Small Talk & Conversation Skills

Conversation tips for speaking:
• Face your listener(s) and look at them.
• Make eye contact often.
• Watch your listeners' responses. Do they look confused? Do they look disinterested? Ask questions. Encourage them to respond, and wait for them to finish speaking before you start again.
• Don't speak too loudly.
• Avoid direct criticism -- unless you are asked to comment.
Conversation tips for listening:
• Watch the speaker.
• Make eye contact often. (If this is uncomfortable for you, try looking at the speaker's eyebrows.) Americans may feel that if a listener is not watching he is not listening. Do not turn away while the person is talking.
• When the speaker pauses, give feedback -- interject small responses to what he has been saying. (Examples: Really? Is that so? Is that right? I didn't know that. That's interesting. I see. Oh my?)
• Be an active listener.
• Do not interrupt (unless the person is speaking too fast or you don't understand.) If you do not understant, simply tell your friend: I did not understand that. Could you please say it again more slowly?"
Topics to avoid in casual conversation:
Religion, politics, sex, money, age, weight. (Anything that might be too personal. Americans do not like to share personal information in casual conversation.)
Appropriate Topics for small talk:
Weather, sports, families, television programs, movies, music, books, leisure activities and hobbies, plans for the weekend, work.
Are these topics also appropriate in your culture? Are any of them considered to be inappropriate? What other topics are appropriate in your culture? Compare your answers with your group.
Discussion Questions:  (about your home country)
  1. How close do people stand when they are talking?
  2. How does a listener show respect?
  3. How does a listener show that he or she is listening?
  4. Do people regularly engage in small talk with strangers?
  5. Are there topics you do not discuss?
  6. What do people enjoy talking about?
  7. Are there any conversation tips you could give to someone who is visiting your home country?
  8. How can you start a conversation in English? In your country?
  9. What is the hardest thing about having a conversation with an American?
  10. What tips could you give a newcomer to help him/her talk with Americans?
  11. Tell about an experience (good or bad) that you have had when speaking in English.