American Culture Idioms, Expressions, Vocabulary International Student Life

English Small Talk + Friend “Dates” in the Bay Area

February 7, 2017

It’s the same fear every English learner has: after leaving the classroom–where you feel confident in your English skills–you go into the “real world” and see an American with whom you want to start a conversation. And suddenly? You’re frozen! Don’t worry: starting small talk is easy if you know a little vocabulary. Let’s look at some English small talk vocabulary to help you begin conversations with strangers. You’ll soon be making friends with everyone you meet!



English Small Talk 

Try some of these approaches to beginning (and continuing) a conversation in English.

A compliment

Do you really like the person’s shoes? Or sunglasses? Tell them!

Language to use:

  • I really love your _____. It’s so _____ (adjective)! Where did you get it?
  • What a cool _____! I’ve never seen one like that before!
  • Wow, your _____ is so awesome. I love it!

An observation

You two are in a similar situation of some sort: what about the situation can you say?

Language to use:

  • (At the bus stop.) Are you also waiting for the bus? Do you know when it’s coming?
  • (At a coffee shop/in line to order at a casual restaurant.) This is a cool place. I’ve never been here before. Do you have any recommendations for what I should order?
  • (Before class.) Did you finish the homework? What did you think of the reading/listening/writing assignment?
  • (Before class.) How’s this course going for you so far?


Common Interests

If you’re in a situation where you have the same interest as someone, say something!

Language to use:

  • Hey, nice San Francisco Giants hat! I’m also a huge Giants fan.
  • (Do) you practice yoga too? I noticed your yoga mat.
  • I see you’re drinking a coffee from Philz. How is that place? I’ve heard great things.
  • Are you also waiting for orientation? Cool! Me too. Are you excited?

General Questions

You can always ask general questions to help keep the conversation going.

Language to use:

  • Hi. I see that you’re sitting alone. Would you like to have lunch with us?
  • Hi, can I join you? I’m not interrupting, am I?
  • Is this seat taken?

Here are some more examples of longer conversations (and questions to ask in order to keep the conversation going).

  • So, are you from here?
    • You are? Cool! So you’re a local. Do you have any recommendations for things I can do for fun around here?
    • You’re not? Me neither! I’m from _____.
      • Where are you originally from?
      • How long have you been living here? (Or, “How long have you lived here?”)
      • Why did you decide to move here?
      • How do you like it so far?
      • What’s your hometown like?
  • What do you do? (This means “what’s your job?”)
    • Interesting! How long have you had this job?
    • Do you like it?
      • (Talk about your job experience next.)
  • What do you do in your free time?
  • Have you traveled much? Where have you been?
  • Oh, so you’re a student. What are you studying?
    • Do you have any recommendations for cool classes or professors?

You see? English small talk isn’t so difficult after all!

english small talk

Friend “dates” in the SF Bay Area 

After all that English small talk, perhaps you realize that you’re talking to someone you’d like to be friends with. Invite them somewhere! Here are some ideas for things to do with your new friend.

Have a picnic

What’s your favorite local park? Check it out together!

Language to use:

  • Hey, I was thinking about having a picnic next week. Want to come? What’s your schedule like/What day works for you?

Go shopping

Some people prefer shopping alone, while others prefer a friend to give them advice on clothing, gifts, etc. Check out our SF Shopping Guide for some ideas on where to shop!

Language to use:

  • I’ve got to go shopping because I really need some new shoes. Want to come with me? I was thinking about going next weekend if you’re free.

Grab a coffee

We detailed some of the coolest coffee shops in the SF Bay Area. Check them out with your new friend!

Language to use:

  • Have you ever heard of this coffee shop called Philz? I read it’s really popular and I really want to check it out. Want to come with me sometime?

See a movie

Seeing a movie together is an easy friend date (and cheap if you go to a matinee)! Plus, you’re improving your English listening skills!

Language to use:

  • Do you like ______ (genre) movies? I really want to go see that new movie called ______ (title). Want to come with me?

Attend a local festival 

Perhaps you’ve looked on sites such as Thrillist or SF Gate and you know about some upcoming festivals or events. Invite your new friend to join you!

  • There’s a _____ festival next weekend. Want to come with me? It looks super fun!

Keep Learning: Use this post in the classroom!

Keep the conversation about English small talk going . . . in the IEC@DVC classroom!


  • Do you have a best friend? Describe how you met him or her.
  • Are relationships with people of the opposite gender more or less complicated? Why do you think so?
  • Who is the most eccentric friend you have? Describe him or her.


  • What are some other ideas for small talk? Write a list!


  • Some people say it’s harder to make friends as you get older. Do you agree or disagree? Write an argumentative essay explaining your position. Use specific examples to support your argument.


  • Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be best friends with a genius? Check out this Ted Talk by Leonard Susskind.

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