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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: How to Make Small Talk in English - English Conversation Lesson

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Hi, Im Oli.

Welcome to Oxford Online English!

In this lesson, you can learn how to make small talk in English.

Youll learn how small talk can help you to connect with others around you, and youll

see examples of common small talk conversation topics in dialogues.

Youll also see useful questions and tips you can use to make small talk in English.

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dot com.

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Lets get back to our topic: small talk.

What exactly is small talk, anyway?

Hey.

Hi!

Hows life?

Pretty good.

You?

Not bad.

Whatve you been up to recently?

Oh, not much.

Ive been busy at work.

What about you?

Whats new?

Same, though Im going away next month.

Really looking forward to it!

In the dialogue, you saw some basic small talk.

Think about two questions: what is small talk?

Why is small talk important?

Small talk means that you make a simple conversation.

The topic isnt important.

When you make small talk, you dont give many details.

You might ask questions likeHows life?’, ‘What have you been up to recently?’ or

Whats new with you?’, but you dont expect a detailed answer.

Many people dislike small talk, or complain about it.

They say that small talk is boring, or that its pointless.

Small talk might be boring, but its not supposed to be interesting.

Thats not its function.

Small talk definitely *isnt* pointless.

So, whats it for?

Small talk is a way to show friendliness and interest.

Whats more, small talk shows that you and the person youre talking to are on the

same social level.

Think about it: managers dont usually make much small talk with their subordinates.

Teachers in schools dont make a lot of small talk with their pupils.

Police officers dont make small talk with criminals they arrest.

Why not?

Its about hierarchy.

Managers areabovetheir subordinates in the office hierarchy.

Its the same for teachers and schoolchildren, or police officers and criminals; theyre

on different social levels.

If you meet a new colleague, or a new client, or you start a new class and you want to make

friends, making small talk sends a social signal.

It says, “Were on the same level, so we can be friendly with each other.”

Plus, small talk is a way to avoid silence in conversation, which makes many people uncomfortable.

So, what should you remember from this?

When you make small talk, dont worry about the topic and dont worry about being interesting.

Thats not the point of small talk.

Remember the three questions you saw before.

Can you remember them?

These are useful for making small talk.

Learn them and use them!

Next, lets look at some common small talk topics.

Are you from around here?

No, I grew up here, but I was born in Romania.

Really?

Are you from Bucharest?

No, from Timișoara, in the west.

I have to admit I havent heard of it!

Thats OK, most people havent.

Its a big city in Romania, but its not so well-known in other countries.

Whats it like?

Its pretty, but there are more opportunities here.

Im planning to move back there in a few years.

What about you?

Are you local?

Kind of.

I was born here, but when I was five my parents moved to Mexico, and I grew up there.

I moved back here after I graduated, but I havent spent that much time here.

Wow, Mexico!

Do you go back often?

Yeah, once or twice a year.

Its quite far, but I still have some family and a lot of friends there.

A common small talk topic is your hometown and the place you live, or the places you

have lived.

To start a conversation, you could ask: ‘Where are you from?’

Are you from around here?’

Are you local?’

If someone asked you these questions, how would you answer?

You could say: ‘I was born in …, but Ive been living here for a while now.’

Yes, I was born here and I've lived here all my life'.

Im originally from …’ When you find out where someone is from, you

can ask a follow-up question.

For example: ‘Whats your hometown like?’

With this question, its more natural to use the name of the city, so sayWhats

Hangzhou like?’

Whats Quito like?’ and so on.

If the person youre talking to is from another city or country, you could askDo

you go back often?’

Remember: with small talk, keep your answers short.

Give some information, but dont go into a lot of detail.

Also, try to find a balance between asking questions and giving information about yourself.

Next, what other common small talk topics can you think of?

Lets look at another!

Any weekend plans?

Not much, Im planning to play tennis on Saturday, then maybe go out for dinner with

some friends.

You?

Im having a quiet weekend.

Thats nice sometimes.

Actually, I prefer to get outdoors.

I do a lot of wild swimming, but its too cold at the moment, so Im going to be boring

and catch up on some housework.

Wild swimming?

You mean, swimming in lakes and rivers and so on?

How did you get into that?

I used to be in a swimming club, and one of my friends from there took me to a lake

where you can do wild swimming.

I started with short distances, and now Im training for a 10k.

Ten kilometres?

Thats crazy!

Its like anything.

If you work towards it slowly, its quite possible.

Have you ever tried it?

No, Im not big on swimming.

Ive done some long-distance running, which I guess is similar in a way.

I wouldnt know.

I hate running!

Talking about free time, hobbies and plans for your days off is a common small talk topic.

Look at three questions you heard in the dialogue.

Can you remember the missing words?

Small talk is generally informal, so its usual to ask short questions, likeAny

weekend plans?’

rather than full questions, likeDo you have any plans for the weekend?’

If someone has an interesting or unusual hobby, you could askHow did you get into that?’

Could you explain what this means?

This question is asking: how did you become interested in this?

How did you start?

You might answer with something like: ‘Ive been doing it for years.’

I got into it when I was a student.’

A friend took me one time, and Ive been hooked ever since!’

Finally, askinghave you ever tried it?’ is a good way to continue the conversation.

If the other person saysyes’, you have more to talk about!

Lets see one more common small talk topic.

How was your weekend?

It was nice.

My brother and his family came to stay.

Oh yeah?

So you have nephews and nieces?

Yeah, actually, I have ten.

Wow!

I had no idea.

How many of you are there?

Four.

Four boys; Im the third.

You dont have kids, right?

No, not yet.

You have one, or two?

Just one.

Wed like to have a second, but our apartments so tiny its difficult to think about right

now.

What about the rest of your family?

Do you have any brothers and sisters?

I have one brother and one sister, and one niece.

Nothing like your family.

It must be chaotic when you all get together.

Yeah, it is

Fun, though!

First of all, be careful with asking people about their families if youre in another

country or another culture.

You dont want to be oversensitive, but in different cultures some questions might

sound too personal.

For example, askingAre you married?’ orDo you have children?’ to someone

you just met might be uncomfortable.

Its difficult to say, because so much depends on context.

Just think about it and remember that in different cultures and countries people might have different

expectations!

Another tip: its good to wait for the other person to mention their family before you

ask questions about it.

For example, in the dialogue, Oli mentioned his brother, and I then asked him questions

about the rest of his family.

Anyhow, lets see some useful small talk questions to ask about someones family.

In the dialogue, you heard: ‘You have nephews and nieces?’

How many of you are there?’

You dont have kids, right?’

What about the rest of your family?’

Do you know how you would answer these?

In small talk, keeping the conversation going is the most important thing.

Its more important than what you talk about, or what information you get from the other

person.

So, you might ask things which arent genuine questions.

Actually, of these four questions, only one is a real request for information.

Do you know which one?

The second is a real question, where youre asking for information.

What about the others?

The first and third are questions to check information.

You use these when you think you know the answer already, and youre asking for confirmation.

You ask these questions to keep the conversation moving, not because you need information.

The fourth question signals a small change of topic.

In the dialogue, I used this question to switch from asking about Loris immediate family

to talking about her family more generally.

In fact, in the dialogue, this question was immediately followed by a second question:

Do you have any brothers or sisters?’

Now, lets talk about one more thing.

Are you a football fan?

Not really.

I do like watching basketball, though.

Really?

I love basketball, too!

Do you go to many games, or just watch on TV?

I go to, I guess, four or five games a season.

You?

About the same.

Did you see it last week?

That was a crazy result!

Yeah, I know, right?

Great game, though.

I couldnt sleep afterwards, I was so hyped up.

Do you think they have a chance of winning?

Im not sure.

I dont want to get my hopes up.

I know what you mean.

Hey, do you want to watch the game together this Saturday?

I have some friends coming over to my house.

You could join us, and well have beer and snacks.

Oh, yeah, thanks!

That sounds great.

You heard before that small talk doesnt need to be interesting, and the most important

thing is to keep the conversation going.

Thats true, but whats the end goal?

You cant make small talk forever.

In the end, you need to develop a deeper conversation.

That doesnt mean you need to get into serious topics; when we saydeeper conversation

we mean a conversation youre both interested in, and where you really want to hear what

the other person has to say.

The best way to do this is to find things in common or shared interests.

To do this, balance asking questions and giving information about yourself, and try to avoid

very short answers.

For example, in the dialogue, I asked Lori if she was a football fan.

She said that she wasn't.

Then, she added that she likes a different sport: basketball.

This gave us something new to talk about, and we found something we have in common.

If you just answernot really’, then its difficult to move the conversation

forwards.

Finally, a question.

Expectations and etiquette around small talk can be very different in different parts of

the world.

Compare what youve heard in this lesson to how things are in your country and your

culture.

Do you have a similar approach to small talk, or are there differences?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments, and share your ideas with English learners

from all over the world!

Thanks for watching!

See you next time!

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