Saturday, July 12, 2008

ESL making small talk

The ability to make small talk can be a real challenge for ESL students. I want to let you into a little secret, it can also be a bit of an ordeal for native speakers too! Why is this you may wonder? Well lets first look at what small talk is.
The web definition of small talk is " meaningless empty chatter. Chitchat:light informal conversation for social occasions."
I believe the reason that native and non-native speakers alike find it so challenging is that it is generally quite superficial and everyone knows it is superficial.
Why then do we engage in it? One reason is that is warms people up in social settings. It is considered polite to ask general questions of a person when you are first introduced to them, or if they are an acquaintance. That's the reason why most people talk about the weather, not because the weather is a fascinating subject, but because it is a simple, non combative topic to chat about. Nobody is going to get offended by talking about the lovely sunshine we have been getting lately.
Lets look at some small talk topics to get you rolling.
  1. TV show, movies, music.
  2. General information about what you both do.... occupations, student, mother, homemaker.
  3. Your spouses and children.
  4. Hobbies
  5. How was your day type questions.
  6. Weather
In small talk, we tend to stick with those areas that don't arouse strong feelings. The object of small talk is to put each other at ease and find out general information about each other. Small talk is usually reserved for people you have just met or acquaintances.

Lets look at topics to avoid when making small talk.

  1. Politics
  2. Religion
  3. Your health problems.
  4. Strong opinions that might alienate the other person.
  5. Negative comments about other people.
Often with small talk, the introductions are short and sweet. It is good to have a graceful exit strategy for when the small talk peters out. You can excuse yourself in a number of ways, and remember to tell the other person how nice it was to meet them.

Just remember that small talk can lead onto other more meaningful conversations and you might strike up a genuine rapport with the other person. Small talk is just the icebreaker between people.

I am a qualified ESL tutor. If you need help with your English studies please contact me for information about my private ESL classes.

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