Following Side Conversations on Conference Calls - American English Listening Practice

When two or more Americans meet with an Indian team, the Americans may initiate related side conversations with each other, excluding the Indian counterpart(s). At these times, it may become challenging for many Indians to follow the conversation, and also to know when to safely enter back in to the conversation appropriately.

Paying attention to two or more native speakers carrying on a side conversation can be tiring, as it demands more energy placed on active listening. Couple this with different cultural contexts and language usages, and the comprehension can suffer more.   

Fortunately or unfortunately the only remedy to ‘learning how to eavesdrop’ is to listen to Americans having conversations. Listen to how they speak with each other. Learn how they take turns while speaking. Try to understand when are the natural places for you to enter back into the conversation. This takes skill, intense listening and experience ‘feeling the difference’. Really, this is the only way. Think about learning these skills in your native language… well it’s probably hard to remember exactly how you learned this as you have been speaking that language since you were a baby!

To start your listening comprehension practice, I have found four videos from one of my favorite American television shows, White Collar. I have chosen these particular scenes because they can demonstrate the following aspects of conversation as it relates to typical American office environments:


  • Many of the conversations take place at the office, in a team meeting.
  • Many of the scenes depict how important it is for each person to come prepared and speak. Unlike most of the fake stereotypes of Hollywood, this is one of the few accurate depictions of real life- coming to office meetings prepared, ready to speak, giving supporting evidence and convincing others of your approach or strategy.
  • In some cases, the characters are speaking very quickly, one right after the other. In rare scenes some may be talking over each other (more than one person speaking at a time).
  • It is possible to see/hear how people ‘feed off of each other’ in typical conversations. (“Feed off of each other” means how people respond to each other and are inspired by each other's communication styles.)
  • Dialogues utilize language typical to offices, including some American idioms which  are used across various fields, and even in everyday conversation.

Recommendations of how to improve your listening comprehension using these videos:
Listen and watch – Watch for non verbal cues, facial expressions, body language
Listen without watching – This can be akin to being on a call. Are you able to pick out all the different voices and attribute them to the people who are talking? What can you hear when only listening that you couldn’t hear when watching?

Feel free to share your reflections in the comments below or contact me.











Blog owner, Jennifer Kumar is a corporate coach helping Indians to communicate better with their American counterparts. Browse the service offerings or contact her today.



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