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How to keep the conversation going – learning small talk in English

Not everyone likes making small talk, especially in a foreign language. Yet small talk is important for getting conversations started, which is crucial in doing business, winning a job interview, networking or making new friends.

By its very nature, small talk—those casual, spontaneous conversations that take place, often to fill awkward silences—is a form of friendly interaction. In the English-speaking world, it’s common and used to break the ice, interact with strangers, keep conversations going in order to learn more or to simply enjoy ourselves.

But doing it doesn’t always mean it’s easy. Small talk can be difficult for native English speakers, too, though we have one distinct advantage over English language learners: a wide vocabulary. This allows us to speak spontaneously when most English learners stumble for words—and lose their confidence.

Some suggestions for learning small talk in English

  1. Read widely. Build your vocabulary on numerous subjects. You can relate your new knowledge back to a conversation.
  2. Improve your cultural awareness of what makes for good small talk. Neutral subjects like: the weather, news, sports, jobs, traffic, or the Internet work. Avoid subjects like politics, religion and personal salary.
  3. Learn conversation starters like:
    • Beautiful day, isn’t it?
    • Did you order this sunshine?
    • Looking forward to the weekend?
    • Has it been a long week?
    • You look like you could use a cup of coffee.
      Please find these and more conversation starters here
  4. Learn some English slang
  5. Learn English phrases for agreeing disagreeing with someone—and tactfully, too.
  6. Practice your listening skills. Listening is key to any conversation. Go online, listen to podcasts and videos, and learn to identify the subject and the speaker’s point of view.

Don’t be shy

Finally, practice, practice, practice. Once you’ve learned new phrases, talk to friends, think of what you might say before you attend an event, and don’t be shy about approaching native speakers.


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