcast especially created for intermediate and advanced English learners. In this podcast, you will learn the specific English tips and tricks that will make you a better English speaker. This podcast will take your English ability to the next level and help you to be more confident and more fluent when you speak English. Are you ready? Well, then let’s jump right in.


Hey everyone, this is Teacher Tiffani, and I want to thank you so much for joining me for another episode of the Speak English With Tiffani podcast. Now, before we jump into our topic for today, I want to remind you that you can read along with the transcript for this episode by going to speakenglishwithtiffani.com/episode29. Now this is our topic for today, how to talk about relationships in English, and this is a very important topic because, as an English learner, you’re going to be put into various situations where people are going to ask you questions about the people you know, how you met them, where you met them, and why you are so close to them.

So I want to remind you, though, that for this one, we’re only going to be talking about relationships outside of family. Okay? So we’ll talk about how to discuss family in another episode, but I want to focus on relationships such as friendships or coworkers or acquaintances, or even classmates. So what I’m going to give you today, this four-step process is going to help you to talk about those type of relationships. Okay?

Now the thing is, when you’re speaking English, there are many different scenarios of situations where you will have to talk about relationships. So for example, interview questions, like I gave you the example in the opening of this podcast. I remember when I lived in South Korea as an English teacher, there were points in the term where I would have to … The term or semester … where I would have to interview students, new incoming students, to see what level they would be placed in, whether they would be a beginner, an intermediate, or an advanced speaker, are the classes for those students.

So normally I would take them into the room. I would be sitting down and they would sit down in front of me, and I could tell that they were nervous sometimes, so I always would try to make them feel comfortable. But when I used to interview them for their level placement, I would have a list of questions given to me by my boss that always included questions about various relationships, and I would have to ask them about their friends or their coworkers, and then of course we would get into other things dealing with their family, but I would gauge their level based on their responses.

Now, I knew for a fact that if they were speaking in their own mother tongue, they could give me a lot of information, but I wanted to see their ability to explain a relationship in a good manner in the English language, so I was looking for the amount of information they were giving to me. So for example, if they gave me two sentences, I would say, “Ah, they’re a beginner,” but the more information they gave me, I would say, “Okay, maybe this is an intermediate learner.” And for the students that gave me two sentences plus more details, plus an example, I would say, “Ah, they’re an advanced learner because they understand the steps for explaining a relationship.” Now this is what I want to get into today to teach you.

But also, for example, social gatherings. So in social gatherings, especially in America, we talk a lot about our lives and our relationships, and we’re very open. So what I noticed when I was in Korea one time, my friend and I … So one of my Korean friends and I, we would go to a meetup about maybe once a week. There was a time we were going every Sunday, and she and I are both artists, so we would go to these meetups and we would meet other people. Now, living in Korea, I was the foreigner and my friend was the Korean, but when we’d go to the meetups, a lot of them were foreigners or Americans or Europeans. So we would sit and we’d have conversations with these individuals.

Now, my friend and I were the only ones who knew each other before coming to the meetup, so as the conversation would go to talking about how we became friends, they would ask us specific questions like, “Oh, where did you meet? Or how did you meet? Or how did you become so close?” So it was a natural transition whenever we went to social gatherings, okay? And another situation where you may be asked to talk about a relationship is during speeches. When I was in Korea, toward the end of the term, I would ask my students to give speeches as part of their grade. And students having to give a speech about their mentor or someone they cared about would usually get a little bit stressed and they would get nervous, and I would ask them why and they’d say, “Teacher, it’s not that we don’t have a person that we admire or someone we care about. We just don’t know how to talk about them.” So they would struggle at first to talk for an extended period of time about the topic.

However, I did have one student. I’ll give you guys a little story. This is kind of funny. I had one student in my class, and she was very outgoing, but I did not know that until she gave her his first speech. Usually in my classes, she was very quiet, and she would respond if I called on her, but she never did anything out of the ordinary. However, on the day that she had to give her speech, she walked up front and she seemed very poised. She looked a little bit nervous, so I was kind of ready to give her some encouragement and tell her you can do it, don’t worry, don’t be nervous, but then she opened her mouth and she started speaking, and I said, “Okay, her English is pretty good. She’s explaining very well,” and then right before she ended she said, “Teacher, is it okay if I sing a song?”

Now, I’ll be very honest with you guys. Because you guys have never met me, you don’t understand how much I love music and how much I love singing, but I really love music. So when she asked me to sing, I immediately said yes. Now, I didn’t know how she was going to sing. I didn’t know what the students were going to respond, how they were going to respond, but I said, “Hey, go for it. If you have the courage to do it, go for it.” And she stood there and became a totally different person. She told us to clap, and she started singing and she started dancing a little bit, and it was very enjoyable, but this is what happened when she gave her speech, and then immediately, when the song was over, she got quiet and sat back down in her seat.

Now, this wasn’t talking about relationship, but it’s just to show you that one student that I assigned a speech, when she came out of her shell … In English we say come out of your shell. So that was a speech that I will never ever forget. So now bringing it back to these steps that I want to teach you today. So for my students, I gave them the speeches, but I wanted to teach them as well the steps. So today I’m going to teach you the four steps that you need to know in order to talk about relationships, whether you’re talking about relationships in an interview or a social gathering, or even for a speech. There are four steps that you need to follow to speak about a relationship.

So step number one, explain how you met. You want to tell the people that are listening to you exactly how you met the person that you’re in a relationship with, whether it be a friendship, a boyfriend or girlfriend, or any other relationship. You want to explain how you met. So to do this, what you’re going to do is you’re going to answer the five Ws. Now again, for review, the five Ws are who, what, when, where, and why. So earlier I mentioned my friend in Korea and I, we used to go to the art meetups. So let’s say, for example, someone asked me, “Oh, how did you meet your friend?” So if I’m following step one, explaining how we met, and I’m using the five Ws, I can say for the who, well, my friend. What, we were English teachers, even though my frame was Korean. She is also an English teacher. She speaks English well. When, about six or seven years ago. Where, at the language institute we worked at. And why, we taught some junior classes together.

So if I were to formulate this into my answer to their question, this is how it would sound: oh, you know, we actually met when we were both English teachers about six or seven years ago. We worked at the same language institute, and we actually taught some junior classes together. So I gave my response in about less than 30 seconds, but you see that I gave you all of the information about how we met, where we were, how long ago it was, and what was the exact situation. So this is what you want to do. In the very beginning, when you’re talking about any relationship, you want to explain how you met using the five Ws.

Okay, let’s move on to step number two. Step number two is describe their qualities or characteristics. Basically, you want to say what you noticed about the person in the beginning, or even throughout your friendship or relationship or whatever relationship you’re discussing. All right, so you’re going to give the three main qualities about the person, plus one of them that you want to focus on. So let me show you how it’s done using examples. So my best friend, who I met in elementary school, is going to be the example. So my best friend, she’s dependable. You can also say she’s very loyal, some say dependable/loyal, very honest, and she’s a great helper. So these are the characteristics or qualities of my best friend that I met in elementary school.

Now, out of those three main qualities or characteristics, I want to focus on the fact that she’s dependable/loyal. So I’m going to choose to give you a story about her. Personally … This is true … I can even now to this day call her at any time of the day or night and she’s willing to talk. If something happens, I can confide in her. I can tell her everything and trust that she’ll keep it to herself, and I never get the feeling that I’m bothering her. It’s as if we both understand that we’re always there for each other. I can be totally vulnerable and comfortable with her. Of course, she knows that I will do the same for her and she can depend on me as well. She can call me whenever she needs me, and I’ll be there for her.

I remember a time … Here’s the story. Here’s the example. I remember a time when I had a financial emergency while living in South Korea. Remember, I lived there for 10 years, and while I was there, I had a financial emergency. She was living in America, very far away. However, when I told her what my financial emergency was, she didn’t even hesitate to send me $200 immediately. She wired me the money immediately that day, and I have and will always do the same for her. So you see what happened is, I told you that my best friend who I met in elementary school was dependable, honest, and a great helper, but then I focused on her dependability and her loyalty, and I gave you an example.

So what happened is, now you have a better understanding of my best friend. You want the person, when you’re talking about a relationship, whatever it may be, and you’re talking about the person’s characteristics, you want the person listening to you to understand why this person you’re talking about is so important to you. Basically, you want them to truly understand why you have even any type of relationship with this person. So it connects them with someone, even if they don’t know the person. The way you’re explaining the relationship and their characteristics helps the listener connect with what you’re saying. Okay? So again, step two, describe their qualities or characteristics.

All right, now let’s move on to step number three. In step number three, you’re going to discuss your similarities. Okay? So the similarities you have with the person that you’re speaking about. So you’re going to give three things you have in common with the person, all right? You want to explain why you even are friends or in a relationship with this person, because you clearly have some common things between you. All right? So you’re going to give an example of one of those. So … Oh, I’m sorry, I’m going to give you an example.

So this is kind of a personal story, but I won’t say any names. So one of my boyfriends when I was a teenager many years ago, I’ll tell you about him. So one of my boyfriends … Again, this is a relationship. I’m talking about one of my boyfriends from when I was a teenager. So three things that we both had in common. Even though we were teenagers, we were both driven. It means we were both very determined, and we were like entrepreneurs. So even though we were teenagers, we both had ways of making money on the side. We were very entrepreneurial thinkers. Okay? That was one thing we had in common. All right, so the second thing was neither of us liked following the crowd. We were both individuals. We knew what we liked and what we didn’t like. And the third thing was we both enjoyed laughing a lot. So we could be hanging out with each other, and we would just laugh about things that happened throughout the day or things that we were talking about in class or the teacher said.

So we had these three things, excuse me, three things in common that really made our relationship fun, and we enjoyed our relationship at that time. So again, step three is talking about the things that you have in common, the similarities. So now, again, from step two, when you talked about the qualities about the person, the other person, the person now listening to you … Don’t get confused. So in step two, when you talk about the qualities of the person you are in a relationship with, the person that is listening to your story will then get a better understanding of that person you’re in a relationship with. Now, when you transition to step number three, where you’re discussing the similarities, now the person listening to you has an understanding of you and the person you’re in a relationship with. So that’s why it’s so important to do both of these steps. Okay?

All right. And finally, step number four, summarize your current and future relationship. One more time, I’ll say it. Summarize your current and future relationship. So in other words, you want to mention how often you are in contact with each other, whether it’s via phone, or text message, or physically meeting the person, or maybe visiting them for a vacation. You want to give kind of an understanding of where you are in your current relationship with this person. Okay? Then you’re going to state how often you think you will stay in contact with them moving forward. Your current relationship, and then, moving forward, what you think it will be.

So for example, my mentor. Okay? My mentor. Again, this is another type of relationship. So my mentor is someone that I met about maybe 14, 13 or 14 years ago. I met him about 13 or 14 years ago at his art gallery. If I could put him into one word, I would say he was a very wise man. He knew how to give great advice for life and what to do moving forward, and he was very organized. So he’s a very wise man, and we were very similar because when we talked, he had a love for art and I had a love for art, but I also had a love for experiencing new cultures and different ways of life. And even though he was American, he also had the same love and passion for other cultures and living life outside of the box, so we got along very well. So he is my mentor.

Now, at the time I met him, we literally saw each other three times a week. So I would go to his gallery, which was not too far from my home, and we would sit in his gallery and talk for two, three, four hours every single day, and I felt like he was giving me a lot of wisdom about life, and then … At the time, I was a lot younger than him, and I’m still younger than him, but at that time I was in my twenties, in my mid to late twenties at that time, and he was really like an older brother to me. He was about maybe 20 or so years my senior, but he was really like a older brother, and he was a great mentor. So I enjoyed spending time with him, and he enjoyed spending time with me as his younger sister, and his wife and his kids were very nice as well. So at that time, we spent time together three times a week.

Now, currently, me being back from South Korea, and I went overseas for 10 years, we didn’t see each other for that long. So when I’d come home, I would try to give him a call and check on him and his family, and he would tell me how he was doing, but currently we don’t talk as much. I may talk to him once every two years because he moved to a different place. So in the future, I still think he and I will be in contact. It just is not going to be as often as it was in the the past. So I’ll make sure to give him a call once every few years to see how he and his family are doing, and I still will continue to consider him my mentor because, when he came into my life, he really changed my view of certain things, and it was really a big turning point in my life.

So what happened? I just summarized for you our relationship as it is by telling you what it was in the past and then moving forward. So even though he and I don’t talk as much now, I still consider him to be a very important or integral part of my life because of the wisdom that he gave to me at a point in my life where I had a lot of changes going on. Okay? So that’s what you want to do. As you’re ending your talk about the relationship, you want to summarize your current, you can also give a little bit of background on the past, and your future relationship with this person. All right?

So that was step number four. Now I’m going to give you a bonus point. You can add this in if you want to get some extra marks. Remember, if you’re taking a test and you have to speak in English about a relationship, you can add what the relationship means to you or how it has affected your life. Now, remember, I said in the beginning, when I give students interviews, or when I was giving them interviews in South Korea before they came to our institute, if they added this kind of information, I felt like they were an advanced learner because it wasn’t like they were just regurgitating what they had memorized from a book. It seemed like they were actually thinking in English. So if you add this part, it’s a bonus, and you will get a higher score or mark on whatever test or interview you’re doing. Okay?

So explain what the relationship means to you and how it has affected your life. So you can pick one way the person has greatly changed your life, and you want to try to say it in one sentence. Max, two sentences. You want to be very concise when you say this. Just like what I said earlier about my mentor, I just said that he changed my life because I met him at a very big turning point in my life and he gave me words of wisdom. So I show that he affected my life. Okay?


So once again, let’s review very quickly. So the four steps were, step number one, explain how you met. Step number two, describe their qualities or characteristics. Step number three, discuss your similarities. And step number four, summarize your current and future relationship. Okay, great. Remember, if you want to see the transcript for this episode, go to speakenglishwithtiffani.com/episode29. This has been Teacher Tiffani with the Speak English With Tiffany podcast. Until next time, remember to speak English.

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