German Small Talk Tips

A long time ago, when I first asked my German friend Chris about the “deal” with small talk in Germany, he said something along the lines of: “It’s too much for us. In Germany, small talk is a nod of the head.”

He also told me that German people are generally very honest and will speak in an open way, and added that this can sometimes make small talk difficult, as you might get some answers you aren’t expecting.

I laughed at first, completely unaware that, in Germany, people often think small talk or  oberflächliche Konversation (lit. “superficial conversation”) is a complete waste of time.

So, if you’re learning German, it’s important to think of small talk in a slightly different way!

Before we get into the specific German small talk phrases you can use, watch these two hilarious videos—both of which (in my opinion) perfectly sum up what native German speakers feel about oberflächliche Konversation in general. 


Basic Introductions and Questions

german small talk

In many ways, German is a frank and specific language. Generally, conversations have a deeper meaning or value even if they’re relatively short.

Often, topics that you’re genuinely interested in are a good way to kick off a conversation. But if a suitable subject is eluding you at the moment, you can always go with a classic like:

Wie geht es Ihnen? — How are you? (formal)

Wie geht es dir? How are you? (informal)

Notice the differences in the pronoun you’re using to address the person you’re talking to.  Ihnen (you) is more formal and is used for people like your teachers, professors, bosses and the elderly, while  dir (you) is more colloquial.

If you’re with familiar company and are in a casual context, you can also use more informal phrases like:

Wie geht’s dir shorter version of “How are you?”

wie geht’s — How’s it going? (colloquial)

According to Chris (my German friend), most small talk convos in German are related to travel, even if it’s only for a short-term trip or journey. I remember he once asked me:

Wie war Ihre Anreise?  — How was your journey here?

And I responded with:

Gut, danke! — Good, thank you!

Questions and Small Talk About Football

german small talk

As a German learner, knowing some football and soccer-related vocabulary will help you get in with the locals and give you heaps of discussion material.

After all, they won the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final, and they’ve historically had a great track record as far as football is concerned. To quote my friend Chris: “The real German small talk starts right here!”

Some football-related small talk phrases to get you started include:

Für welche Mannschaft bist du? — What team do you support?

Hast du gestern das Spiel gesehen? — Did you see the match yesterday?

Ja, es war ein sehr gutes Spiel! — Yes, it was a good game!

Small Talk About the Weather

german small talk

If there’s such a thing as a universal small talk topic, the weather would have to be it. Be sure to brush up on your German weather vocabulary to help you make appropriate comments—rain or shine!

Wie ist das Wetter? — How is the weather?

Heute ist es sehr kalt! — It’s cold today!

Heute ist es sehr heiß! — It’s hot today!

Morgen soll es regnen.  — It’s supposed to rain tomorrow.

Free Time and Hobbies

german small talk

Asking about someone’s interests is a great way to start a more meaningful conversation. As I’ve mentioned earlier, if the Germans do engage in oberflächliche Konversation, it has to be about something substantial.

Was sind deine Hobbies?  — What are your hobbies?

Was machst du in deiner Freizeit?  — What do you do in your free time?

Was für Musik hörst du?  — What kind of music do you listen to?

Speaking of German music, some famous German musicians you can check out include Wolfgang Petry and AnnenMayKantereit.

Ich spiele Fußball. — I play football.

Ich gehe gerne … — I like to go …

Ich gehe gerne schwimmen. I like to go swimming.

Ich gehe gerne joggen. I like to go jogging.

Ich gehe gerne ins Kino. I like to go to the cinema.

Ich gehe gerne shoppen. I like to go shopping.

Ich gehe gerne klettern. I like to go climbing.

You could also say something like Ich _____  gerne (I like to _____). For example:

Ich koche gerne.  — I like to cook.

Another common way to say you like something is:

gefällt mir — is pleasing to me

gefallen mir — are pleasing to me

For example, you could say:

Dieses Buch gefällt mir. — This book is pleasing to me.

Travel and Holiday

german small talk

Germans love to travel. In fact, Germany is the second biggest outbound tourism spender in the world behind the United States. Funnily enough, they often visit the same spot every year—and my friend Chris is no exception.

Their love of travel extends to within national borders, too. It’s common for domestic travelers to stay in a Schrebergarten , a type of “rented garden” where they have barbecue, beers and a good ol’ time.

So it’s no surprise that you can easily start a conversation in German with travel phrases like:

Wie war dein Urlaub?  — How was your vacation?

Wir waren in Mallorca im Urlaub und es war großartig! — We were in Mallorca on vacation and it was great!

Wir hatten sehr gutes Wetter und haben nette Leute kennengelernt. — We had very good weather and met nice people.

Small Talk Topics to Avoid

german small talk

Of course, there are certain small talk topics that are generally avoided in Germany. Fortunately for language learners, they’re mostly the same as the United States and many other countries.

In general, money, politics and intimate or private family matters are avoided in German small talk conversation.

Why Learn German Small Talk?

We’ve already mentioned several times throughout this post that small talk is hardly used in German. So why bother learning it at all?

I think this form of conversation is still absolutely necessary to learn for the following reasons:

  • Small talk often consists of basic phrases and sentence structures. This means you can use small talk to practice and hone your conversational German skills, which are essential to moving on to more advanced topics. Basically, if you’re a beginner, you have to start somewhere!
  • It will still earn you respect. You might be surprised to learn that my German friends are very conscious of the fact that their language is complex for non-native speakers. Because of this, any attempts by foreigners to speak in their mother tongue are generally well-received, even if it’s oberflächliche Konversation.
  • Simple discussion starters are useful. If you’re trying to meet new people and explore the German culture, small talk is still a part of this. Basic phrases and introductions can go a long way in helping you network in the country, especially if you’re looking for work or traveling to Germany.
  • It’s a stereotype. Just like all stereotypes, the idea that “Germans hate small talk” only applies to some—but definitely not all—of the population in Germany. Even there, you’re likely to come across people who are more than happy to just “shoot the breeze” with a bit of small talk.
  • It beats silence. If there’s one thing worse than small talk, it would have to be silence. Having some go-to phrases in your back pocket is a great way to fill in any awkward moments as well as spark conversations with strangers.

How Do I Learn German Small Talk?

So, what’s the best approach to learning these small talk phrases in German? Here are a few tips:

  • Practice speaking with Germans. Finding a German conversation partner to practice speaking with can help you with these mini-conversations. Not only will you pick up phrases, but you’ll also learn the right context to use them and get valuable feedback on your pronunciation.
  • Study the question form in German. This way, you’ll be able to expand into basic small talk phrases with ease. Knowing how to ask questions in German is one of the first steps toward meaningful and educational discussions, which Germans always appreciate.
  • Learn more casual German expressions. You can grow your German vocabulary for casual expressions by diving into German media like vlogs and movies.  Whatever your language level is, one platform that can be helpful for this would be FluentU

FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

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So what do you think? Are you brave enough to start a “small talk” discussion with some German friends? Remember to stick to the key phrases and topics to avoid awkward moments, and always have some football talk ready to go!

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