Top 3 things to remember when making small talk with a native-speaker

16.01.27 English Tips

So, you’ve been studying hard in class, and want to speak English to someone other than your teacher. Great! But how? Many students have trouble making small talk*. Some have tried, but have been unsuccessful. Don’t give up!  If you are friendly, open and chatty, things should be okay. To help you, here are the top 3 things to remember when making small talk with native English speakers:

#1: It is not a lesson – Most native-speakers are friendly and happy to talk to you. After all, most have chosen to visit or live in Japan because they want to learn about the country and the people. However, some people (especially English teachers) will not be interested if it is not a “real” conversation.  So, avoid saying things like, “I want to speak English,” or “Please teach me English.” Also, the other person may want to practice Japanese, so try using both languages. Good communication should be your goal.

#2:  Ask good questions – Foreigners living in Japan have been asked the same basic questions many, many times –and some may resent* being asked again. While it’s fine to ask, “Where are you from?” and “What brings you to Japan?” these don’t have to be your first questions. You should definitely avoid* questions such as, “Can you use chopsticks?” and “Do you like (natto)?” Finally, some people don’t like being asked personal questions, such as “Are you married?” It is best to ask questions connected to the situation you are in; for example, if you are at a concert, ask them about music.

#3: Read the atmosphere – You don’t want to be KY (kuuki yomenai). Consider how you would begin chatting with a Japanese person. If someone is having a serious discussion or seems tired, wait for a better time to introduce yourself. Similarly, once you start chatting, don’t stay too long. Look for signs (e.g. body language or facial expressions) that the person is still interested in the conversation. If they seem bored or distracted*, politely say, “Thank you for talking. Hope we can talk more soon.” And leave. If your first conversation is short and friendly, that person will be more likely to want to talk with you again.
These tips are things to consider, but don’t panic about them. Naturally, the more you practicing making small talk, the better you will get. Good luck and enjoy chatting!

*small talk: 世間話、雑談、ちょっとした会話
*resent:  怒る、憤る
*avoid: 避ける
*distracted: (注意等を)散らす、そらす