3 Simple Tips to Master Small Talk in English

Dec 12, 2018 | 17 comments

This lesson has been updated from its original version in April 2015.

Where are you from? What did you do last weekend? What are your hobbies? These are questions you’ve probably learned for small talk in English.

But are there better questions to ask and is small talk really necessary? Small talk seems unimportant. And maybe, like me, you don’t like making small talk. Especially in English. Not only does it seem silly but you’re not sure what questions to ask.

The truth is, small talk has an important role in English culture and conversation. Yes, small talk is polite but unimportant conversation but…

We use small talk to get to know others and to find a connection. It helps us start a conversation when we meet someone for the first time or to get comfortable in a stressful situation such as a job interview or to help pass the time.

With the right tools and understanding of how small talk in English works, you will be confident when you:

  • Meet new people at a party or work event
  • Interview for a new position or job with a new company
  • Begin a meeting with a current or potential client
  • Network at a job fair or marketing event
  • Meet a parent at your child’s school
  • Chat with your neighbors

In today’s lesson, you’ll learn 3 rules for successful small talk + my favorite questions for more interesting small talk.

Get my favorite questions for small talk.

3 Tips + My Favorite Questions for Small Talk in English

Tip 1: Do talk about common interests: sports, current events, hobbies, movies, TV, etc.

These topics are easy for everyone. And it will help you find a connection with your conversation partner.

Example questions include:

  • What do you do in your free time?
  • What did you do last weekend?
  • What’s your ideal way to spend a weekend?
  • What will you do this weekend?
  • Did you read about …. in the newspaper?
  • Have you seen any good films recently?
  • How was your last vacation?
  • If you could go anywhere on vacation, where would it be and why?
  • What’s something interesting you’ve seen/read/heard/done recently?

Don’t talk about religion or politics.
These topics are only for close friends and family because some people have very strong opinions about these topics or the topics are too personal.

Tip 2: Do ask about personal information in general, for example, where someone comes from or what they do.

In English-speaking culture, a very common question to ask is, “What do you do?” This question is asking about your job or your profession. This one question is really asking, where do you work, what is your profession, and what do you do in your job?

Generally, English-speakers spend a lot of time talking about their job. This may not be true in your culture but don’t be surprised if a native English speaker asks about your job. It’s a very common small talk topic.

Other example questions include:

  • Where are you from originally?
  • Do you come from a large or small family?
  • What do you like about living here?
  • What’s the most famous dish in your country?
  • What do you like about living here?

Don’t ask questions that are too personal. For example, don’t ask about someone’s divorce or why they do not have children. Do not ask anything that could be painful or emotional to talk about.

“Generally, English-speakers spend a lot of time talking about their job. This may not be true in your culture but don’t be surprised if a native English speaker asks about your job. It’s a very common small talk topic.”

Tip 3: Do ask or talk about work in a positive way with co-workers, clients, and peers. Talking about work with your colleagues is often a way to build a relationship. It’s a great first step in getting to know your co-workers. Example questions or conversations include:

  • What are you working on these days?
  • How is your current project going?
  • Are you working on anything interesting these days?
  • What did you think about the presentation?
  • What did you like about the presentation?

Don’t be negative about your work, job, or other co-workers.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with small talk!

Take a look at the questions below and leave your answers in the comments section below.

  1. What is your favorite small talk question?
  2. Do you have a tip you can share for successful small talk? Your advice might be exactly what someone else needs to be more successful.

As always, you can share your answers and thoughts with me in the comments section below. It’s the best place to share, get feedback, and learn from others in the Confident English Community.

– Annemarie

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