Transitions & Signal Words in Listening

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  • 0:01 Transitions & Signals
  • 0:55 Beginnings & Endings
  • 1:51 Topics & Arguments
  • 3:22 Relationship Between Ideas
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Elizabeth Foster

Elizabeth has been involved with tutoring since high school and has a B.A. in Classics.

When you're listening to someone speaking English, paying attention to transitions and signal words really pays off. Here are some tips with examples of how these words are used in conversations.

Transitions & Signals

When you're listening to someone speak English, do you pay the same amount of attention to every single word? Hopefully not! That's not how native speakers do it, and it's not how you listen to your native language either. A better strategy is to listen selectively, paying more attention to the more important words. Listening this way is more flexible because it helps you understand the main point even if you're stumped on one or two individual words.

So, which words should be the ones you really listen for? Well, there are a few types, but some of the most important words in any language are transition words or signal words. These words help you navigate the conversation by letting you know where you are and where you're going. You can think of them as being like signposts that guide you through all the information you're hearing. In this lesson, we'll talk about these words and how to use them.

Beginnings & Endings

First, we'll talk about the types of transitional and signal words that signal beginnings and endings. Here are a few examples of signal words and phrases that can mark beginnings and endings of a conversation:

Beginnings End
To get started… Just to recap…
Let's start off by… To wrap up…
First… Well, I think that's all…

Here's an example of how those words might be used in actual conversations:

STEVE: Hi, everyone, and welcome to our monthly meeting. To get started, let's go over our reports from last quarter. First off, I'm very proud that everyone showed a net growth…

Here, Steve uses 'To get started' to introduce the first topic of the meeting: the reports. Then, he uses 'first off' to introduce the first topic within the discussion of the reports. At the end of the meeting, you might hear something like:

STEVE: Well, I think that's all. Does anyone have any other questions or concerns?

Here, Steve is using 'I think that's all' to mark the end of the meeting.

Topics & Arguments

That was beginnings and endings. Other transitional words help you move through the middle of a conversation by introducing topics, signaling topic changes, and connecting topics to each other. Several different words and phrases can either introduce a new topic of conversation or signal a return to a previous topic.

In real life, people don't always discuss one topic all the way through and then move on to the next. Instead, they jump around during the conversation, which can be confusing - unless you've mastered the appropriate transitions! Here are some examples of transition words and phrases that help you move between topics:

Introduce a New Topic Wrap Up a Topic Return to a Previous Topic
That reminds me… Is that everything about… Just to get back to…
Speaking of… So now that we've covered… About that…I just remembered…
I also need to talk to you about… Moving on… To return to what I was saying…

Here are some examples of how these phrases might be used in actual conversations:

STEVE: Okay, so are we clear on the schedule for the trip?

JAMES: I think so. But can we just go back to the packing list for a second? I remembered a few things - we're going to need extra batteries and one of those plug converters.

STEVE: Right, good idea. Oh, and that reminds me - we're also going to need to look into international SIM cards…

In this passage, Steve and James are at the end of a longer conversation. Steve starts off by wrapping up, checking with James to make sure they've covered everything about the schedule. Then, James returns to a previous topic by saying 'can we just go back to the packing list.' Steve acknowledges his point, and then uses the phrase 'oh, and that reminds me' to transition into a new topic: international SIM cards.

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