Have you ever had this problem?
You enjoy your English classes and can talk about specific topics but as soon as you try to make small talk or start a conversation with a fluent speaker, you freeze up.
For some people, social English is the hardest part of learning the language. With this in mind, we’ve collected some tips and topics to make small talk easier.
What is small talk and why is it important?
‘Small talk’ doesn’t mean that you have to speak in a small voice. ‘Small’ refers to the topics. The idea is to talk about something that’s uncontroversial, relevant to everybody, and that won’t extend the conversation for hours.
It’s a style of talking that people use when meeting someone else for the first time - for example, chatting in a waiting room, meeting someone at a party, or being introduced to a friend of a friend.
However, this kind of conversation is difficult in a second language. When you have to think about what you’re saying, it’s harder to come up with suitable topics. That’s why we’ve suggested some easy ideas for the next time you want to make small talk with someone.
Eight small talk topics for social settings
- The weather. Yes, it’s a stereotype… but English people really do talk about the weather all the time. It’s the perfect small talk topic because it affects all of us, changes every day, and isn’t controversial in any way.
- Travel and holidays. Everyone loves to remember their last vacation. Ask people questions about where they’ve been recently, where they’d love to go, or where they’d recommend. Then you can share some stories of your own, too.
- Arts and culture. Arts and culture are a great topic for small talk, and there’s always something new to discuss. Talk about a concert you’ve been to recently, artistic hobbies or crafts, or your favourite book.
- Entertainment. Seen any good films lately? What’s new on Netflix? Talking about TV is almost as fun as binge-watching it.
- Sports. Sports are usually a safe topic, too. You could chat about current competitions, sports stars, or local sports events near you.
- Work. Some people don’t consider this a small talk topic; it depends on culture. In the UK, it’s normal to ask the question, ‘What do you do?’ In the US, it’s a little more unusual. So consider your audience before launching into discussing work.
- Food. It’s the obvious choice of topic if you’re queuing up for a takeaway or waiting to be seated in a restaurant. Everyone loves food, so it’s always an easy topic of conversation.
- Hometown. You can also chat to people about where they come from. You might even discover a long-lost friend! Talk about why you love your current city, where you grew up, and where you’d like to move one day.
Practise your social English
If you want to grow your confidence with social English and small talk, the British Council can help. Improve English speaking skills by trying one of our General English courses, as well as conversation clubs and social events.