Small talk is an incredibly important function of English conversation. It’s about comfort, it’s about helping two people: you and the other person that you’re talking to, to feel comfortable with each other. And the intention is to try and find some common interests, something that you can share together. So I want you to think of yourself as a detective. You’re searching for some information and some clues to help you connect with someone, to find some common ground and some shared interests.
A good way to approach small talk is to focus on a few broad categories:
– the weather
Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that about ninety percent of all small talk conversations focus on these topics. Maybe even ninety-five. But this is great because it allows us to focus on some really specific topics, right? And help you to prepare for conversations that you’re very likely to actually experience.
There’s another thing that’s useful to keep in mind with small talk and that’s time. With all of these topics, we can ask questions that relate to the current situation now, any experience in the past or any future dreams or future plans, right?
So pay close attention to the examples that I’m going to share because I’ll be using some different time references in these questions. So let’s get started with thirty questions to help you master small talk conversations.
Starting with work. Now the most common question here is “What do you do?”
So we’re talking about now. What’s their current job?
Imagine that the person that you’re talking to said they’re a nurse but we want to ask some more detail, right? We want to find out how we can continue the conversation. So let’s go back in time.
What motivated you to become a nurse?
Did you always want to be a nurse?
What was your first-ever job? Did you like it?
We can talk about the present as well.
What does your typical work day look like?
What do you love about your job?
And you can get a little creative with some future questions as well.
So is this your dream job or are you working towards something else?
You want to be careful here that you don’t say “working towards something bigger” or “something better” because it might be a little offensive, right? because it might be a little offensive, right? that they currently have isn’t good enough.
If money wasn’t an issue, what job would you want? Some people might say that they don’t want to work if they didn’t have any issues with money, right? But you might have to rephrase that question and say “Well what would you do?” or “How would you spend your time?”
Another really great small talk topic and there’s a couple of ways that you can do this. You can pay attention to local news headlines, this is a really good way of, you know, finding things to talk about.
Did you hear about the accident on the freeway last night? It sounded awful, I got stuck in traffic for over two hours.
Albeit you might end up talking a lot about all of the negative stuff that we see in the news, right?
But you can also ask questions about what’s happening in a person’s life. So remember that your intention is to try and find some common interests right? Some things that you share, so that you can keep talking about those things together.
Have you got much planned for the weekend?
This is a great question, it’s my go-to. Everyone loves talking about their plans on the weekend.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Now if they share something that you also like, that’s great because you can keep talking about your shared interest or if they share something that you don’t know anything about, ask them for more information.
That’s so interesting! I’ve never met anyone who keeps bees and makes their own honey. How much honey do you get each week? Have you ever been bitten by a bee? Is it easy to keep bees or do you have to be an expert?
Have you read any good books lately?
Have you seen any good movies?
If you’re a mum or you’re a dad, you might even ask “So do you have any kids?” because this is a great way to connect with someone. You talk about your kid’s ages, interests maybe even their naughty habits. Same thing with pets actually.
Have you noticed that I’ve been using ‘so’ quite a bit to introduce a new idea to a conversation. This is really quite a natural way to introduce a new question. One that’s unrelated to what you’ve been talking about previously. It’s a really helpful conversation tool.
So are you from here?
This is a great question to help explore someone’s past, go back in time.
Where did you live before this?
Is this city quite different to that city?
Where did you grow up?
Travel is a great small talk topic. It’s something that we love talking about and we love sharing. So we can talk about our past experience or we can talk about travel plans and dreams for the future, right?
If you’re coming up to a holiday season you’re heading into summer, then a great conversation starter is “So are you planning on getting away for the holidays?”
Are you taking time off over Christmas? Or whatever holiday is coming up.
But if it’s not that time of year, you can easily start a conversation by introducing some context, right? By sharing your experience first and then inviting their input.
So I’ve just got back from a trip to Japan. Have you ever been?
Or maybe you might know something about their experience.
You went to Peru last year, didn’t you? I’m planning on taking my fiancee to South America in June. It’s our first time and I’m not really sure which countries we’re going to visit. Do you have any recommendations?
Do you have any recommendations about which country to visit in South America? I am thinking about a trip next year.
I love travelling. I hope to visit Kerala in the south of India at some point soon.
What places are on your bucket list? I’m actually really keen to hear your answers to this question.
What places are on your bucket list?
What places are you dreaming about visiting?
Make sure you let me know in the comments.
Just like travel, food is another great small talk topic. It’s something that we all have in common. We do it at least three times a day, so there are plenty of opportunities to start a conversation about food.
I’m trying to decide where to go for lunch, do you know any good restaurants around here?
I’m cooking lasagna for dinner tonight. What about you?
Hey have you tried that new Thai restaurant on Church Street? I’ve heard it’s amazing.
Do you like Thai food?
Now I just can’t leave weather off the list. This is the absolute number one small talk topic. It can be used as a simple passing comment, right?
It’s a beautiful day today, isn’t it?
Can you believe all the rain we’ve been having lately?
But you can also use the weather as a way to spark a conversation, by using it to introduce another topic or another activity.
It’s pouring out there! It’s a shame I rode my bike today. How did you get to work?
So there you have it! Thirty different questions, thirty ways to start a conversation with small talk in English.
Now I’m going to set a little homework for you, a little challenge, okay? Because memorising and practising the questions that I’ve shared with you today is one thing, that’s great practice but of course, what you need is to be ready to answer those questions as well so that you can keep the conversation going.
So your homework is to think of your own answers to these questions too. Once you ask them and then you hear the answer, you want to be ready with your own experiences and your own opinions to share, right? To keep the small talk going.