When you’re in the United States, you might find yourself in a situation that would seem a bit unusual in your home country.
You’re in an elevator and the person next to you starts making conversation, even if they’re a complete stranger. Or you’re at an event and someone starts talking to you about something that seems meaningless.
In America, this is called small talk and it’s an important part of the culture. Most Americans find silence in these situations to be awkward and uncomfortable.
If you’re not from a place where small talk is common, it can seem a bit intimidating. Once you get used to it, though, small talk can be a great way to meet new people and practice your English skills!
What Should I Talk About?
Starting a conversation with a new person can seem scary. What do you even talk about anyway?
If you want to practice small talk with a new person, stick to topics that are easy for anyone to talk about. Things like the weather, the color or scent of something are easy topics that won’t leave anyone uncomfortable.
Talking about local events is a great way to learn more about the community and what’s happening. Other good topics are recent films, local sports teams, or popular music.
It’s also good to talk about things you know you have in common. When you’re at school, you can always ask people where they’re from or what they’re studying.
You can also compliment something that a person is wearing. Saying, “I really like your shoes. Where did you get them?” is a good way to start small talk.
Some of the easiest ways to start small talk don’t need a topic at all. You can just introduce yourself and ask the other person about their day to get the conversation started!
What Not to Talk About
Small talk is meant to be casual. Americans like to avoid topics that could be controversial or cause an argument.
As a rule, Americans avoid talking about things like political beliefs and religion with people they aren’t close friends with.
Americans also find it taboo to talk about how much money they have. Don’t ask someone how much they make or how much what they’re wearing costs, for example.
And while it’s great to compliment a person’s clothing or hairstyle, it’s best to avoid talking about the person’s appearance. These comments can make people uncomfortable or even feel threatening.
So How Do I Start?
If you’re from a culture where small talk isn’t used as much, it can feel very awkward to start talking to strangers! But there’s a saying in English that “practice makes it perfect,” so the best way to improve your small talk skills is to start practicing.
Start with your friends. Asking a question is a typical way to start small talk because it invites the other person to respond. So, try asking questions like:
- Did you see the baseball game last night? It was great!
- How are you today?
- Are you a student, too? What are you studying?
Practice with people you know, then use what you’ve learned in public. Before you know it, you’ll be making small talk like a pro!