Thursday, October 25, 2007

Teaching Small Talk to ESL Students

I've mentioned before that some of my advanced ESL students have asked me about making "small talk." Most want to learn about it so that they can use it at work, especially. Every now and then, I take it upon myself to bring up the issue to my students even if they haven't asked me about it.

I always greet my students with the typical, "How are you?" Every now and then, I get a student who gives a very long answer. Well, as most Americans (and others) know, this question is really a form of greeting. The typical response should be something like, "Fine, thank you. And you?"

This doesn't necessarily mean that Americans are insincere. It's just that the initial "How are you?" should be thought of more as a traditional greeting, rather then a real request for information, or even genuine concern. We may follow up with a more genuine question like, "How are you, really?" if we are closer to the person.

If my ESL students aren't aware of this social skill, then they may turn off others when they are really trying to be polite and genuine. So I think it's a useful thing to teach.



Anonymous said...

I do not agree with you on the fact that: "should be thought of more as a traditional greeting, rather then a real request for information"

It actually is asking for the information, unless you are asking it to a whole group and even then it is still a request for information.

The worst thing you can do is ask someone "How are you?" and then keep walking or turn around like you don't care. For a lot of people this would be insulting.

Students should know the different situations!

Cheryl Ceralde-Elson said...

I agree that it is used as a traditional greeting and not meant for a long drawn out explanations. However, there are times where people are really asking the question and expecting a real, authentic answer. Those times can be distinguished by vocal intonation.