Learning to Speak English with Pivot Phrases

Learning to speak English seems like a daunting task. It takes guts to say a few words and get the message across (be understood well) to the person we are speaking to. Plus lots of new vocabulary items that we barely have remembered, which then need to be expressed in the correct patterns. No wonder for many learners speaking English feels like a formidable task.

But there are quite a handful of patterns in English from which we can utter many different ideas. These patterns are called “pivot phrases”. The word “pivot” means “a center around which things revolve”. If we get a good grip on the centers, we can allocate our thinking capacity to the other ideas that follow the centers. Here is an example:

“Would you like . . .”

This phrase above is a pivot phrase. After that phrase one can say many different ideas, for example “to go now?”; “to have breakfast?”; “some tea?” and many others. Thus, you can easily make the following utterances:

“Would you like to go?”
“Would you like to have breakfast?”
“Would you like some tea?”

So at the beginning we need to learn just the pivot phrase “would you like to”, and then after mastering it with some consistency, we can think of many different ideas that follow the pattern.

Here are some other pivot phrases:

“Can I . . .?” (for asking permission)

“Could you . . .?” (for requesting someone to do something).

“I think we’d better . . .” (for making a suggestion).

Now learning to speak English should feel a little bit less challenging. Once you get a good grasp of those pivot phrases, you can utter them automatically, allowing your mind to think about other phrases that follow those central patterns.

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