English for Small Talk

English for Small Talk

“When you have to do small talk, you know , “Hello, how are you?” after that, I don’t know what to do. I go, “OK, then,” and walk away.”

Naomi Osaka, a Japanese tennis player

Small talk is a cultural thing. There are situations when it is expected, appreciated, and even absolutely necessary. Macmillan English Dictionary defines it as informal conversation about things that are not important, and Cambridge Dictionary – as polite conversation between people at social events. In fact, although the discussed subjects may be simple and unimportant, the function of small talk is usually more significant than it may seem. For example, in negotiations it helps build rapport before getting down to business, it can break the ice between total strangers and lay the groundwork for their future cooperation. Thus, small talk is not really small, and it’s definitely not part of one culture. It’s often said that Americans can’t do without making it, but are they the only ones? Think about your culture for a moment. How would you approach a person you don’t really know and start talking to them? What would you speak about? Chances are you’d make small talk of some kind. Now, what exactly you would say may depend on what is customary in your particular society, but small talk is still small talk, although it does fill a huge gap. So, let’s take a look at some functional language you can use when making small talk.

Small Talk in Negotiations

Listen to the beginning of a negotiation between two companies and match the parts of the phrases (the audio script is here):

We are… …you had a good journey.
Pleased to meet you. I hope… …Lyon before, Mr.Clark?
Yes, the flight was fine, and just a slight delay… …time to visit some of our restaurants – Lyon is famous for its cuisine, you know.
Have you been to… …happy to be here.
No, this is my first visit, so I’m looking… …on the roads because of heavy traffic.
You must make… …forward to seeing some of the sights – if our schedule allows it, of course.

(from “Negotiating” by S.Lowe and L.Pile)

Do you think the small talk the negotiators made was long enough? What other topics could they discuss before getting down to business? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

Phrases for Discussing Weather

Few topics are as safe as the weather topic. Here are some phrases to start talking about it:

  • We couldn’t ask for a nicer day, could we?
  • Can you believe all of this rain we’ve been having?
  • It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
  • We couldn’t ask for better weather.
  • It’s expected to be hotter than last year.
  • There’s not a cloud in the sky.
  • The wind’s picking up, isn’t it?
  • A storm seems to be heading this way.
  • Awful weather, isn’t it?
  • What miserable weather!
  • That sounds like thunder.
  • The sun is trying to come out, isn’t it?
  • It might drop below freezing tonight.
  • We sure need to bundle up.
  • The weather will be warming up soon.
  • What’s it like in your hometown now?
  • What’s the temperature/weather like in your hometown now?

Related: “Weather English”


You know the classic “How are you? – I’m fine.” Here are some alternatives:

  • Good to see you.
  • How’s it going?
  • How’s your day going?
  • How’s your day been so far?
  • What have you been doing today?
  • What’s up? / What’s new?
  • How’s life? / How are things? – Same old, same old.
  • Are you having a busy day? – Yes, this is the first time I’ve got up from my seat all day!
  • How are you keeping? (you’d say it if you haven’t seen the person for a while)
  • What have you been doing lately?
  • Long time no see!
  • It’s been a while!

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