This article could have been titled ” ‘How to make small talk at the coffee break in English’ for people who hate making small talk and arent’ comfortable doing it in English”, But the Google gods dont’ like 121-character titles, so lets’ just get to the point.
After all, we’re not here to make small talk. Oh wait, yes we are.
Here’s the point: If you go to meetings, youl’l have to make small talk before or after. If you participate in training programs, you’ll make small talk before or after. If you travel on business, you bet your bottom you’ll make small talk when you arrive. Probably over a cup of mediocre machine coffee and a conversation that starts with “How was your trip?”
If your French, theres’ a good chance that these little everyday conversations terrify you. OK, maybe not terrify you (unless you hide in the toilets during all coffee breaks…), but making small talk in another language is just not easy.
What should you talk about? Do you have all the vocabulary? What about cultural differences and taboos?
Dont’ worry, heres’ a quick small talk topic list to get you started quickly and painlessly.
Topic #1: The weather
Yes, its’ boring. Nobody really cares about the weather forecast. After all, your meeting isnt’ taking place outdoors. If you checked Bird Office, your’e surely in a swanky meeting room somewhere. Just revise your high school weather vocabulary and youl’l be ready to talk about how nice the weather is and how its’ going to be bad this weekend. Or vice versa. Or how its’ raining and you dont’ know where your umbrella is (Dont’ worry, your English-speaking colleagues probably dont’ even know who Gad Elmaleh is…)
Topic #2: Compliments
If you really dont’ know what to say, compliments can save the day. Again, really simple. Just start the conversation with “I really like your…” followed by anything: shoes, necklace, bag, choice of meeting room, bonsai tree, picture of your kitten, whatever. Then, the other person will tell you all about where they got the object, how long theyv’e had it, etc. And you can just let the other person talk, nod your head, and add little things like “Oh, wow”, “Thats’ interesting”, “How nice.” And theyl’l love you because 1). you complimented them and 2). you listened to them talk about themselves.
Topic #3: Food
Everybody loves food. And even if they dont’, theyv’e at least got something to say about food. After all, we all have to eat at some point. Did you go to a good restaurant recently in London? Talk about it. Did you go to a bad restaurant recently? Talk about it (your colleague will thank you). Not sure where to go have lunch (and a few drinks…) after the conf call with the American team? Just inject “Hey, where do you guys want to go to lunch?” into the conversation. You cant’ go wrong talking about food. Eating food in the company cafeteria, however, may be a different story.
Topic #4: Politics
“WHAT?! You cannot be serious!” Maybe thats’ what your’e thinking, but continue reading before you decide youl’l never say the words “Donald Trump” in a small talk discussion. The key when discussing politics is not to actually express any of your own opinions. Oh, and not to explode when your colleague says “I agree with him. We should close all the borders, stop taxing companies, and deport all the poor people. Best ideas ever.” Like with the compliments above, just nod, ask “What do you mean?” from time to time, and let the other person do all the talking.
Then, you get smart and you click here to access The Small Talk Starter Kit. Its’ got 3 videos and summary sheets to help you, so you can stop hiding in the toilets and actually enjoy the coffee break with your colleagues.
An American living in France since 2004, Christina coaches clients to better communicate in English through face-to-face and distance training programs. With her YouTube channel Speak Better, Feel Great TV, she is on a mission to boost the English level of French people everywhere. Sign up and youl’l get a free video lesson every week!