Making Small Talk with an Old Friend – English Conversation Tips

Small talk with an old friend in English

Hi there! I’m your English coach Christina, welcome to Speak English with Christina, where you’ll learn about American culture and business know-how to become confident in English.

If you bump into someone you see frequently, you might say “What’s up?” or “How’s it going?” The conversation usually flows naturally from there. It’s often easier to make small talk with acquaintances and friends you see frequently.

Someone you haven’t seen in a long time on the other hand… that can get tricky.

Is that my old student, Joseph? Joseph? How are you?  Yeah, I’m great. So… how are you?

New cane? Maybe a moustache? No moustache? Either way, catching up with someone you haven’t seen in a long time may feel a bit awkward. One reason it can be difficult to have a good conversation is because you don’t have the latest details on what is going on in your friend’s life.

In this episode, I’ll share some tips you can use to make more thoughtful and relevant small talk when you want to catch up with friends you haven’t seen in a long time in American English.

Let’s go!

Catching up with someone you haven’t seen in awhile can be challenging, especially when you’re learning how to express yourself in American English. To have a conversation that flows you have to practice having conversations in American English.

The Faster Fluency Club meets three times per week. The group session of motivated students is always small, so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice your speaking skills.  Each session is guided by one of my fantastic expert English teachers who will guide you on vocabulary, correct your mistakes, and much more so can you gain fluency faster.

“How have you been?”

The keyword here is: “been.”For people you see regularly, it’s common to ask, “How’s it going?” or “How are you?”

On the other hand, for someone you haven’t seen in a long time a common conversation starter is, “How have you been?” or “What have you been up to?” Been suggests a significant amount of time has passed since you last saw one another.

You might also say “What have you been up to?” “Up to” implies quite a bit of time has passed. There’s a good chance this old acquaintance or friend is just as surprised to see you as you are to see them, right?

It’s possible that if you ask: “How have you been?” or “What have you been up to?” the conversation might stall and end there, with their response something like, “I’ve been good.” Or “same old, same old.” In which case, you can move to a question that may encourage a more detailed response…

In certain cultures, asking about work may be a sensitive topic or considered rude, however asking about work is very common in the United States.

Although it feels natural to ask if someone is still at the same job when you last saw them, it may make more sense to ask them about what’s happening in their life today. You could say, “What are you up to nowadays?”

Talking about the present is a great way to have a more meaningful conversation with someone you haven’t seen in a long time. Besides, we’re more interested in what we’re doing today than what we were doing yesterday – or 20-years ago – right?

“How is your family?”

This is an easy conversation starter. Most of us enjoy talking about the people we love in our lives – our family.

A terrific way to connect with your long-lost friend is to ask about their family. What do you know about their family? Perhaps they have children. In which case, you might say “How old is Timmy now, 10? 11?”

Or if you knew their parents or siblings, you could mention something memorable about the experiences you shared, such as: “I was thinking about how your dad used to make us those delicious carne asada tacos. How is he doing these days?”

When asking about family after it’s been awhile, there’s a chance your friend may respond with sad news. For example, if you ask about your friend’s father they may respond with “Oh, my dad passed away last year.”

In this case, you can express sympathy and say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” Or you might remark how much you enjoyed their loved one and say, “I’ll always think fondly of your dad, he was a great person.”

Think back on the experiences you shared with your friend. Were there mutual acquaintances or friends you can bring up in the conversation? For example, you can say “Have you stayed in touch with Rob?” If you have news about a mutual friend that is appropriate to share, you could say “Did you hear Carol just bought a puppy? It’s so cute.”

After you conclude the conversation and it’s time to part ways, you can say: “It was great seeing you!” If you aren’t quite sure how to politely end the conversation, you can view my episode, “How to End a Conversation” where I share three steps to ending the conversation politely.

If you want to spend time with them and reconnect soon, you can use “should” – such as: “We should get together sometime.” “We should catch up.”

How about you – do you have any tips to help the conversation flow with people you haven’t seen in a long time? Share them down below in the comments or join my Faster Fluency Conversation Club to share with other students in real-time.

In my Faster Fluency Club, you’ll get live speaking practice with other motivated members of the Speak English with Christina community and our Fluency Club leaders Cara and Trisha. You can get all the details, and join the the Fluency Club by clicking  here. You’ll also get extra resources and a conversation guidebook, to help you increase your vocabulary and become more confident in conversations. Thank you for learning with Speak English with Christina, and I’ll see you next time!

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