5 secrets of changing the subject in English
Hi and welcome to another blog post from Daniel, here at Daniel’s English Club (DEC) language school. I hope you find this article informative!
Changing the subject can, at times, be a difficult thing to do, even for native speakers of English. This article is aimed at both learners of English and native English speakers. In this post we will discuss ways of changing the subject, and also give examples of exactly what you need to say when changing the topic.
Why do we need to change the subject of a conversation?
There are many reasons as to why we might want to change the topic of a conversation – here we will go over some of the more important ones...
We don’t like the direction it is heading
Sometimes when we are talking, a subject comes up which is sensitive to someone, so a subject change is needed. An example of this could be when the talk starts to head towards “pets” but recently, someone in the group lost their cat to illness (it died). Another example could be something political, when someone in the group comes from a country with a very different political culture (China!). It is generally better to avoid such subjects in polite conversation, especially when you don’t know a person well. As a basic rule, topics like politics, religion, abortion and the death penalty should be left until you know a person well and are both comfortable discussing such things.
It’s just boring so let’s change the subject
I know…it sounds rather mean, but sometimes a topic which is interesting to one person, is totally dull to others. It is impossible to actually say what a boring topic is, as it depends on the person. I personally am interested in world news and current affairs – but I know plenty of people who just aren’t .That’s fine! I would know enough to not talk about those things with people who aren’t interested in them. Some people however, might not recognize this, and if most people are getting bored, it then becomes necessary to change the subject.
To keep it interesting
This seems rather obvious, and when you think about it, it makes complete sense. Which sounds more fun; talking about one thing only for twenty minutes, or talking about various subjects in twenty minutes? A quick turnover of topics is not only more interesting (usually) but also very natural. Listen to a small group of people talking at a party over the span of twenty minutes and count how many different things they talked about. The answer is…more than one!
A subject change because you don’t like someone dominating a conversation
It is a fact of life that some people tend to dominate conversations, and not let other people have a chance to speak. I am sure you have experienced this. I know I have, not only as an English teacher bit also in everyday social situations. You can picture the scene: some guy keeps talking about himself, asks no questions to others and just wishes to talk about things which interest him. No fun for anyone else! So, it is time to change the subject on him!
Changing the topic is a useful way to give your opinion
Do you have an opinion to give but are not sure when to speak? Sometimes an abrupt interjection is a good way of giving your opinion and sparking more conversation in the group (or the other person). An example: You are talking about the weather in Australia, and you interject with “I find the summer humidity so difficult to cope with”. It is related to the topic of weather, but also allows you to give your opinion on humid weather.
Here are 5 secrets of changing the subject in English
Now that we have established why we want to change the topic of a conversation, we can look at exactly how to do it. So here are five useful phrases for changing the topic.
1. By the way… (this is introducing a completely new topic)
2. Oh, there’s actually something else I wanted to mention
3. Speaking of…
And for business or formal English situations:
4. If I could just interject at this point, I’d like to bring up…
5. Sorry for cutting in, but now might be a good time to discuss…
Some examples of how to change the subject in English
Here we are using “by the way” to change the topic as the person is talking too much:
A: So, as you know, I spent the summer holidaying on the Algarve in Portugal. I had a fantastic time, in fact it was almost as good as the time…
B: Oh, by the way, I went to a great restaurant the other day with Mike…
In the next example we shall use “speaking of” for a connected subject change:
A: I really think my children should study harder, I already send them to cram school twice a week but their grades aren’t improving! They should work harder!
B: Speaking of family, I need to go and pick my husband up now!
In this situation the second speaker wasn’t interested or didn’t agree with the first speaker, so she found a way to quickly change topics and get out of the interaction!
In this next illustration of changing topics, we shall look at a business English type scenario. We will use “Sorry for cutting in, but now might be a good time to discuss…” The second speaker wishes to bring up the topic of their work project, which she feels hasn’t been talked about yet:
A: If no one has anything else to present today, I’d like to spend the remainder of our meeting summarizing what we have gone over today…
B: Sorry for cutting in, but now might be a good time to discuss the new investment package my team has been working on…
A: Oh sure, go ahead…
Other secrets and strategies for changing the topic like a pro!
Naturally in any language, simply knowing the right phrase to use isn’t always going to be enough to smoothly change the subject. Here are a few more things to consider:
1. Do a little research on who you will be changing topics with
In social situations (like a party, dinner, BBQ) have various topics “ready to go” for when the conversation dries up or gets a bit boring. Common and easy-to-use conversation topics are: the weather, the news, current movies and TV shows, people we are related to and common friends. Before a party you could mentally prepare two or three subjects, so that when it becomes necessary to change the topic, you won’t be left scrambling to come up with ideas.
If you are speaking with a business client, have various topics in your head, so that when you meet them, you can easily change the subject if the conversation is going to slowly. For example, if your client manufactures smartphone components, do a little research on their products, even if it is not directly related to your meeting. When the time is right, you could say: “By the way, I heard to new phone chip is the fastest one yet”
2. Complimenting someone often leads to subject changes
It might sound a bit weird to be complimenting someone when you just want them to zip it (stop talking)! But it can often work. Say for example someone is talking continuously about their holiday, you could then complement them on their T-shirt, and asking them where they bought it from. That could lead to you then bringing up various new topics, such as fashion, shopping, relatives etc.
3. In a lull, an abrupt change of topic really works!
It is perfectly natural that when you’ve been talking with people for a while, the conversation can gradually run out of steam, and there isn’t anything left to talk about. It goes quiet, or there is a lull in the conversation. This isn’t a bad thing, it is perfectly natural and it is a wonderful opportunity to change the subject. In these type of scenarios, and abrupt topic change is often warmly accepted. For example, you could randomly say: “You know what? I fancy a cup of tea! Who else?” or you could say: “I love the new Steven Spielberg movie, it’s really worth watching.” These topics aren’t connected to previous ones, and people will probably be happy to have new material to talk about.
4. Thank people for their input to change the subject
In more formal or work/business situations, this technique to change the subject can often work very successfully. Thanking someone not only demonstrates excellent social awareness, it also makes the listener more flexible to hearing what you have to say. It is surprisingly simple to fit a transition into a conversation using this technique. Here are a few examples:
A: I think our company’s profit has been fair this quarter.
B: I’m glad you mentioned that, it reminds me of something I wanted to ask you…
A: The human resources department has been researching new ways of training our staff.
B: I’m happy you brought that up, I’ve heard great things about your research and you’ve actually reminded me of something I wanted to mention…
Useful ways to change the subject
When we wish to change the topic, it is important to not only have useful phrase ready (5 secrets above) but also to be prepared with topics to bring to a conversation. Another thing to consider is whether you are speaking in a social or casual situation, or whether the discussion is formal in nature. Don’t forget that abrupt changes in topic, and also compliments can go a really long way to making your change topics like a pro!
From Daniel at DEC - Cheers and have a great day!