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  • Hi, I'm Oli.

  • Welcome to Oxford Online English!

  • In this lesson, you can learn how to make small talk in English.

  • You'll learn how small talk can help you to connect with others around you, and you'll

  • see examples of common small talk conversation topics in dialogues.

  • You'll also see useful questions and tips you can use to make small talk in English.

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  • dot com.

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  • Let's get back to our topic: small talk.

  • What exactly is small talk, anyway?

  • Hey.

  • Hi!

  • How's life?

  • Pretty good.

  • You?

  • Not bad.

  • What've you been up to recently?

  • Oh, not much.

  • I've been busy at work.

  • What about you?

  • What's new?

  • Same, though I'm going away next month.

  • Really looking forward to it!

  • In the dialogue, you saw some basic small talk.

  • Think about two questions: what is small talk?

  • Why is small talk important?

  • Small talk means that you make a simple conversation.

  • The topic isn't important.

  • When you make small talk, you don't give many details.

  • You might ask questions like 'How's life?', 'What have you been up to recently?' or

  • 'What's new with you?', but you don't expect a detailed answer.

  • Many people dislike small talk, or complain about it.

  • They say that small talk is boring, or that it's pointless.

  • Small talk might be boring, but it's not supposed to be interesting.

  • That's not its function.

  • Small talk definitely *isn't* pointless.

  • So, what's it for?

  • Small talk is a way to show friendliness and interest.

  • What's more, small talk shows that you and the person you're talking to are on the

  • same social level.

  • Think about it: managers don't usually make much small talk with their subordinates.

  • Teachers in schools don't make a lot of small talk with their pupils.

  • Police officers don't make small talk with criminals they arrest.

  • Why not?

  • It's about hierarchy.

  • Managers are 'above' their subordinates in the office hierarchy.

  • It's the same for teachers and schoolchildren, or police officers and criminals; they're

  • on different social levels.

  • If you meet a new colleague, or a new client, or you start a new class and you want to make

  • friends, making small talk sends a social signal.

  • It says, “We're on the same level, so we can be friendly with each other.”

  • Plus, small talk is a way to avoid silence in conversation, which makes many people uncomfortable.

  • So, what should you remember from this?

  • When you make small talk, don't worry about the topic and don't worry about being interesting.

  • That's not the point of small talk.

  • Remember the three questions you saw before.

  • Can you remember them?

  • These are useful for making small talk.

  • Learn them and use them!

  • Next, let's look at some common small talk topics.

  • Are you from around here?

  • No, I grew up here, but I was born in Romania.

  • Really?

  • Are you from Bucharest?

  • No, from Timișoara, in the west.

  • I have to admit I haven't heard of it!

  • That's OK, most people haven't.

  • It's a big city in Romania, but it's not so well-known in other countries.

  • What's it like?

  • It's pretty, but there are more opportunities here.

  • I'm planning to move back there in a few years.

  • What about you?

  • Are you local?

  • Kind of.

  • I was born here, but when I was five my parents moved to Mexico, and I grew up there.

  • I moved back here after I graduated, but I haven't spent that much time here.

  • Wow, Mexico!

  • Do you go back often?

  • Yeah, once or twice a year.

  • It's quite far, but I still have some family and a lot of friends there.

  • A common small talk topic is your hometown and the place you live, or the places you

  • have lived.

  • To start a conversation, you could ask: 'Where are you from?'

  • 'Are you from around here?'

  • 'Are you local?'

  • If someone asked you these questions, how would you answer?

  • You could say: 'I was born in …, but I've been living here for a while now.'

  • 'Yes, I was born here and I've lived here all my life'.

  • 'I'm originally from …' When you find out where someone is from, you

  • can ask a follow-up question.

  • For example: 'What's your hometown like?'

  • With this question, it's more natural to use the name of the city, so say 'What's

  • Hangzhou like?'

  • 'What's Quito like?' and so on.

  • If the person you're talking to is from another city or country, you could ask 'Do

  • you go back often?'

  • Remember: with small talk, keep your answers short.

  • Give some information, but don't go into a lot of detail.

  • Also, try to find a balance between asking questions and giving information about yourself.

  • Next, what other common small talk topics can you think of?

  • Let's look at another!

  • Any weekend plans?

  • Not much, I'm planning to play tennis on Saturday, then maybe go out for dinner with

  • some friends.

  • You?

  • I'm having a quiet weekend.

  • That's nice sometimes.

  • Actually, I prefer to get outdoors.

  • I do a lot of wild swimming, but it's too cold at the moment, so I'm going to be boring

  • and catch up on some housework.

  • Wild swimming?

  • You mean, swimming in lakes and rivers and so on?

  • How did you get into that?

  • I used to be in a swimming club, and one of my friends from there took me to a lake

  • where you can do wild swimming.

  • I started with short distances, and now I'm training for a 10k.

  • Ten kilometres?

  • That's crazy!

  • It's like anything.

  • If you work towards it slowly, it's quite possible.

  • Have you ever tried it?

  • No, I'm not big on swimming.

  • I've done some long-distance running, which I guess is similar in a way.

  • I wouldn't know.

  • I hate running!

  • Talking about free time, hobbies and plans for your days off is a common small talk topic.

  • Look at three questions you heard in the dialogue.

  • Can you remember the missing words?

  • Small talk is generally informal, so it's usual to ask short questions, like 'Any

  • weekend plans?'

  • rather than full questions, like 'Do you have any plans for the weekend?'

  • If someone has an interesting or unusual hobby, you could ask 'How did you get into that?'

  • Could you explain what this means?

  • This question is asking: how did you become interested in this?

  • How did you start?

  • You might answer with something like: 'I've been doing it for years.'

  • 'I got into it when I was a student.'

  • 'A friend took me one time, and I've been hooked ever since!'

  • Finally, asking 'have you ever tried it?' is a good way to continue the conversation.

  • If the other person says 'yes', you have more to talk about!

  • Let's see one more common small talk topic.

  • How was your weekend?

  • It was nice.

  • My brother and his family came to stay.

  • Oh yeah?

  • So you have nephews and nieces?

  • Yeah, actually, I have ten.

  • Wow!

  • I had no idea.

  • How many of you are there?

  • Four.

  • Four boys; I'm the third.

  • You don't have kids, right?

  • No, not yet.

  • You have one, or two?

  • Just one.

  • We'd like to have a second, but our apartment's so tiny it's difficult to think about right

  • now.

  • What about the rest of your family?

  • Do you have any brothers and sisters?

  • I have one brother and one sister, and one niece.

  • Nothing like your family.

  • It must be chaotic when you all get together.

  • Yeah, it is

  • Fun, though!

  • First of all, be careful with asking people about their families if you're in another

  • country or another culture.

  • You don't want to be oversensitive, but in different cultures some questions might

  • sound too personal.

  • For example, asking 'Are you married?' or 'Do you have children?' to someone

  • you just met might be uncomfortable.

  • It's difficult to say, because so much depends on context.

  • Just think about it and remember that in different cultures and countries people might have different

  • expectations!

  • Another tip: it's good to wait for the other person to mention their family before you

  • ask questions about it.

  • For example, in the dialogue, Oli mentioned his brother, and I then asked him questions

  • about the rest of his family.

  • Anyhow, let's see some useful small talk questions to ask about someone's family.

  • In the dialogue, you heard: 'You have nephews and nieces?'

  • 'How many of you are there?'

  • 'You don't have kids, right?'

  • 'What about the rest of your family?'

  • Do you know how you would answer these?

  • In small talk, keeping the conversation going is the most important thing.

  • It's more important than what you talk about, or what information you get from the other

  • person.

  • So, you might ask things which aren't genuine questions.

  • Actually, of these four questions, only one is a real request for information.

  • Do you know which one?

  • The second is a real question, where you're asking for information.

  • What about the others?

  • The first and third are questions to check information.

  • You use these when you think you know the answer already, and you're asking for confirmation.

  • You ask these questions to keep the conversation moving, not because you need information.

  • The fourth question signals a small change of topic.

  • In the dialogue, I used this question to switch from asking about Lori's immediate family

  • to talking about her family more generally.

  • In fact, in the dialogue, this question was immediately followed by a second question:

  • 'Do you have any brothers or sisters?'

  • Now, let's talk about one more thing.

  • Are you a football fan?

  • Not really.

  • I do like watching basketball, though.

  • Really?

  • I love basketball, too!

  • Do you go to many games, or just watch on TV?

  • I go to, I guess, four or five games a season.

  • You?

  • About the same.

  • Did you see it last week?

  • That was a crazy result!

  • Yeah, I know, right?

  • Great game, though.

  • I couldn't sleep afterwards, I was so hyped up.

  • Do you think they have a chance of winning?

  • I'm not sure.

  • I don't want to get my hopes up.

  • I know what you mean.

  • Hey, do you want to watch the game together this Saturday?

  • I have some friends coming over to my house.

  • You could join us, and we'll have beer and snacks.

  • Oh, yeah, thanks!

  • That sounds great.

  • You heard before that small talk doesn't need to be interesting, and the most important

  • thing is to keep the conversation going.

  • That's true, but what's the end goal?

  • You can't make small talk forever.

  • In the end, you need to develop a deeper conversation.

  • That doesn't mean you need to get into serious topics; when we say 'deeper conversation'

  • we mean a conversation you're both interested in, and where you really want to hear what

  • the other person has to say.

  • The best way to do this is to find things in common or shared interests.

  • To do this, balance asking questions and giving information about yourself, and try to avoid

  • very short answers.

  • For example, in the dialogue, I asked Lori if she was a football fan.

  • She said that she wasn't.

  • Then, she added that she likes a different sport: basketball.

  • This gave us something new to talk about, and we found something we have in common.

  • If you just answer 'not really', then it's difficult to move the conversation

  • forwards.

  • Finally, a question.

  • Expectations and etiquette around small talk can be very different in different parts of

  • the world.

  • Compare what you've heard in this lesson to how things are in your country and your

  • culture.

  • Do you have a