Small Talk

Small talk is polite conversation that people have with people that they are not very close to. It's conversation about topics which aren't too important or too personal. 

When to make small talk:

English speakers make a lot of small talk.

  • People make small talk with neighbors when they see them outside of their house or apartment.
  • College students who know each other make small talk before class starts.
  • People who live in small towns often make small talk with waiters, cashier s, post office employees, etc.
  • Business calls and meetings often start with a minute or two of small talk.
  • Friends engage in small talk when they haven't seen each other for more than a few days.

In many English-speaking cultures, it is considered strange or rude not to talk to someone that you know if you are near each other for more than 30 seconds or so. However, you should also know that a lot of people don't like small talk. Some people try not to make small talk, but others might see them as rude.

Things people say during small talk:

  • Greetings:


    How are you doing?

    What's up?

    How's it going?

    Good morning!

  • Asking about recent events:

    What's new?

    How've you been?

  • Asking about someone's family:

    How's Alice?

    How are your kids?

    What's Savitha been up to lately?

  • Talking about the weather:

    It's beautiful today, isn't it?

    Cold outside, huh?

  • Talking about people you both know

    Have you talked to Jessica lately?

    I saw Barry a couple days ago.

    Guess who I ran into!

How to make small talk well in English:

To make small polite small talk, you should follow these 3 steps:

  1. When someone asks you a question, answer it.
  2. Give a little extra detail in your answer. Don't give one-word answers like "yes" or "no"; think of something more to say on that topic. 
  3. Ask another question back in return. This can be the same question that they asked you, or something different.

Here's an example of a short conversation that shows how to use these steps:

A: How's Lisa doing?

B: Pretty good (1). She's started going to the gym a lot lately (2). She's really been getting into it lately.

A: Oh yeah? That's good.

B: Yeah, she's enjoying it. What about Janice (3)?

That's all it takes! You and your conversation partner can continue asking each other questions like this until you feel like you've had enough small talk. 

PhraseMix Lessons for making small talk:

Here's a list of PhraseMix lessons for making small talk in English.

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