TOEFL Students

The art of small talk: conversation starters for English learners

Hai Learners!

Are you an English learner who’s trying to be better at conversations?

Then, this post is for you!

We’ve all been there, right? That moment at a party, in a meeting, or on a first date when the conversation runs dry, and we’re left staring at our shoes, not knowing what to say. The dreaded awkward silence!

But fear not, we’ve got your back!

Today, we’re focusing on those easy-breezy, light-hearted conversation starters that can make small talk a big success.

Small talk, that sometimes-awkward-but-oh-so-necessary social dance, is not just about filling silence. It’s the stepping-stone to deeper conversations, and perhaps,a lifelong friendship?

So, whether you’re chatting about the weather, the latest movie, or your favorite potato chips flavor, we’re here to make small talk less of a big deal. So sit back, relax, and let’s dive into the wonderfully witty world of English small talk together. Remember, language learning is a journey, and every good journey starts with a single, simple conversation. Let’s get that conversation started!

1. Ask about personal interests

Now, this might sound like a no-brainer, but bear with us, because there’s a bit more to it than just asking, “So, do you like stuff?”

Whenever possible, use open-ended questions!

Open-ended questions are like magic keys that unlock the door to deeper conversation. They’re not just yes-or-no questions; they’re designed to encourage the other person to share more about themselves. And let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a bit of a chinwag about their favorite things?

Suppose you’re at a party. Instead of commenting on the weather or how crowded the room is, why not try something like, “What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend?” or “I’m a huge fan of sci-fi movies. Do you have a movie genre you can’t get enough of?”

Asking about personal interests shows that you’re interested in the person, not just in filling the silence. Plus, it gives them an opportunity to talk about something they love, which is a surefire way to light up a conversation. And who knows? You might even discover shared interests that can lead to more exciting conversations!

Here are some more examples:

  • What kind of books do you usually get lost in?
  • I’m always looking for new music. What bands or artists have you been listening to recently?
  • Do you have any hobbies that you’re passionate about?
  • I am a foodie at heart. Do you enjoy cooking or is there a particular food that you can’t get enough of?
  • Is there a cause or issue that you’re particularly passionate about?

Remember, the goal here is not to bombard someone with questions but to find a topic that sparks mutual interest. And always remember, the best conversations are two-way streets, so be prepared to share your interests as well!

2. Inquire about recent events or news

The world around us is constantly changing, bustling with events and news that can provide a common ground for discussion. Whether it’s a recent sporting event, a groundbreaking scientific discovery, a trending TV series, or a noteworthy news item, these topics can act as excellent ice-breakers.

Consider this scenario: You’re at the same party (sorry, can’t think of anything else at the moment!) and you notice a lull in the conversation. Fear not! This is the perfect opportunity to bring up a recent event or news item. For example, you might say, “What’s your take on the recent news about the development of self-driving cars?”

Remember, though, the key here is to choose topics that are likely to be of interest to the other person and are also appropriate for the setting. Discussing a controversial political event at a casual social gathering might not be the best choice (unless you’re at a party for political enthusiasts, in which case, go for it!).

Here are some more examples:

  • Did you watch the final World Cup match? What a game, right?
  • Have you heard about the breakthrough in renewable energy technology?
  • I heard Japan now allows visa on arrival for Indonesians. Sounds exciting, right? I want to go to Japan someday, do you?
  • Heard (actor and actress) just got married and I am gonna say, I didn’t see that coming! What do you think?
  • Apparently a lot of places are facing heatwaves right now. It does feel even hotter than usual lately, doesn’t it?

3. Comment on the weather or the local environment

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “The weather? Really?” But bear with me. This tried-and-true small talk tactic is a staple for a reason. It’s a shared experience that affects everyone, regardless of age, occupation, or interest. Plus, it’s a safe and neutral topic that can act as a springboard for deeper conversation.

Let’s say you’re at the park, waiting for a friend. You strike up a conversation with a fellow park-goer. You could say, “Isn’t it a beautiful day?” or “This park is always so peaceful. I love coming here to unwind.”

Commenting on the weather or the local environment is also a fantastic way to show your observant nature and appreciation for your surroundings. It could be as simple as noting the lovely decorations in a café, the lovely atmosphere at the park, or the beautiful city lights at night.

Here are some more examples:

  • These flowers are beautiful, don’t you think? I wonder what kind they are
  • I can’t believe how often it rains this time of year!
  • Isn’t it amazing how the city comes alive at night?
  • The architecture of the town hall is stunning!
  • I’ve always loved coming to the night market. It’s so festive!

Remember, the aim of small talk is to find a common ground that invites more sharing and connection. And sometimes, that common ground is literally the ground you’re both standing on, or the sky above you!

4. Give compliment

Compliments are like the cherry on top of a great sundae—they add a sweet touch and can make someone’s day. When done genuinely, complimenting someone’s clothing, hairstyle, or accessory can be a wonderful way to initiate a conversation.

Picture yourself at a networking event, and you spot someone wearing a striking piece of jewelry. You could start a conversation by saying, “I couldn’t help but notice your necklace. It’s unique and really suits you!” This not only breaks the ice but also indicates your attention to detail and your interest in the other person.

However, it’s important to remember that compliments should be sincere and specific. Broad or generic compliments might come across as insincere or even superficial. So, instead of simply saying, “Nice shirt,” you might say, “I love the pattern of your shirt. It’s so unique and quirky! Where did you get it from?”

Here are some more examples to up your compliment game!

  • Your hairstyle looks fantastic! It suits you really well!
  • Can’t help but notice that your dress has pockets! That’s awesome!
  • Your shoes look super comfortable. Where did you get them from?
  • I love the way you’ve put your outfit together. It looks really stylish!
  • Your bag looks pretty but also practical! Where did you get it from?

5. Share interesting facts or personal anecdotes

Sharing a fun fact or a personal story is a fantastic way to add some color and personal touch to a conversation! Sharing an intriguing fact or a personal anecdote doesn’t just show off your knowledge or your life experiences; it also opens up a space for others to share in return.

Let’s say you’re at a casual meet-up and you sense the conversation needs a little ‘oomph’. This is the perfect moment to introduce a fun fact or a light-hearted personal story. You could say something like, “Did you know a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance?” or “I once entered a hot chilli-eating contest. Learned the hard way that I am not as tough as I thought I was!”

As always, here are more examples:

  • I recently read a book about memory. It’s fascinating how our brains process and store information!
  • Did you know that technically honey never spoils? Archaeologists have found pots of honey in ancient Egyptian tombs that are over 3000 years old and still perfectly edible!
  • Did you know that seahorses are the only animals where the male gives birth? Nature sure has a sense of humor, doesn’t it?
  • Did you know that the Eiffel Tower can be 15 cm taller during the summer due to the expansion of the iron on hot days?
  • I once tried learning to play harmonica during a weekend. It’s a lot harder than it looks!

Remember, these facts or anecdotes should be brief and interesting, not long-winded or overly detailed. The idea is to spark curiosity and invite a response, not to give a lecture!

6. Ask for recommendations

Asking for advice or recommendations, whether it’s about local restaurants, fun activities, or exciting travel destinations, is a wonderful way to engage someone in a conversation. It signals that you value their opinion, and it can also lead to fascinating discussions and shared interests.

Picture this: you’re at a party and you’re chatting with someone you’ve just met. To keep the conversation flowing, you could ask, “I’m always on the hunt for new food spots. Do you have any favorite restaurants around here?” or “I’m thinking of going on a vacation soon. Do you have any recommendations for must-visit places?”

This approach not only opens up a wide range of topics for conversation but also gives you valuable insights or recommendations that you can actually use. It’s a win-win!

Here are some more examples:

  • I’m in the middle of a reading rut. Could you recommend a book that you couldn’t put down?
  • I’m always looking for new shows to binge-watch. Have you seen anything good recently?
  • I’ve been looking to explore more local sights. Are there any hidden gems around town that you love?
  • I’m planning a weekend getaway. Do you know of any cozy spots within driving distance?
  • I’ve been thinking about picking up a new hobby. Is there something you love to do in your spare time?

Asking for recommendations is a fantastic way to learn more about them while also discovering new things for yourself. So, go ahead, ask away!


As we bring our journey through the art of small talk to a close, remember that the key to mastering these conversation starters lies in being genuine, attentive, and open-minded. Small talk may seem inconsequential at times, but it’s the seed from which deeper connections and friendships can grow.

So, the next time you find yourself at a social gathering, don’t shy away from striking up a conversation with someone new. Use the tips and examples we’ve discussed to kick off engaging and enjoyable chats. Who knows, you might just uncover a shared passion or create a lasting bond!

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