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Small talk for learners
View our definition of small talk.
Small talk – our blog posts
Small talk is no small matter
For many of us, small talk is a daily occurrence. We engage in it with family, friends, loved ones and strangers. It happens at home, at work, on the move, and wherever we encounter other people. It’s no surprise, then, that our attitudes to it are very mixed.
The art of small talk
Small talk hasn’t got brilliant connotations, has it? You don’t have to make small talk with people you like or know – that’s just called ‘talk’.
Has anyone seen my etchings?
There are whole books and web pages devoted to the art of the chat-up line (just try googling ‘best chat-up lines‘). … But of course they’re not serious. These are archetypal lines which no one in their right mind would try and use.
That’s not exactly what I meant, actually
The expression ‘not exactly’ is a favourite device in small talk. Instead of saying someone is stupid or old, we might say they are ‘not exactly the sharpest knife in the box’ or ‘not exactly in the first flush of youth’.
Top of the morning to yourself
“Top of the morning to you” would, like begorra(h) (a minced form of by God), be considered an Oirishism or a Paddyism, something popularly associated with stereotypes of Irishness but which is seldom or never used by Irish people themselves.
Is small talk different in the US and UK? Yes!
You know how we have the expression ‘saying our goodbyes’ in British English? Americans don’t have it. They just ‘say goodbye’ because they only need to do it once. So you can forget all our, ‘Is that the time?’, ‘I really should be going …’, ‘Well, anyway …’ nonsense. And you know that situation where we start getting out the door and someone says something which means we have to go back to the beginning of the conversation and start all over again? It doesn’t happen here.
Small talk. Big opportunity
For those of you afraid to take the first step, I offer this simple advice: begin with something obvious but don’t scare them.
Accidental drifting – small talk in the UK
Getting to know the other person is not the initial purpose of small talk in the UK. The purpose is to pass the time without being socially awkward.
Small talk and Business English – our blog posts
Walking the talk – part one
… one of the key strategies for successful small talk: stick to the familiar patterns of conventional exchange, and you won’t go far wrong. Unfortunately, small talk has the irritating habit of exceeding its brief and dragging you off, kicking and screaming, into full-blown socializing.
Walking the talk – part two
For the non-native speaker, the most obvious obstacle to socializing is lack of vocabulary. Business meetings, conference calls, interviews and site inspections all have agendas; written or unwritten, they define the lexical fields likely to be travelled, giving learners at least a sporting chance of preparing the vocabulary they’ll need. Social conversation, on the other hand, is almost totally unpredictable.
Small talk in English – other useful links
Spoken discourse: discourse markers oh, well and like
English has specific expressions that will help you interpret what the other person is saying. Identified correctly, they will ensure that you perform your half of the conversation well.
Spoken discourse: discourse markers er, erm and OK
If you can use discourse markers correctly in your own speech, you will sound very natural in English and your conversations will flow more smoothly.
Small talk in English – a bit of fun
The Armstrong & Miller Show – The Origin of Small Talk
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[…] I’ve been writing for Macmillan Dictionary Blog over the last few weeks. The theme for July was small talk, so a couple of my posts are on this subject. I used to dislike small talk; I don’t anymore. In […]