Small Talk in English: does it even matter?

(At the end of this post, look out for a special resource I have to help you with making small talk.)


Have you ever wondered:

“Does small talk even matter?”

“Does it make a difference if I make small talk or not?”

The answer in one word: YES!

However, before we look at why small talk is so important, let’s look at what small talk really is.


What is small talk?

According to the Merriam-Webster’s Learner’s dictionary, small talk is simply defined as “informal, friendly conversation about unimportant subjects”.

Small talk , sometimes referred to as chit-chat, is essentially casual conversation between speakers which takes place in a variety of settings.

It can be in a social setting such as in public places like restaurants or at gatherings with friends and acquaintances and also in business settings. Yes, that’s right! Even when dealing with business affairs, a bit of small talk is important before you dive into serious business talk.


3 reasons why small talk is important

1) It establishes trust

Making small talk establishes trust between those conversing and therefore helps you fit in with native English speakers. On the other hand, not making small talk may make people leery or suspicious of you. It may make native English speakers uncomfortable around you which may result in them avoiding you.

Practical situation: You’re at an office gathering and your colleague who is a native English speaker comes up to you and tries to engage you in a conversation. You do reply briefly but you do nothing to further the conversation which makes the person feel uneasy around you. To learn more about that mistake, check out this blog post here.


2) It leads to deeper conversations

Making small talk is the pathway to more in-depth conversations. Sometimes small talk just remains as“small talk” but other times, small talk can lead to a more serious conversation and can have positive results.

For example, you might find out that the person knows someone who may be able to help you with a project you’re working on or vice versa.

Practical situation: You’re at a social event for locals in your town. You’re making small talk with Safiya, a native English speaker. 

After the initial greetings and introductions, Safiya asks “So what do you do?” (referring to your job situation) 

You reply “I just launched a business selling natural fruit juices.” 

Safiya says, “Oh really? That’s interesting! Now that you’ve mentioned that, I have an uncle who is into the sort of stuff. He might be able to help you spread the word.” 


3) It fosters relationships

Making small talk creates relationships. When you make small talk, you get to know someone even better and you feel more comfortable being around that person.

Practical situation: At your workplace, you’re accustomed to making small talk with the security guard. On a particular day, you need some help with your car which isn’t starting. You happen to see the guard nearby in the car park (parking lot – American English). You can easily approach him without any uneasiness since you’ve already established a relationship with him. 


4) It helps to pass the time

Small talk is a great way to pass the time when you’re in the company of others. Let’s face it: which would you rather?

Option 1: Sit and stare awkwardly at each other

Option 2: Make small talk and potentially make a friend

I hope you chose the second option! Haha 🙂


I think I know what you might be saying now: “Ok Leandra, I get it. I understand. I know small talk is important but why is it so difficult!?


Why making small talk is difficult

  1. Let’s be real here, small talk is not taught in English class at school.  Because small talk requires you to be spontaneous when you speak, you may worry  “What if the person elaborates and I don’t know how to respond?”.It’s not a speech that you can prepare in advance and give without needing to be spontaneous. Even though you can’t fully prepare for small talk, there are certain things you can learn to make small talk easier and less stressful. I have a resource to help you at the end of this blog post.
  2. It requires you to be an active listener. When making small talk, you need to listen carefully so you can respond appropriately.
  3. If you’re like me, you may be reserved and introverted and therefore the thought of making small talk with others might seem daunting. If that’s how you feel, you are not alone. Many native English speakers also struggle with making small talk.


Taking the first step

Let’s take baby steps to help you start mastering small talk. The first step is starting conversations. In Lesson 1 of my email course, you’ll get a cheat sheet with 7 common topics and 14 questions or statements that you can use to easily start conversations with native English speakers.

When you join my email list, you’ll continue to get more tips on making small talk and spontaneous conversation to help you socialise in English. To sign up for my free guide and email course (and get the conversation starters cheat sheet), click on the image below.

Fitting in- optin ad image (new)


Key take-aways:

Small talk is casual conversation commonly made about unimportant subjects.

Small talk: 

1) Establishes trust 

2) Leads to deep conversations

3) Fosters relationships


Your turn:

Do you struggle with making small talk with native English speakers? If you do, which aspect do you struggle with?  I’d love if you can let me know in the comments section below so I can see how best I can help you.


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