Small Talk in Business English

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Why We Teach And Use SMALL TALK

In Business English Lessons.

I was asked, by a fellow teacher, why we use small talk in Business English lessons. To them, talking about topics not strictly business related seemed unprofessional and something they would never do. I thought about this and realised that the teacher has no idea what small talk is and its use in the corporate world, in any business situation in an English-speaking environment.

What Is Small Talk?

In order to understand why small talk is so important, we need to understand what small talk is.
Small talk is often called a vital social skill. It is a conversation opener, informal, polite and revolving around unimportant things. It can fill an uncomfortable silence or lead to more productive conversation. Small talk can concern almost anything so long as it is appropriate. Topics such as the weather, weekend plans, holiday plans, special local events, food, and sports are all acceptable small-talk subjects. We don’t use politics, religion, and controversial topics as small talk topics.

Small talk isn’t about sharing information; it’s about creating bonds, building rapport, finding common ground, validating a person, combatting loneliness and making human connections.

The Importance Of Small Talk In The Corporate World.

Is small talk important in work situations, or should small talk be considered unprofessional?

In English-speaking companies, small talk is a vital part of corporate communication. Small talk skills are not only taught to Business English students but also in Corporate Business, and Sales and Marketing and Human Resources specialist trainers also teach small talk skills.

It is used as an icebreaker in meetings and to build rapport, and trust, between customers and clients, leading to a more relaxed but stronger business relationship. Small talk within the office creates stronger connections between colleagues, which results in a better understanding and stronger team connections. With the rise of remote working, small talk can lead to reconnecting with colleagues, combating loneliness and maintaining social skills, all while building and maintaining strong connections within the team and company.

Business English Learners Value Natural Speaking Practice.

Business English learners state their need to develop their English-speaking social skills, so they can communicate with others in social settings, when travelling, on holiday and with their colleagues, clients and customer to build rapport and develop team and business networks. They want to feel part of the team but know they can’t restrict their English skills to formal business vocabulary and settings.

Why Do Business English Teachers Teach And Use Small Talk?

We know that students need to have the skills around small talk to function in the corporate business world, so naturally, we have them learn and practice the skills.
We are also, however, using small talk to set the tone for the sessions. Most business students I have had, have stated they don’t wasn’t to feel they are back in school, nor do they want another stressful business meeting. I use small talk to set a relaxed tone, where the learners can come, relax and practice this speaking, listening and thinking in English, all of which are easier to do if you are relaxed.
Once we have set the tone, we use small talk to practice grammar and vocabulary while developing the ability to think faster while informally speaking in English.

A simple example is asking about what they did at the weekend. When the teacher asks them about last weekend, we are getting them to practice using all of the past tenses, whereas, if we ask them about what they may be doing next weekend, we are looking for future tense use.

Now you know why professional business English language teachers, using modern teaching practices, teach and use small talk in almost every session. 

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