There’s a wise saying, often attributed to Ernest Hemingway: “It takes two years to learn to talk and sixty to learn to keep quiet.”
We say, you can learn the art of chitchat much faster than that! (Learning how to keep quiet? That’s a topic for a different post.)
But if El Morro, Chichen Itza or Museo del Prado are in your future, it’s essential that you learn to chat with ease.
Whenever you’re exploring the world, la charla (small talk) is necessary!
Think of all the introductions, directions and getting-to-know-you chats you have with absolute strangers.
Small talk is useful in restaurants, on streets and in clubs—virtually everywhere you go!
Whether you’re traveling the world or making a Spanish-speaking friend, communication is key.
Let’s talk about how la charla turns strangers into friends.
Why Spanish Small Talk Is Essential
Sometimes small talk is called la charla de trivialidades (the small talk of trivial things) but it’s definitely not trivial.
Think about all the times you pull your Spanish skills into play.
When you’re traveling, small talk is necessary to get from point A to point B—without getting lost.
Attending to business? You use small talk to make a connection with your Spanish-speaking business associates.
And if you’re speaking Spanish to someone with a mind toward a blossoming friendship or even a new romance? There’s nothing like small talk to open the lines of communication.
There’s no doubt about it: Book learning is required for taking your Spanish language to its highest point.
But small talk? It’s completely indispensable in real-world situations.
How to Practice Your Small Talk Skills
Chatting is a fun part of any language program. And it’s a completely mobile, on-the-fly component of your studies that requires no apps or books to practice!
Just look for local events where others who either speak or are studying Spanish hang out.
Museums, foreign films and even Spanish cooking classes at a local college are good starting points for finding chatting amigos (friends).
Think Spanish clubs are prime spots for socializing? You’re right!
Most Spanish clubs offer learning resources, but they also rely heavily on social events to keep membership up. Search the web or ask at the nearest library for one near you—then join in the fun!
If you can’t find anything near you, language partners are ideal for practicing small talk.
Try Tandem to find a chat partner. Just sign up, log in and choose someone near or far to share your small talk with.
Looking for more? Check out WeSpeke, a free online Spanish-learning site with chat rooms. Either text or video chat your way to small talk success!
Found someone to talk to? Great! There are a few points to remember when you’re practicing your small talk.
Depending on who you’re speaking with, you’ll need to be conscious of the usted (you, formal) and tú (you, casual) forms.
Some chat situations might find you paired with someone much older than you and you wouldn’t want to flub your chances of getting a good talking partner just because you inadvertently seem disrespectful. If you’re unsure of which form to use, err on the side of formality—at least in the initial conversations.
As in most languages and situations, skip controversial topics. They’re not really small talk subjects, anyway.
Stay neutral and go basic when broaching chitchat topics. Health, weather, sports and general information about yourself provide lots of material and can lead to more involved conversations.
Spanish Small Talk Expressions for Casual Conversations
The least complicated way to open up any small talk session is to say hello!
Buenos días. (Good morning.)
Buenas tardes. (Good afternoon.)
Buenas noches. (Good night.)
You’ll notice that buenos días literally translates into “good day” but if it’s before noon, this is the typical greeting.
After lunch, switch to buenas tardes.
And from late evening onward, it’s buenas noches.
¿Cómo está usted? / ¿Cómo estás? (How are you?)
Estoy bien, gracias. (I’m fine, thanks.)
¿Y usted? / ¿Y tú? (And you?)
Inquiring about someone’s health is always a safe bet.
Here, you’ll see that the usted/tú issue comes into play. Just be conscious of it and choose accordingly. Remember, it’s fine to go formal if you’re unsure.
A side note: Don’t expect to always get a completely honest answer when you inquire about a person’s well-being. In many situations, you’ll hear “Estoy bien, gracias” and find out later that the person wasn’t as well as he or she indicated.
Often, you have to reach a certain level of familiarity before a person will tell you how they really feel. This knowledge was gleaned first-hand from living near my Tía Susana and her daughters. They could be horribly ill but would always smile and respond, “Estoy bien, ¡gracias!”
Expressing your joy at meeting someone is simple:
Mucho gusto. (Nice to meet you.)
Encantado/a de conocerlo/a. / Encantado/a de conocerte. (Nice to meet you.)
Chatting about the weather is a great ice-breaker!
Hace buen tiempo. (The weather is nice.)
Va a llover. (It’s going to rain.)
¡Es un día caluroso! (It’s a hot day!)
¡Este clima es horrible! (This weather is horrible!)
El sol está bien hoy. (The sun is nice today.)
The conversation is rolling along now!
It’s time to get down to some specifics. Let’s introduce ourselves:
¿Cómo se llama? / ¿Cómo te llamas? (Literally, What do you call yourself?)
Me llamo… (I call myself…)
Mi nombre es … (My name is…)
This is a necessary question if you plan to become more than waving-on-the-street acquaintances with someone.
You can reply using “I call myself…” or “My name is…” Both are acceptable!
Moving forward, we’ll get into the topic of languages!
¿Usted habla español? / ¿Tú hablas español? (Do you speak Spanish?)
Un poco. (A little.)
Hablo un poco de español. (I speak a little Spanish.)
Hablo bien el español. (I speak Spanish well.)
The point of Spanish small talk is to speak in Spanish but sometimes we need to know that if we get “stuck” on a word or phrase, we’ll be able to switch back to English.
No worries, most of us feel that way! So come clean on your Spanish skills and hopefully your small talk friend will, too.
Establishing a sense of place in a conversation is often a good way to make a connection. Maybe you’ll share some knowledge of the other person’s hometown. Or maybe they’ve visited the state you’re from!
Showing where you’re from is a good way to keep the conversational ball rolling.
¿Eres de por aquí? ¿Usted es de por aquí? (Are you from around here?)
No, no soy de por aquí. (No, I’m not from around here.)
Sí, vivo cerca. (Yes, I live nearby.)
Soy de los Estados Unidos. (I’m from the United States.)
Then, move on to the interesting things that make us individuals—like hobbies, food and shopping!
Here are some words you can use to talk about your hobbies:
¿Tiene un hobby? / ¿Tienes un hobby? (Do you have a hobby?)
Me gusta… (I like…)
…bailar (…to dance)
…cocinar (…to cook)
…cantar (…to sing)
…viajar (…to travel)
…correr (…to jog)
…escribir (…to write)
…leer (…to read)
Try some sports small talk:
¿Ve el béisbol? / ¿Ves el béisbol? (Do you watch baseball?)
¿Vio el juego anoche? / ¿Viste el juego anoche? (Did you see the game last night?)
Fútbol americano (American football)
Food conversations are fun, too:
¿Hay un buen restaurante cerca de aquí? (Is there a good restaurant nearby?)
Me gusta la comida local. (I like local food.)
Soy vegetariano/a. (I am vegetarian.)
Me gusta el pescado. (I like fish.)
Me gustan las hamburguesas. (I like hamburgers.)
¿Qué tipo de comida le/te gusta? (What kind of food do you like?)
Shopping is always an adventure:
¿Hay buenas tiendas cerca? (Are there good shops nearby?)
Voy de compras. (I’m going shopping.)
Close out the conversation with a wave and a smile—and revel in your small talk success!
Adiós. (Good bye.)
¡Hasta la vista! (See you soon!)
¡Hasta luego! (See you soon!)
And if you’re in Spain, here’s an add-on that’ll go over well with locals. It’s not generally used in other Spanish-speaking countries but you’ll hear it in on the streets of Madrid:
No Spanish course is complete and real fluency can’t be obtained until small talk is part of your repertoire.
So become a small talk expert to open up all sorts of amazing possibilities! You’ll be able to approach and talk to anyone!
Have fun and good luck!