An English Student's Guide to Small Talk - BELS Malta

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Read our Guide to Learn how to Master Small Talk in English

Break the ice and avoid awkward silences!

Small talk is the kind of light conversation you make when you don’t want to talk about something deep. It’s a very impersonal way to start a conversation with strangers or people that you don’t know very well. Basically, small talk is a small conversation. Sounds simple right? Think again. Although small talk doesn’t involve important topics, it’s an important skill to master as an English student.

Why is small talk so important?

Making small talk is a normal part of daily life in most English-speaking countries, it’s friendly and opens you up to meeting new people. Small talk breaks the ice and casually fills in those awkward silences. In English fluency classes, it’s one of the first topics you’ll learn about. While most of us hate it, we all have to participate in it at some point during our personal or working lives. Indulging in small talk is also a way to practice speaking English multiple times in a day. Eventually, small talk can lead to a deeper conversation, but you’ve got to start small.

What can I make small talk about?

Have you ever noticed people talking about the weather and wondered why? Talking about the weather is the most common British small talk topic.

Essentially, anything recent is a good topic for small talk. Simply asking about someone’s day, asking how they’re feeling, talking about common interests or commenting on something that’s happening at the moment of speaking is a great way to break the ice. You can make small talk with a stranger while waiting for the bus, with an acquaintance on the street, and with anyone you’d like to talk to and get to know better.

How to make small talk in English:

Here are the golden rules of Small talk that will help you talk to anyone, about anything.

1. Ask open-ended questions

Open ended questions (what, where, when, how, who, why) can lead the conversation anywhere. Rather than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer, it encourages people to open up about anything they feel is relevant. It also generates new topics of conversations.

2. Be an active listener

Listen attentively while someone else is speaking to make them feel heard and valued. It’s the basis for any meaningful conversation. Incorporating smiles, eye contact and nodding are non-verbal techniques to use. Active listening allows to develop relationships since it validates the speaker and encourages them to speak for longer.

3. Show interest and enthusiasm

Verbally, it’s important to ask for clarification, summarize what has been said and show interest. There are various language techniques to convey interest in a conversation. Using question tags , common responses and ask follow-up questions.

4. Deepen the Conversation

Use every response as a new conversation starter. If somebody has told you where they’re from, in response you can ask about their hometown. What is it like? Is it different from this place? How often do they go back? What’s it known for?

If you’re at a conference, the first questions could be about the current conference (What did you think of the topic of the talk?). A follow-up question could be on the organization (Have you attended events by this organization before?)

5. Always Answer Questions

Always! And don’t just say yes or no. Briefly expand on your answer, even if the person you’re speaking to is not asking open-ended questions.

Small-talk lines to get you started

How’s it going? How have you been? How was your weekend? What have you been up lately? It’s a beautiful day isn’t it? Are you from here? Are you here on holiday? Are the buses always this late? Do you come here often?


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