American Small Talk (Part 3) | How To Make Small Talk?

Talking with Friends and Family

(Photo credit: bmf9q12)

In Part 1 and Part 2 of the Small Talk series addressed the following questions.

  • What is small talk?
  • Why is it important?
  • What is its purpose?
  • When do you make small talk?
  • With whom do you do it?
  • What do you talk about?
  • What topics should you avoid?

Part 3 in this series aims to answer another important question.

How do you make small talk?

  • Body language. Use your body language to make your conversation partner feel comfortable. Keep a socially acceptable distance from the person, make eye contact, and smile.
  • Small casual greeting. Start by greeting the person. It could be something simple like, “Hello” or “Are you in line?” or “Is this where you buy tickets?”
  • Small compliment. Give the person a small compliment. You could say “I love your earrings, where did you get them?” or “That’s a great jacket, I love that color!” Americans like praise, so the person will likely respond favorably.
  • Comment on the surroundings. Notice the environment and make comment on what you see happening around you. You could say, “Wow! It’s really busy here for a Monday morning!” or “I’m so excited to try the food here, my coworkers keep telling me how great it is.” or “What a great party! It looks like people are starting to dance.”
  • Keep things light and positive. Sometimes people complain as a way to bond, but even complaining should be light and have a positive spin. “It’s been a tough week at work, I’m so glad it’s Friday!”
  • Disclose something about yourself. Make sure it’s not too personal, and that it is embedded in the context of the situation. “It hasn’t rained this hard in a long time! I guess my daughter’s soccer game will be cancelled this afternoon.” or “This line is moving so slow. I’m starting a new job today and I don’t want to be late for work!”
  • Follow with a question or statement. It’s important to listen to what the person says so you can reply with an appropriate question or statement. For example, if the person says, “My legs are so sore! I had a really tough workout yesterday” You could follow with a question, “What kind of exercise do you do?” or “I really need to exercise more!”
  • Say goodbye. Eventually the conversation must end. Politely end by saying “I need to get going, it was nice to meet you.” or “It was great talking to you, goodbye!”

Now you know how to make small talk! Want to know more? If you are in the Taipei area, join the Language Boat meet up event to discuss and practice small talk on Sunday, November 10th. Click here for details and to RSVP.

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American Small Talk (Part 2) | When & What To Talk About?


(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In Part 1 of the Small Talk series I wrote about the importance and purpose of small talk in American culture.

Part 2 aims to answer a few more significant questions about small talk.

When do Americans make small talk?

Small talk is appropriate almost any time you encounter another person, for example, at the bank, in a bookstore, at the gym, in your workplace, at a party, before and after a business meeting, in the park, at a coffee shop, at school, on the bus, at a wedding, in a bar… You get the idea!

Who should you make small talk with?

Everyone! You can make small talk with strangers who are in speaking proximity, your friends, classmates, coworkers, or customers.

However, it’s important to note the reaction and mood of the person once you’ve started to make small talk. Remember, one of the purposes of small talk is to gauge mood. If someone responds with annoyance, doesn’t make eye contact or doesn’t respond at all, they are signaling they don’t want to engage. Don’t take it personally. Simply back off and move on to someone else.

What should you talk about?

Small talk focuses on neutral topics such as:

  • Weather. The most popular topic of all! You can never go wrong if you talk about the weather.
  • Sports. Sports fans love to talk about their favorite teams, the recent game, and who they think will win or should have won.
  • Entertainment. Television, music, & movies are all common small talk topics. Americans love to discuss their favorite shows, movies and concerts.
  • Books. Talking about a popular book or asking someone what they like to read is common, especially at a bookshop or academic environment.
  • Travel. Most people enjoy talking about their past vacations, and where they would like to go in the future.
  • Food. This is a popular topic, and people like to discuss restaurants, recipes, seasonal foods, and so forth.
  • School. This topic is especially popular among students, but even after graduating people will still talk about where they went to school and what they studied.
  • Work. People commonly talk about what they do for a living.
  • Family. People enjoy talking about their families, especially their children.

Are there any topics that should be avoided?

Yes! Do not discuss anything sensitive, personal, or controversial. Examples of topics to avoid are:

  • Religion
  • Politics
  • Sex
  • Personal finances (money)
  • Personal health problems
  • Family problems
  • Death
  • Crime & war

Now you know what to talk about and what not to talk about. But how do you make small talk? Check back tomorrow for Part 3 in the Small Talk series and find out! Subscribe to the blog and get Language Boat posts conveniently delivered to your inbox. Thanks for reading!

American Small Talk (Part 1) | What Is It & What Is The Purpose?

English: People engaging in casual conversatio...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“There’s nothing small about the role that small talk plays in American professional culture. People from other countries are often surprised at how important small talk is in the U.S. and how naturally and comfortably people seem to do it — with peers, subordinates, men, women, and even with superiors. You can be the most technically skilled worker in the world, but your ability to progress in your job and move up the corporate ladder in the United States is highly dependent on your ability to build and maintain positive relationships with people at work. And guess what skill is critical for building and maintaining these relationships? Small talk.”

–Harvard Business Review

Small talk is inarguably important in American culture, but what is it?

Small talk is essentially just friendly, light conversation, chitchat or banter.

What is the purpose of small talk?

Small talk serves to:

  • Show friendliness. Small talk is a friendly gesture that demonstrates you are not a threatening or hostile person.
  • Meet people. It’s a way to reach out to someone you don’t know and open a conversation.
  • Build relationships. Small talk is a way people get to know each other and share ideas.
  • Maintain relationships. Once a relationship is formed, small talk maintains it and offers opportunities for deeper growth.
  • Build rapport and trust. Through small talk trust and rapport are developed as people begin to disclose more about their attitudes, preferences and lifestyle.
  • Create connection. Small talk creates social bonds between people. It is through small talk that people often initially connect and find common ground.
  • Define the relationships between people. Small talk allows people to explore and categorize each other’s social position.
  • Signal mood. Depending on how much or little a person engages in small talk, and the content of the small talk, others will get a sense of the person’s mood and interact accordingly.
  • Break the ice. Small talk is a way to open conversation and establish a comfortable environment within a group people.

So when do you make small talk? And what do you talk (and not talk!) about? Check back tomorrow for Part 2 in the Small Talk series. Subscribe to the blog to have Language Boat posts conveniently delivered to your inbox. Thanks for reading!

“Western Guys Date The Ugliest Taiwanese Girls!”

Woman in Hangzhou, China.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)


“Western guys date the ugliest Taiwanese girls!” a Taiwanese guy said to me recently.

I see plenty of western guys with their Taiwanese girlfriends and wives in Taipei, and honestly I think they are very pretty. Ugly? No way!

I was shocked by this unkind remark.

I’ve heard other Taiwanese people make similar comments before. So I had to explore this.

“Why do you think western guys date “ugly” women?” I asked out of curiosity.

His reply was, “Because they are easy to get.”

I shook my head in disagreement. “I think what is going on here, is merely a cultural difference. Those western guys don’t think their girlfriends are ugly. I don’t think they are ugly.”

I grabbed my phone to prove my point. A Google image search turned up hundreds of photos of attractive Asian women. I asked my Taiwanese friend if he thought they were beautiful.

“What about her?”


“What about her?”

“Totally ugly.”

“And her?”

“She’s okay.”

“I think they are all really beautiful.”

“What! Are you serious?”


In Taiwan, I’m learning about the relatively narrow range of female beauty. Big eyes, skinny legs, freckle-free, white skin and goose egg shaped faces are all critical factors in determining a woman’s beauty.

Western guys from countries with an ample mix of ethnicities such at the United States tend to have a much broader range of aesthetic preferences.

It doesn’t surprise me that western men living in Taiwan are often attracted to women with “Asian” looking features.

Western men are not specifically seeking high, protruding noses, big, round eyes, and white skin when dating Taiwanese women.

Western guys tend to prefer Asian women that look “Asian.” Classic, narrow eyes are considered charming and desirable.

A western man will notice a woman’s hair, her smile, her attitude, her body… But he will probably not care much about the shape of her nose, how white her skin is, or how much her jawline flares.

A few idioms in English that spring to mind when thinking about this are:

  1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty is subjective and different people have different preferences and definitions of beauty.
  2. Beauty is only skin deep. Good looks eventually fade, and are not reflective of a person’s inner-self, character and personality.
  3. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. A quality that is undesirable to one person can be precious to another.

What do you think? Join the conversation and add your comments.

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5 Petunjuk Untuk Pertukaran Bahasa Yang Berhasil

8482321910_bbd67ee1e8_mRead this post in English.

Saya pernah mendengar orang-orang mengklaim bahwa pertukaran bahasa tidak berguna sama sekali. Tetapi menurut pengalaman saya, pertukaran bahasa berguna dan saya sangat bergantung pada pertukaran bahasa dalam pembelajaran bahasa Mandarin. Adapun, komunikasi dan peraturan-peraturan dasar diperlukan demi mencapai hasil yang memuaskan. Terdapat lima petunjuk paling penting untuk pertukaran bahasa yang berhasil.

1. Setuju untuk bertemu dalam selang waktu yang teratur dengan pasangan Anda. Pendalaman Ilmu dan Berkelanjutan adalah dua pertiga dari rumus untuk mencapai Kemahiran.

2. Cari pasangan yang mempunyai kemampuan setingkat dengan Anda. Ini mencegah pembelajar dari tingkat atas untuk mendominasi percakapan dalam pertukaran bahasa.

3. Setuju untuk berbicara dalam bahasa sasaran pasangan Anda selama separuh waktu dan dalam bahasa sasaran Anda selama separuh waktu yang tersisa. Mendengarkan bahasa sasaran sama pentingnya dengan berbicara dalam bahasa sasaran. Berbicara dalam bahasa yang sama dapat menciptakan suasana yang membantu sesama pembelajar bahasa.

4. Ingat, terdapat banyak cara pembelajaran. Pasangan Anda mungkin ingin berlatih dalam cara yang berbeda dengan Anda, atau mempunyai kebutuhan pembelajaran yang berbeda. Hendaknya Anda bersifat terbuka dan fleksibel terhadap kebutuhan pasangan Anda, dan komunikasikan kebutuhan Anda juga.

5. Buat jadwal di luar waktu pertukaran bahasa untuk mengulangi sendiri. Anda akan mengingat lebih baik jika Anda memiliki kebiasaan untuk mengulangi apa yang telah Anda pelajari hari itu. Mengulanginya keesokan hari dan beberapa hari kemudian juga merupakan sebuah ide yang bagus.

Translated into Indonesian by Teddy Nee at Nee’s Language Blog. Thanks Teddy!