In the USA, small talk is really common. But it can be frightening for English learners. You don’t know why, but you always end up in awkward silences, both uncomfortable and looking for the nearest exit from the conversation.
Let me help you!
There are some useful tools and techniques you can quickly use to make your small talk more interesting, and make yourself look more fun to talk to!
You’ll also find today’s lesson (and 49 other exclusive ones) in my ebook “What was that?”: How to correct 50 common mistakes and avoid confusion in American English” – It’s my new, practical guide to avoid most common English mistakes, so that you never make them again!
So, here is something I noticed. Very often, at the start of my live programs like The Faster Fluency Conversation Club, or Personal Fluency Coaching, I make some small talk with students. Small talk is a very important real-world skill, so it’s good practice!
Well, often, at the start of that course, students tend to give very short answers to any question. And they don’t feel confident enough to take the lead in the conversation.
It can happen to you, too!
When you’re making small talk with colleagues, clients, your kid’s teacher… or anyone, really! the other person asks you about how your week’s going, or what you’re going to do for the weekend.
If you only answer “Good, and you?” or “Nothing special, I don’t know,” the conversation will dry up fast.
And worse, you’ll look as if you’re not interested in the other person, or that she’s not worth sharing things about your life with. Basically, you’re not playing the game!
And this can have consequence you didn’t want, on the way people see you.
Why it happens
There are many reasons this problem happens!
Personality matters a bit – but even introverts can learn great social skills.
Cultural differences come into play as well. Maybe you don’t know how much you should share, or why exactly is that person trying to talk to you… Well, small talk is a very common part of American culture, that’s all!
Or maybe you’re just not confident enough in your own English level. Good news! That’s something that we can work on, and you’ll only improve.
Don’t worry – whatever the reasons, there are some tools and tips to help you improve your small talk in English!
How to avoid awkward silence in a conversation
Several studies by Harvard University found some consistent techniques you can use to make your small talk sound friendlier – and avoid any awkward silence!
First, ask follow-up questions
When a topic has been introduced in the conversation, ask for more details about it.
“So I did a race yesterday…”
“Really? Oh, cool! Where was it?”
You can also ask “How long was the run?” and “Did you win?”, later.
Don’t ask all your questions at the same time though, and drop them if the topic changes.
Be interested in the answer, find joy in learning things you didn’t know!
Second, you should give longer answers.
The studies say it makes you look friendlier: by sharing more details, you’re investing yourself in the conversation. It’s easier for the other person to find a common interest, too.
Try not to speak much more than you listen, though!
Finally, be ready to leave.
Maybe you “leave” the small talk to get into the more interesting part of a conversation, once you find a common interest or a fascinating topic together.
Or maybe you just leave the conversation completely.
All discussion has to end eventually, and you should be prepared to exit gracefully, especially if you notice that the conversation is slowing down alot, or the other person seems to pay more attention to the things around you than they pay attention to you.
For instance: “It’s been nice talking to you! I have to go help Michel now, but I hope we meet again soon.”
There’s an entire episode on how to end conversations smoothly, so I suggest you watch that one too.
Of course, it’s easier said than done….
But you can build your small talk reflex in the Faster Fluency Conversation Club with lots of speaking practice each week!
So, to recap:
– Ask more open questions about everything you can.
– Give longer answers
– Be ready to leave
Your turn, now!
What’s your own personal tip to handle small talk?
Write your answer down in the comments!
There are many more mistakes that I want to help you with. That’s why I’ve created a new ebook, “What was that?”: How to correct 50 common mistakes and avoid confusion in American English.
It includes 50 short, easy-to-learn lessons so you correct your common grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation mistakes. It also includes common idiomatic expressions and American culture do’s and don’ts, helpful quizzes to get you remember what you learn, and so much more!
Thanks for watching Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!
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