Small talk – Part 2

What do we need for making successful small talk?

In a previous post on Small Talk we briefly looked at how small talking is an essential part of everyday communication and socializing, including business communication.

Small talk in business?

Yes. Small talk is an important element in business relations. If you have a visitor to your company, you can usually handle the professional and technical part of your meetings easily, such as presentations and other conversations related to business. But what do you do before the meetings? Or in the coffee break when you can’t be only talking about business?

That is where you need small talk.

Between meetings in the coffee break, during lunch, or when showing your visitor around the city, you need to talk to each other, and how well you can do that social talk part is key to your business relations, and to what image your partner eventually has of you.

These are the main point to be trained for you to be a skilled small talker in a foreign language.

1. Small Talker’s mindset
2. Topics to talk about
3. Functional expressions
4. Skills development

Let’s take a look at each on in more detail.

Small Talker’s Mindset

You need the right perspective on the role of light and superficial talk in social contacts. We may not be aware how often and how easily we actually use it in our 1st language, while in a foreign language it often feels uncomfortable at first, as we are required to train for it. It does not come easily at first. We simply have not had hundreds of hours of practice, unlike in our native language.

So, we need to create and simulate small talk situations to train. Then, with time, it’ll feel more and more natural to converse in a foreign language this way, and the initial discomfort will go.

Once you are clear on that small talk can help keep your business relations active in non-business situations as well, you are all set to start working on it.

What topics work best for Small Talk?

In general we prefer light conversational topics for small talk as opposed to controversial ones. For this reason we practise talking about things like sport, entertainment, hobbies, books and movies, travelling and food and others.

Functional expressions

The most common obstacle students identify is the lack of expressions in their active vocabulary that they could readily use in small talk. While this is one of the main ingredients, it is not as simple just as providing you with a list of useful expressions and off you go.

It’s not as simple as just memorising expressions from a list and expecting they will come up in the right moment in the right way in the middle of your next small talk conversation with someone.

If it were that easy, you would only be a few internet search clicks away from successful small talking.

The point is not in getting a list, but rather in learning how to apply those expressions and bring them up to a level of a skilled user.

For this you need to train using repeated patterns, and then to build up skills to enable you to use these expressions in a spontaneous way.
For that you need to experience and take part in simulated or real small talk situations over and over again.

This will have various side-benefits: better grammar, wider vocabulary, improved fluency and more self-confidence in speaking.

In a future post we’ll look at a concrete small talk situation example, learn some useful expressions, and do some practice.

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