Small Talk Tips & Casual Conversations
Founder & Speech Pathologist
SMALL TALK TIPS & CASUAL CONVERSATIONS
Small talk is important at work – nobody wants to talk about work all day – except maybe the people who sold Instagram. I imagine the 13 of them would like talking about the billion Facebook dollars in the company account.
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For some non-native English speakers small talk comes naturally. Because it’s similar to small talk in their first language & culture.
But for some, small talk is new territory and can feel strange and uncomfortable.
If you are going to be living and working in an English speaking country, it’s crucial to become good at small talk.
Every interview, every meeting, every phone call usually starts with a minute or two of small talk in English.
If you don’t know what to say it can leave your listener feeling like you don’t want to talk to them!
There are some general rules with English small talk that can help you.
The 2 small talk tips below will help you avoid the 2 biggest mistakes I hear non-native speakers make with small talk.
When someone asks you a question (eg “How was your weekend?” or “Do you have any pets?”) remember to:
- Reply with answers that are more than one or two words. If you answer “good” or “no” it gives the impression you don’t want to continue talking. Native speakers generally don’t give a one word answer. They would say “It was good thanks. Pretty quiet which was nice” or “No, I had a gold fish once but that’s about it!”. Giving some information tells you listener that you want to continue connecting with them!
- Ask them back. “I had a great weekend thanks. How was yours?” or “No, we had a dog growing up but I don’t have any at the moment, how about you?”.
Remember that small talk says to the other person – I am interested in connecting with you.
So, what about topics! Some of my favourite topics to get native English speakers talking are.
Families – most people are happy to talk about the family “Do you have any brothers or sisters / kids / pets?”, especially those with children. Names / ages / where people live / do any family members work or study / where do the kids go to school. All great questions to learn more about your colleagues.
Sport – many people love to chat about sport. If you didn’t grow up with the local sport it’s a great excuse to ask more. ‘Where can I see a game / who are the best players / have you ever played / do you do anything to exercise now?’ Football, Rugby, Netball, Tennis, American or Australian football, Golf, Swimming, Jogging, Skating and Surfing all come to mind.
Asking a few questions about the local game usually gets people speaking freely. They’ll appreciate your interest.
Socialising and eating out – an easy way to start this one is ‘I was thinking of going out for a meal, any suggestions where I should go?’ Most people have a favourite place and they’ll tell you about it. Just be ready to answer the question – what type of cuisine / food do you like? – meaning, Korean, French, Chinese, Spanish etc. So they can give you a recommendation.
Shopping / clothing – commenting on someone’s clothing and asking what shop it came from can be a good topic. In an office or a work place, most people tend to think about clothing because looking sharp at work is important to them. People love to talk about where to find a good bargain too!
With all of these areas you can then relate the answer back to yourself…. I have two brothers…I love Thai food… this shopping app is brilliant.
And remember, if they ask you something, ask them back. For example, if they ask ‘Do you like cooking?’ You could say ‘Yes, I like cooking asian food at home. I cook most nights, sometimes my husband cooks too. How about you? Do you like cooking at home?’
The secret with small talk is to match your interests as well. All you are trying to do is learn a bit more about the other person.
Over time, this builds the foundation for friendship and connection.
Start practising – take every opportunity that presents itself to you to practise your English conversation skills and small talk skills.