Love it or hate it, small talk is pretty much required in social situations. Without small talk, you risk awkward silences between you and the people around you.
But what exactly is small talk?
Small talk is a way of getting comfortable with new acquaintances by chatting about small, unimportant things like the weather or your favorite movies. It’s a much better idea to break the ice using small talk than to dive into big questions like “How much money do you make?” or “Who did you vote for in the last election?”
But making small talk in English can be tricky. You might not know what the right topics are or how to start a conversation.
Below, we’ll go through some small talk topics in English. We’ll also give you some examples of small talk phrases in English to use next time you want to cut the tension and start chatting.
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Greeting someone and introducing yourself makes a lot of sense when you’re just meeting them for the first time. This is probably the most obvious go-to topic. Making introductions is a great way to lead into a conversation.
- “Hi! I don’t think we’ve met. I’m [your name].”
- “Hello, I’m [your name]. Is it your first day too?”
- “Nice to meet you! What’s your name? I’m [your name].”
- “I’ve noticed you around here lately. I’m [your name]. And you are?”
This might seem like a bit of a cliché, but the weather is an easy, relatable topic that anyone can talk about.
The nice thing about discussing the weather is that it can lead to other topics like weekend plans or vacations.
- “What do you think of this weather we’ve been having?”
- “It’s so cold for this time of year, isn’t it?”
- “I hope the sun sticks around for the weekend, don’t you?”
- “Do you enjoy this snowy weather? I sure don’t. I’m leaving for Mexico next week until all the snow melts!”
Travel is a topic with lots of different directions: holiday plans, past trips, staycations, recommendations, favorite places, etc.
- “Do you travel much?”
- “Got any upcoming travel plans?”
- “Can you recommend a family-friendly vacation spot?”
- “Have you ever been to [place]? How was it?”
Food is an excellent icebreaker. After all, everyone eats!
This small talk topic could include restaurants, comfort foods, cooking, the strangest foods you’ve tried, favorite foods and more.
- “Do you know of any good restaurants around here?”
- “What are your go-to meals for busy evenings?”
- “What foods remind you of your childhood?”
- “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
This topic is appropriate for both new acquaintances and people you work with but don’t know very well.
When talking to someone you’ve just met, you could ask them about their job. To chat with a coworker, ask about something work-related.
To a new acquaintance:
- “What do you do for a living?”
- “Do you work nearby?”
- “I heard you mention that you work at [company]. How do you like it?”
To a coworker:
- “What do you think about the new dress code?”
- “Have you attended that training yet? I’ve heard it’s quite useful.”
6. Movies and shows
This is a topic that most people can relate to and say something about. Even if someone hasn’t seen the same shows as you have, you can always describe a series or movie that you enjoyed—if they seem interested, that is!
- “Are you binge-watching anything right now?”
- “What types of shows do you like?”
- “What’s the last movie you saw?”
- “Got any series or movie recommendations?”
7. Your surroundings
Talking about what’s happening around you can be a fantastic way to break the ice.
You could bring up something about a shared experience you’re having (e.g., maybe you’re both at a party and don’t know anyone) or point out something interesting nearby.
- “I’ve never been to a murder mystery party before! It’s exciting. Are you having a good time?”
- “Excuse me, do you know if the 144 bus came by recently?”
- “There’s another Tesla! Have you noticed how many of them are around lately?”
- “Whoa! Look at that huge dog!”
Small talk your way out of awkward silences
Knowing how to make small talk in English is a valuable skill for a variety of situations. Try some of the topics we’ve discussed to avoid those awkward situations where no one’s saying a word.
Feel like you need more speaking practice or want to build your vocabulary before jumping into real-life small talk? Why not find a meetup group, join a social media community or have English-speaking coffee dates with a friend? You’ll be a small-talk pro in no time!
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Andrea is a Canadian freelance writer and editor specializing in English, e-learning, EdTech, and SaaS. She has a background as an ESL teacher in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. In her free time, Andrea loves hanging out with her husband and children, creating recipes in the kitchen, and reading fiction. She also loves camping and jumping into lakes whenever possible. Learn more about Andrea on LinkedIn or check out her website.