#287: The 5 Most Common Small Talk Questions in English with Answers

Sep 13, 2023 | English Conversation, Small Talk in English

What is the best way to answer common small talk questions in English? 

For example: 

  • How was your weekend? 
  • What are your plans for Friday? 
  • How’s it going? 
  • How was your vacation?

If you’re thinking: 

  • I don’t know what to say in small talk.
  • I don’t know how much detail I should share. 
  • It’s tricky. I think I give too many details. (Or maybe I give too few.)

You’re not alone. This is a common frustration for many of my students. In fact, it’s why we dedicate time to perfecting small talk skills in my Fluency School course.

Small talk can be tricky if you don’t know its purpose or if you don’t know how to give the best answers with just enough detail. 

After today, you won’t have to worry about it. You’ll know exactly what makes successful small talk and I’ll share 5 common small talk questions with answers.

With each example, I’ll highlight why a particular answer is a great response to a small talk question, providing just enough detail to encourage more conversation or limit conversation depending on what you want.

WATCH THE LESSON

The 5 Most Common Small Talk Questions in English with Answers

Small talk is: 

  • A form of politeness – it’s a way to acknowledge the humanity of another person
  • A way to establish a connection with someone else that could lead to a deeper relationship and more meaningful conversations (if that’s what you want)
  • A conversation of quick back and forth or give and take… in other words, I ask you a question, and you say a little. You ask me a question, I say a little. No one dominates the conversation.

Small talk is not:

Not profound or lengthy. And you don’t need to worry about impressive, advanced-level vocabulary. 

Small talk is supposed to be simple. Quick. Easy.

Question #1: How are you?/How’s it going?

Quite often, this question is used similarly to simply saying hello. So most of the time, a quick response with “Fine” or “Good, thanks” is enough.

However, if you’re in a situation where you obviously have time with someone — for example, you and your colleague are chatting on Zoom before a meeting starts, then you need to add more.

Here are some common answers:

  • I’m doing fine/well/pretty good/great. How about you?
  • I’m hanging in there. It’s been a busy week.

Tip: In small talk, it’s important to offer bits of information that can be used to continue the conversation and form a connection.

I’m hanging in there,” or “I’m fine/good/great,” can be a dead-end response. With no additional context, the other person may not know how to follow up.

Providing just a little more information beyond “I’m hanging in there,” allows the other person to ask more about your busy week or make a related comment. 

Here’s how you can build on this response using Tip:

  • “I’m great! I finished moving into my new apartment and I finally have more time on my hands.”
  • “I’m hanging in there; there’s a lot to do at work right now because I’m getting ready to go on vacation next week. 
  • “I’m feeling swamped because there’s so much to do at work this week.”

Question #2: How was your weekend?

  • Pretty good! I took it easy and caught up on my reading. 
    • Def: relaxed and didn’t do much
  • It was a blast! We went to the Beyoncé concert. 
    • Def: extremely enjoyable and fun
  • It was a bit of a whirlwind since we had a few things scheduled with friends and with the kids.
    • Def: busy and fast-paced
  • It was nothing out of the ordinary.
    • Def: typical and uneventful

Before we go to question 3, let’s talk a little more about how to decide how much detail to give to ANY small talk question:

I advise students to provide brief but detailed statements. To determine which details to include, ask yourself some key questions. What DID you do this weekend? Where did you go? Did you do anything you might recommend to others? For example, did you see a great movie?

When you offer a detailed response it does 2 things:

  1. It shows you’re willing to share and enjoy talking about your travel experience.
  2. It makes it easy for others to ask follow-up questions for more information.

Question #3: How was your vacation?

  • It was great. I soaked up the sun/beach/culture.
    • Def: spent time indulging in sth
  • Perfectly relaxing. I just relaxed on the beach. It was much-needed and long overdue.
    • Def: late; more than ready
  • I made the most of it and checked off almost everything on my list of what to see and do in Rome.
    • Def: to make sure to enjoy, appreciate, and take advantage of every moment or part of the vacation.

Question #4: What do you like to do in your free time?

  • I love hanging out with my family/friends because I don’t get much time to do so during the week.
    • Def: to spend time with sb
  • I recently took up rock climbing and I do it almost every weekend now.
    • Def: to start or adopt a new hobby or activity
  • I’m really into painting because it helps me relax and be a bit creative.
    • Def: to be passionate or enthusiastic about sth
  • I love to kick back with a good book because I can just lose track of time.
    • Def: to unwind and enjoy a period of leisure/rest

Tip: To keep the listener engaged use conjunctions (i.e. and, so, but, because, since)  to add hooks and expand. 

Question #5: What are you doing this weekend?

  • I’ll be catching up on some Z’s because I had to work late every night this week.
    • Def: to get extra sleep or rest, particularly after a period of sleep deprivation
  • I’m running errands all weekend because I’m hosting a birthday party next week!
    • Def: doing various tasks or chores outside 
  • Everyone’s talking about a new cafe that opened in my neighborhood but I haven’t been yet so I think I’ll check it out.
    • Def: to consider trying or go to a place to see what it’s like

Time to Practice

Now that you know what makes a small talk answer successful along with examples + tips to help you, it’s time to practice.

Try using what you’ve learned to answer small talk questions. Choose one of the two scenarios and share your response in the comments.

  1. Imagine you’re speaking to your new neighbor for the first time and they ask how your weekend was. How would you respond?
  2. Alternatively, perhaps you’re speaking to someone at a mutual friend’s party. When they ask you what you do in your free time, what would you say?

~ Annemarie

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