This is a summary of an #ELTchat that took place on Twitter on April 17, 2019 and then ran in a slowburn mode for the next 24 hours. I took part in it because I had recently suggested discussing the topic. The idea had taken shape in the comments under a blog post on Small Talk I had recently written (click here– all hyperlinks open in new tabs. It was in fact @haannaahmac who is the author of the idea that there should be a small talk map of the world available for the ELT teachers to consult when they are preparing their lessons on this subject. I immediately became very fond of the idea, brought it up on Twitter and @Marisa_C agreed to make it an #ELTchat topic.
The chat began by the participants specifying the topic. @SueAnnan asked for a definition:
I tweeted that I meant social situations in which the parties didn’t know one another well or at all, such as picking up a visitor or small talk before a meeting began and @SueAnnan mentioned having taught a lesson on small talk recently, in which she dealt with taboo topics, showing interest, but alo intonation patterns.
Importance of Small Talk
Conversation then drifted to how important small talk was and this is where opinions started to vary. @EWorld2019 was of the opinion that small talk is important as a good icebreaker and no special talent was needed. @SueAnnan suggested than everybody liked talking about themselves. I, on the other hand, pointed out that Czechs aren’t particularly keen on engaging in small talk. They either prefer going straight to the topic or quickly try to find common ground and talk about things of interest to everyone. I gave an example of the question “How are you?” – we Czechs tend to view it as a genuine question and actually answer it with an account of what has been going on, which might cause some intercultural misunderstanding. Surprisingly, @jonjoTESOL shared this view:
He went on to say that he declines giving a “canned” response to this question, preferring instead to offer an honest answer.
Other than honesty versus politeness, the factors contributing to small talk mentioned were that of creating rapport by @MoreMsJackson, permitted and non-permitted subjects by @Marisa_C and non-verbal cues by @jonjoTESOL.
The Map of Small Talk
We then moved onto discussing the shared platform for small talk around the globe. @fionaljp suggested going “live” with the #ELTchat to discuss it and using the #smalltalk hashtag on Twitter while I put forward the idea of a collaborated e-book. We also talked about using Padlet or a shared Google Doc, but @Marisa_C beat us all to it by instantly creating a ZeeMap on the ELTchat blog where we can all contribute with local information about small talk rules. To be honest, I am not sure yet how the contributions can be made, but am hoping the #ELTchat moderators will perhaps post the instructions of use there.
Call to Action
I am strongly convinced that this ZeeMap is going to be a life-changing tool for the ELT teachers around the globe. Imagine you no longer have to search the internet for ideas when you are about to teach a Small Talk lesson. All you would need to do is to access the map and find relevant information.
That is why I would really love this to happen and if you can, do post some info about “small talk rules” in your countries, wherever you are. Because, as @EWorld2019 said, finding relevant, easily available information might save us from potentially embarrassing situations.
Many of the participants have shared their, often very amusing, stories with small talk. I think they perfectly illustrate that there isn’t just one way to go about small talk, and the role of us, teachers, is not only to teach the correct language, but also to facilitate these intercultural aspects.
Here are some of the stories, enjoy!
Greece and Scotland:
Catholic or Protestant?
Finally, I’d like to thank the #ELTchat moderators for organising this chat and sharing my excitement in the shared Small Talk platform. I really appreciate I am part of such a collegial group of people.
Lastly, please do comment and contribute your ideas, remarks or objections!
2 thoughts on “Small Talk Around the World”
Hi Kamila. In all the countries I’ve lived in the weather has been the go-to conversation starter (UK, France, Spain). I’ve noticed in Spain, where possible, people will try and find someone you know in common as this is how many seem to form a connection. At least in English we don’t have the tu/vous or tu/usted issue to contend with when we make small talk. I’m interested to see how this idea progresses.
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Hi Geraldine, thank you for reading, commenting and spreading the word about this chat! I think weather is a great topic, too. It’s easy enough and important to everyone. If I have a 121 Czech student, I teach talking about the weather very early, and the students are then so happy to have successful little small talk 🙂 In Czech we would tend to use the formal “vous” at first, but often you have to switch to “tu” and that requires some complicated language+knowing the right verb form. So indeed, in that regard, English is easier. I’d love to see that map happen, so we shall see 🙂 Cheers!