Module 1 Small Talk
Read the dictionary definitions of small talk and answer the questions. 1. Which definitions make small talk sound like a positive thing? 2. Which d
efinitions refer to places where small talk might take place? 3. Why is it a problem if someone has no small talk? 4. What do you think is the Chinese for "small talk"? small talk informal conversation about things that are not important Macmillan English Dictionary small talk light conversation that people make at social occasions about unimportant things: We stood around making small talk. Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary small talk polite friendly conversation about unimportant subjects Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English small talk conversation about ordinary or unimportant matters, usually at a social event: He has no small talk (i.e. he is not good at talking to people about ordinary or unimportant things). Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary Look at the conversation topics below and answer the questions.
careers; cars; examinations; film stars; music; politics; sport; travel; weather; food 1. If you talk about these topics, is the conversation serious or small talk? 2. Which of the topics do you like talking about with your friends? 3. Which of them do you talk about with your parents? 4. Which of them do you talk about with your teacher? 5. Which of them do you never talk about?
Vocabulary and Reading
Complete the sentences with the correct forms of the words in the box. damage; encourage; impress; prepare; recognise 1. The singer was really good! She 2. He had an accident and me a lot!
his bicycle. them to do better.
3. Don't shout at the children. You should 4. Make sure you homework! 5. At the party, I
for your English examination. Do more
a boy who used to attend my school.
Read the passage and decide what kind of book it is from. Choose from this list. The text is from ____. a book to help you prepare for a speaking examination a business course an English teaching book a book which tells you what to do at social events
How Good Are Your Social Skills? Have you ever crossed the road to avoid talking to someone you recognise? Would you love to go to a party and talk confidently to every guest? Do you want to make more friends but lack the confidence to talk to people you don't know? And are you nervous about the idea of being at a social event in another country? Don't worry—we can help you! You needn't worry about situations like these if you have good social skills. And they are easy to learn. People with good social skills communicate well and know how to have a conversation. It helps if you do a little advance planning. Here are a few ideas to help you. Learn how to do small talk Small talk is very important and prepares you for more serious conversations. Be prepared! Have some low-risk conversation openers ready. For example:
think of a recent news story—not too serious, e.g. a story about a film
star or sports star
think of things to tell people about your studies think of "safe" things you can ask people's opinions about—music, sport,
think of topics that you would avoid if you were talking to strangers—
and avoid talking about them! That way, you don't damage your confidence! Develop your listening skills Listening is a skill which most people lack, but communication is a two-way process—it involves speaking AND listening. Always remember—you won't
impress people if you talk too much. Here are some ideas to make you a better listener: Do ...
show that you are listening by using encouraging noises and gestures—
smiling, nodding, saying "uh-huh" and "OK", etc.
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keep good eye contact use positive body language ask for more information to show your interest
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look at your watch yawn sigh look away from the person who's talking to you change the subject finish other people's sentences for them
Always remember the words of Benjamin Disraeli, British Prime Minister in the nineteenth century: "Talk to a man about himself, and he will speak to you for hours!" Learn the rules If you go to a social occasion in another country, remember that social rules can be different. In some countries, for example, you have to arrive on time at a party; in other countries, you don't need to. In addition, you need to know how long you should stay, and when you have to leave. Some hosts expect flowers or a small gift, but in other places, you can take things, but you needn't if you don't want to. Remember also that in some countries, you mustn't take flowers of a
certain colour, because they're unlucky. In most places, you don't have to take a gift to a party—but find out first!
Answer the questions.
1. According to the article, should people plan what they're going to say at parties? 2. What do people think about those who talk too much? 3. Describe two things you shouldn't do in a conversation. 4. Why is it a good idea to nod and smile when the other person is talking? 5. What does the quotation from Benjamin Disraeli tell you about people?
Complete the sentences with the correct forms of the words in the box. sigh; yawn; nod; avoid; lack; smile
1. When I meet strangers, I don't like to talk about myself, so I personal questions. 2. There are very few foreign visitors to my town, so we meet people from other countries. 3. I said that we don't have enough opportunity to speak English and he head in agreement. 4. I think the man I spoke to was tired—he a lot. when he his the opportunity to answering
5. He looked very sad when I asked him about his home. He answered me. 6. I felt very welcome when I arrived at the party. The host shook my hand.
at me and
Look at the phrases from the passage and answer the questions.
1. If you can talk confidently, does this mean that you are worried about talking to people? 2. What kind of advance planning could you do before going to a party in a foreign country? 3. Can you give an example of a low-risk conversation opener if you were talking to a friend of your parents', for example? 4. What encouraging noises and gestures can you make when you're having a conversation in Chinese? 5. What is an example of positive body language? 6. Are social rules the same in every country?
Discuss your answers to the questions.
1. Which of the ideas in the reading passage do you think are useful in your society? 2. Are there any conversation techniques that you think you will use in the future? 3. Which of the listening skills are you good at? 4. Which of the social skills do you need to improve? 5. What are some of the usual small talk topics in China?
Read the pairs of sentences and answer the questions. 1. You must arrive on time at a party. You have to arrive on time at a party. 2. You mustn't take yellow flowers for the host. You don't have to take yellow flowers for the host. 3. You don't have to take a gift. You don't need to take a gift. 1. Which of the following is true about the first pair of sentences? The first one is an obligation, the second one is a suggestion. They both indicate an obligation. They are only suggestions about what to do. 2. Which of the following is true about the second pair of sentences? The first one indicates that something is against the law. They mean the same thing. The first one is an obligation, the second one indicates a lack of obligation. 3. Which of the following is true about the third pair of sentences? The second one is an obligation, the first one isn't. They mean the same thing. The first one is an obligation, the second one isn't. Write three rules for a social event in your country.
If you go to a social event in my country, 1. you have to ____. 2. you don't have to ____. 3. you mustn't ____. 4. Look at the two sentences and decide which explanation is correct. 1. We all know each other. We don't need to worry about small talk. This means ____. it isn't necessary to worry about it unfortunately we worry about it 2. The party is informal. You needn't wear a tie. This means ____. we must not wear a tie we can wear a tie if we choose Complete the sentences with verbs to express obligation or lack of obligation. 1. Stop! You 2. Don't worry. You give yellow flowers to the host! It's unlucky! eat anything you don't like. wait until the prizes have
3. I'm sorry, you can't leave. You been given. 4. 5. You you do. I
take some food to the party? take a gift to the host, but she will be very pleased if
Reading and Listening
Read and match the conversations with the places. There is one extra place. at a summer school; during a job interview; in a business meeting; on a boat
1: A: Wonderful, aren't they? B: Er ... I'm sorry? A: The cliffs. B: Oh, yes, they are. A: Been here before? B: Pardon? 2: A: So ... you wrote in your application form that you're interested in mountains. B: Yes. A: Have you ever climbed a mountain? B: No. A: Have you ever read any books about mountain-climbing? B: No. 3: A: When did you arrive? B: Yesterday. A: Nice journey? B: Very nice. A: Did the immigration people ask to see your visa? B: I didn't need to get a visa. A: Really? Why not? B: Because I was born here. A: Oh yes, of course! Answer the questions about the conversations. 1. Do you think the conversations are between people who know each other? Give reasons for your answers. 2. Which of the conversations would you call small talk? 3. What do you think about the answers in the interview? a. The answers show that the interviewee is interested
in the job. b. The answers are too short.
The answers are impolite.
Listen to the whole of the first conversation and answer the questions. 1. Do the people both speak English as a first language? 2. Why did the woman have problems understanding what the man was saying? 3. How did the man help her to understand him better? 4. Listen and check. Choose the correct endings to the lines from the conversation. 1. Sorry, I couldn't ____. hear what you said understand what you said 2. I didn't ____. like what you said catch what you said 3. Could you ____? repeat what you said explain what you said 4. You needn't have ____. spoken to me spoken so slowly 5. I just needed a few seconds ____. to get used to your voice to understand your voice
Read the sentence from the listening passage and answer the questions. You needn't have spoken so slowly. 1. Who said this? the tourist the English person 2. Why did she say it? Choose one of these possible reasons. The other person was speaking too quickly. The other person was speaking too slowly. The other person was speaking slowly and it wasn't necessary. Rewrite these sentences using needn't have done. 1. It wasn't necessary for you to bring some flowers! You needn't have brought some flowers. 2. Thank you for tidying the room—but it wasn't necessary. . 3. There was no need for you to buy the box of chocolates. . 4. Why did you go to school? It's Sunday! ! 5. Thank you for bringing the book to show me, but I already have it. . Read the sentence and decide which endings are possible. I didn't need to buy a gift for my host family ____.
so I didn't get one because I already had one so I bought one so I took it back and got a refund Complete the sentences using didn't need to or needn't have done. Example: It was an informal party so I didn't need to wear (wear) a suit. 1. We brought some food to the party but there was too much, so we (bring) any. 2. My friend spoke good Mandarin so I for him. 3. The office had already opened when we arrived so we outside in the street. 4. I got to the party at 6 p.m. but there was no one there, so I (arrive) so early. 5. I told the host all about my home town and then he told me he'd been there. I (tell) him anything! (wait) (translate) the speech
Reading and Writing
Read the email. Hi! How are you? I hope you and your family are well. I have a favour to ask. Next week, I'm going to a reception at the Chinese Embassy here in London and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm going to meet some senior high school students and their teachers. The only problem is that I'm not very good at small talk with people I don't know—I'm always worried about saying the wrong thing or making people feel bored.
I need to know what I can talk about with the Chinese people that I meet. I wonder if you would be kind enough to answer these questions. Here in England, there are certain questions that you shouldn't really ask people that you don't know—"How old are you?" for example, and "How much do you earn?" Are there any questions that you shouldn't ask people in China? What sort of things do Chinese teenagers like talking about? Sport? Music? Films? And what sort of things do they find boring? Politics? The weather? Looking forward to your reply. Alex Write a reply. Answer the main questions and offer other advice. Use some of the following sentences to start and finish your email.
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Very nice to hear from you. Thank you for your interesting email. How are you? It's a long time since I heard from you. I hope this information has been useful. Best of luck at the Chinese Embassy. Looking forward to hearing from you again soon.
Reading and Vocabulary
You're going to read a story about a saleswoman. Discuss what kind of small talk you need as a salesperson.
The Wrong Kind of Small Talk Esther Greenbaum was a saleswoman for a firm of fax machines and business supplies. But she was also the most outspoken human being in the world—well,
Westchester County, at least. Her motto was "Every time I open my mouth, I put my foot in it." Esther Greenbaum's major shortcoming was that she had a complete absence of small talk. No, that's not quite true. She had small talk, but it was the wrong kind. In fact, she had never learnt the basic rules of social communication, and as a consequence, she made systematic mistakes every time she opened her mouth. It was no coincidence either that she wasn't a very good saleswoman. One day during a meeting, Esther was introduced to an important customer, a mature woman. "Nice to meet you," she said. "How old are you?" The customer looked awkward. "Forty? Forty-five?" said Esther. "You look much older. And your friend ... she's older than you, but she looks much younger!" On another occasion, Esther teased a typist, "Hey! When's your baby due?" The typist went red and contradicted Esther. "Actually, I'm not pregnant," she said. "Oh, sorry," said Esther without any apology. "Just putting on a little weight, huh?" Esther was never cautious about other people's feelings. One of her acquaintances, a salesman in the firm, was going through a very messy divorce and was very depressed. She tried to cheer him up. "Forget her! She was a complete fool. No one liked her anyway." Much of the time, Esther said the first thing to come into her head. One day at work, a clerk came into the office with a new hairstyle. "Nice haircut," said Esther. "How much did it cost?"
The woman replied, "I'd rather not say." Esther replied, "Well, anyhow, either you paid too much or you paid too little." She met a very famous writer once. "Hey, what a coincidence!" she said. "You're writing a book and I'm reading one!" The trouble with Esther was she said what she thought, and didn't think about what she said. A young man was trying to be modest about his new job many miles away. "I guess the company chose me so they'd get some peace in the office," he smiled. "No, I guess they chose you to discourage you from spending your whole career with us," Esther replied sweetly. Once, Esther went to a brunch party to meet some old school friends on the anniversary of their graduation. She greeted the hostess. "Do you remember that guy you were dating? What happened to him?" she asked. "You know, the ugly one." At that moment, a man came up and stood by her friend. "Esther, I'd like you to meet my husband," she said. "Charles, this is ..." Esther interrupted her, "Hey, so you married him!" Read the passage and answer the questions. 1. What did Esther often do when she spoke to others? 2. What do you think are "the basic rules of social communication"? 3. Why did the customer look awkward when she was asked how old she was?
4. How did the typist contradict Esther? 5. What was wrong about Esther's advice to the salesman? 6. What did Esther think of the clerk's haircut? 7. Why did the young man think the company gave him a new job miles away? 8. What did Esther think of her old school friend's husband? Read the passage and find: 1. three things you can say when you make small talk 2. two things you should not say 3. one way of replying to questions which you don't wish to answer 4. The style of this passage is meant to be humourous and exaggerated. You look much older. And your friend, she's older than you, but she Example: looks much younger! 5. Look for more examples of humour and exaggeration in the passage. Look at the new words in the box. absence; acquaintance; anniversary; apology; awkward; brunch; cautious; clerk; customer; fax; firm; fool; haircut; hostess; human being; interrupt; mature; messy; motto; outspoken; pregnant; saleswoman; shortcoming; tease; typist Find words for: 1. a place of work: 2. people or jobs: ; 3. things you say or write: ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
4. personal characteristics / appearance: ; 5. a physical state: 6. a meal: Note: Not all the words fit these categories. Answer the questions about the words in the box.
absence; acquaintance; anniversary; apology; awkward; brunch; cautious; clerk; customer; fax; firm; fool; haircut; hostess; human being; interrupt; mature; messy; motto; outspoken; pregnant; saleswoman; shortcoming; tease; typist 1. When is the next important anniversary in your life? 2. Do people ever tease you? 3. Can you think of a personal motto? 4. When was the last apology you have given or received? 5. What are you cautious about? 6. Do you know anyone who is outspoken? Discuss the questions and give reasons for your answers. 1. Is small talk important in your society? 2. Is it as important as "real" conversation? 3. Do you think small talk is more or less important in English than in your language?
Look at the title of the passage and the words in the box. Choose five words and guess what the writer uses them to say.
argument; compliment; conversation; curious; disagreement; dull; embarrassment; factual; genuine; hospitable; lively; relationship; sensitive; secretive; silence; spy; topic; violate; wealth Making Friends in the USA In the USA, conversation is less lively than in many other cultures, where everyone talks at the same time. When someone talks, everyone is expected to listen, no matter how dull the person's speaking may be. If you're not sure what to talk about, you can ask what people do. We're defined by our jobs and we're usually happy to talk about them, unless you're a spy! Some people say that Americans talk about their feelings more than Asians, but are more secretive about factual matters. You can safely ask questions about families, where you come from, leisure interests, as well as the latest movies. We're interested in people's ethnic background too. But it's best to avoid politics, religion and other sensitive topics. A highly personal conversation can take place after a very short period of knowing someone, but this doesn't mean that you're close friends, or the relationship is very deep. But a lot of people are very friendly and hospitable, and the famous invitation "If you're ever in Minneapolis / San Diego / Poughkeepsie, do call by and see us!" is never made without a genuine desire to meet again. But while few Americans will worry about the questions you may ask, particularly if you clearly show you're aware of cultural differences, they may hesitate before they ask you similar questions. In fact, it's a sign that they don't wish to violate your private life. So, many Americans will talk about safe topics because they don't dare to be too curious or personal, but will happily talk about more private matters if you take the lead.
Generally we dislike arguments, and we avoid topics which lead to disagreement. It's easy to return to discussing the weather: "Do you like the USA? How do you like the weather?" or making compliments: "What lovely flowers and what a beautiful vase!" "That's a fabulous dress you're wearing." You should accept compliments graciously and say "Thank you!" There are a couple of dangerous topics of conversation: age and money. Age is not treated as something very special, unless someone is very old: "Isn't she wonderful for her age!" and there are no special rules or signs of extra respect for elderly people. Anyway, Americans always want to look younger than they really are, so don't expect an accurate reply! Income is a very private matter, and you'd do well to avoid asking how much people earn, although some people may not only be open about it, but show off their wealth. We don't ask how much things cost, either. But what we don't like is silence, and almost anything is better than the embarrassment of a quiet party and silent guests. Read the advice on small talk. Is it true for you? 1. You can ask about families, what people do and like, etc. 2. It's OK to talk about religion and politics. 3. You shouldn't talk about your feelings. 4. Don't ask personal questions. 5. Make sure you don't talk about the weather or give compliments. 6. You can talk about people's age and their income. 7. Choose the correct answers. 1. When a dull person talks, you should ____.
not ask personal questions ask questions change the topic of conversation listen 2. It's always OK to talk to Americans about ____. age and money their work religion and politics their private life 3. When Americans make an invitation to visit, ____. they genuinely want to see you again they don't really mean it They want to find out more about you you should accept it 4. The best way to talk about personal things is to ____. discuss the weather talk about your own private life first talk about your job ask them how old they are 5. It's best to avoid ____. spies personal questions silence dull people Complete the sentences in your own words. 1. Conversation is less lively in the USA because everyone ____. 2. Americans are happy to talk about family and personal interests, but ____. 3. If you show you're aware of cultural differences, ____.
4. You shouldn't ask how old people are because ____. 5. Although some people like to show off their wealth, ____.
Read the passage and answer the questions. 1. How does the AAA model work? 2. Is the AAA model a good idea while making small talk with someone you don't know in China? The AAA It is estimated that 80% of all conversation in English is small talk. A very important function of small talk is to establish a relationship between people who don't know each other very well, or don't know each other at all. Psychologists say that the most successful formula for small talk between people like this is the AAA model. AAA = answer, add and ask. This is how it works. Imagine a situation where two strangers are talking to each other after someone they both know has left the room, or the café or party, etc. The first person asks a question: A: Do you live near here? The second person replies by answering the question, adding some extra information and then asking another question: (Answer) Yes, I do. (Add) In an apartment on Brown Street. B: (Ask) Do you live nearby too? The first person does the same, answer, add and ask:
(Answer) No, I live in Bristol. (Add) I'm just visiting London. A: (Ask) Have you lived here long? (Answer) Not so long. (Add) I moved here three years ago. B: (Ask) What's the purpose of your visit to London? The speakers may have difficulty at first, but they soon realise that the important thing is that they are saying something. By continuing with the AAA model, the conversation continues. Because the thing they both want to avoid is an embarrassing silence. The conversation can continue in this way for a long time. However, something can happen that completely changes the atmosphere. B: Why do you live in Bristol? A: I'm studying there. History. Are you a student? Yes. And I know some people who are studying at Bristol. Do you know a B: girl called Helen Brown? A: Helen Brown!! Yes! She's one of my best friends! How do you know her? B: She's my cousin. At this point, the AAA model stops. Because they used this very useful social technique, they found something they have in common at last.