What is the Difference Between: Tell, Speak, Say, Talk, Chat, and Discuss?

In my years of teaching ESL, I have learned that there are certain sets of verbs that confuse people because there is only one verb in their language for the whole set in English. Either that, or they have only learned a couple of these words and the others confuse them. This group of words: “tell, speak, say, talk, chat, and discuss” seemed to give some of the Korean university students problems sometimes. They mixed them up because they didn’t know the different between one and the other. The best way is to give you examples of how they are used.

He doesn’t know which way to go through the maze like my students didn’t. I showed them through, and I will show you.

A. The first verb I will discuss is “tell.” The key word for this verb is “story.” Everything you “tell” is a kind of story. in Korean, this verb is “이야기 하다” (eeyaghee hada). In Japanese, this verb is “iimasu.” In Spanish, they use “decir” for “to tell.” In Romanian, they say “a spune.”

I tell a joke. (The joke is a story.)

They are laughing about a funny story, a joke. One of them told a joke, a funny story. ////Photo by Helena Lopes on Pexels.com

I tell a story.

He tells me about his class. (This means that he tells me the story of what happened or what his class is like.)

He tells me what happened. (the story of what happened)

I tell my mother. (You tell her the story of what happened.)

He spoke Romanian.
He speaks Japanese.

B. The next verb I will discuss is “speak.” This is when words come from your mouth. In Korean, they say, “말하다” (mal hada). In Japanese, they say, “hanashimasu.” In Spanish, they say, ” hablar.” In Romanian, they say, “a vorbi.”

I speak English. I speak Spanish. I speak Japanese.

I speak loudly. I speak quietly.

I speak in front of people. (I give a speech. I preach. I teach a class.)

I speak about the bad things I heard. (When you say, “speak about,” it is similar to “tell.”)

I speak about God. (“speak about”= tell people)

I speak to the students. (In this case, speak=talk)

I speak with my friends. (I have a conversation.)

The Bible says that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.////Photo by nappy on Pexels.com

C. The next verb on the list that students have had trouble with is, “say.” With this one, you need someone’s words. You need this verb to use “reported speech.” When you read a story, you will need this verb. In Korean, it is ” 라고 말하다” (rago mal hada). In Japanese, it is ” to iimasu.” In Spanish, it is “decir.” In Romanian, it is “a spune” or “a zice.”

I say, “Hello.”

I say a word.

“I like it” he said.

He said that he likes it.

She talks to her friend on the phone.////Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

D. Next, I will tell you about “talk.” You can modify “talk” with certain prepositions to make them mean the other verbs. In Korean: “말하다” (mal hada). In Japanese, it is, “hanashimasu.” In Spanish,you say, “hablar.” In Romanian, they use, “a vorbi.”

I talk to him. = I speak to him.

I talk to the students. = I speak to the students.

I talk with my friend. = I have a conversation.

Now a days, you can chat online with friends.

E. This verb is not as common as the others except with computers, it is being used more: chat. In Korean, it is “잡담 하다” (chamdam hada). In Japanese, it is “zatsudan wo shimasu.” In Spanish, it is “charlar.” In Romanian, it is, “a sporovai.” It is an old fashioned way of saying a nice conversation. However, now a days, they use it about talking to people on the computer.

I chat with my friends. = I have a conversation with my friends. = I converse with my friends. = I talk with my friends.

I chat with my professor. = I have a conversation with my professor. = I converse with my professor. = I talk with my professor.

A discussion is a serious conversation. They are discussing something.////Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

F. The last verb is “discuss.” If you discuss something, you have a conversation or a discussion. It is a little more serious than “chat.” In Korean, you say “의논 하다” (oo-ee-non hada). In Japanese, you say, “goron suru” or “hana shiau.” In Spanish, say “discutir.” Finally, in Romanian, they say, “a discuta” or “a dezbate.” In English, “discuss” needs a direct object.

We discuss our problems. = We have a discussion. = We have a serious conversation. = We converse seriously. = We talk about something seriously.

We discuss God.

We discuss what to do. = We talk about the solution to a problem.

As I was teaching Korean students, the problem they all had was that “mal hada” can mean so many of these, and they had a tendency to use “mal hada” for everything English confused them. I really had to learn the different ways to say these words for them to help them understand when they wrote English sentences because they had no idea which verb to use in what situation.

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