Recently, I have been discussing a lot with my students about the importance of small talk and how it can affect their relationships with those around them. It is not as simple as it may seem and it can be very daunting for ESL students, which has led me to believe that there’s nothing small about small talk. Though you may think that making small talk is just a way to kill some time or avoid awkwardness, most great friendships were likely started over chitchat about the weather. Small talk is a vital skill that will benefit you in social and professional worlds and to master small talk, we just need to follow these steps.
Give a friendly greeting, smile and pay attention to him/her. Do not play with your phone or look like you are waiting for your friends (even though you might be). Make eye contact, don’t cross your arms and keep you shoulders directed towards them. Your body language is just as important as the words you use!
It is best to avoid any heavy topics such as religion or politics, so we need to keep things light and positive. Start off by giving him/her a compliment on their clothes, or their work: “That’s a lovely jacket, where did you get it?” “Great presentation today, I wish I had thought of that topic”
Find Common Interests
You will then need to establish some common ground “How nice is this rain?” “The coffee here is the best.” “Can you believe it’s September already?” “How funny is Teacher Anton? I just love his classes!” By doing this you can find a direction to take the conversation, as you’ll become aware of what interests you both share.
The Three Key Steps
Once you have found some common ground you can ask each other more detailed questions, but don’t get too personal too quickly! The 3 key points I always tell students to remember are:
• Answer with the correct grammar – Have you got any pets? No, I haven’t.
• Expand on your answer – Have you got any pets? No, I haven’t. I did have a dog a few years ago, although he passed, I would like to get another one though.
• Ask a question back – Have you got any pets? No, I haven’t. I did have a dog a few years ago, although he passed, I would like to get another one though. What about you?
By successfully following these steps the conversation should flow back and forth just like playing tennis. Then once the conversation is coming to an end (either your friends have arrived, or her bus is approaching), smile and say goodbye politely. “It has been great talking to you, let me know how you go in the math’s exam on Friday.” “Here comes my friend, Bruce. Have you met him? Let me introduce you to him”
Here are some ‘safe’ topics to practice using the same steps as above:
How long have you lived here?
Did you enjoy growing up in ______ ?
What do you like to do with your friends in your spare time?
Do you have any siblings?
Have you got any plans for the summer holidays?
How was your weekend?
Who do you think will win at the weekend? (A sporting event)
Have you been to the new Italian restaurant in town?
What made you decide to study economics?
What was your first job? Did you like it?
Have you seen any good movies lately?