A Quick Guide to Making Small Talk in Spanish

A Quick Guide to Making Small Talk in Spanish

Small talk can be light-hearted and easy or dreadfully awkward. No matter what, though, one thing is for certain–it’s unavoidable. And now, you’re learning Spanish. This means you’ll have to make small talk–in Spanish. Cue the nerves!

How do you go about doing this? How do you break the ice and take the first step to starting a conversation in Spanish?

It might seem a little overwhelming, but don’t fret. This article is dedicated to helping you do just that. Let’s look at:

  • Conversation basics (how to make small-talk interesting)
  • Do’s and Don’ts when speaking to Spanish people
  • Introductions and greetings
  • Basic phrases to express personal information (common questions and answers)
  • Basic phrases to talk about interests (common questions and answers)

1 . Conversation basics- How to make small talk interesting

There are a few, universal ingredients to “good” small-talk. These will be the same in Spanish and in English. Of course, you’ll need to take cultural elements into account as you dive into conversations. But, as a foundation, remember:

  • Be nice! No matter your level of Spanish, if you’re nice and pleasant, you will always make a good impression.
  • It’s okay to start with the obvious. The typical “small talk” conversation we’re all familiar with is the weather. It’s okay to break the ice with something like this. Little things everyone is comfortable talking about, and has some knowledge of.
  • Do some research. Sometimes, knowing a handful of fun, interesting facts is extremely useful in small-talk situations. They spice up the conversation, and everyone loves a little bit of trivia!
  • Show interest. Be genuinely interested in what the other person is saying to you. Ask open-ended questions and respond to their answers.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all. While it’s always fun to drop in little tidbits of information, make sure you do so in a way that doesn’t make you come off as a “know-it-all.” And, in addition, don’t pretend to be an expert on something you’re not.
  • Throw in the occasional (not-creepy) compliment. You want to make the person you’re talking to feel comfortable and confident. Little things like, “I really like your shoes” or “your home is lovely” make everyone feel good. Don’t take it too far, though. Showering someone non-stop with compliments might make you seem desperate or maybe even a little “stalkerish.”
  • Don’t drag it out. Know when the conversation is over–don’t force it! Learn how to make a polite exit when there are far too many lulls or when things start to get uncomfortable.
  • Don’t do all the talking. If you’re like me, you’re a nervous talker. Sometimes, for people like us, it’s hard to stop once we’ve gotten started. Learn to reign it in and give the other person their fair chance to participate in the chat.

2. Do’s and Dont’s when speaking to Spanish people

While small-talk is a universal thing, topics considered appropriate for small-talk are not. In English, we don’t usually consider someone’s marital status to be fair game for casual conversation. In Spain, though, it’s not uncommon that this question comes up. In the United States politics may be a hot-topic, but it’s one that almost everyone seems to talk about constantly. In Spain, this topic is avoided like the plague!

Here’s a quick guide to some of the basics do’s and don’ts when making small talk in Spanish:

Do:

  • Stick to casual topics (the weather, likes, dislikes, movies, etc.)
  • Make eye contact–it shows you’re interested
  • Respond to what you’re hearing. In English, we’ll do things like nod or respond with facial expression. In Spanish, they expect a vocal response as a sign of interest in the conversation. Here are some of the responses you’ll hear a lot:
    • Ah, ¿sí?– Oh, yeah?
    • Vale– Okay
    • ¿En serio?– Really?
    • Ya– Yeah (although ya means “yet” when used in colloquial conversation, it’s considered the equivalent to the English “yeah”).
    • ¡Vaya!– Wow!
    • Madre mía– My goodness
  • Use body language. Spaniards are expressive people, both verbally and physically. Not only do they move their hands a lot when they’re speaking, they have certain gestures that represent very specific things. For some examples of these, check out the videos in this article on how to speak Spanish like a Spaniard by clicking HERE.

Don’t

  • Talk about politics. Trust me, it’s just better to avoid this topic until you’re extremely comfortable with someone, and even then it’s rarely brought up!
  • Talk about jobs/ employment. Due to the crisis, the topic of work has become somewhat taboo in Spain.
  • Be too distant–in the literal sense. Spaniards tend to stand very close to each other. As an American with a permanent “personal space bubble” around me, this was rather uncomfortable for me at first. Don’t worry, though, you get used to it.
  • Be offended if you get interrupted when talking. This goes along with a point we made earlier. In Spain, people are constantly talking over each other. It’s their way of actively participating in the conversation.
  • Talk about bullfighting, unless you’re prepared for the aftermath. This is a very polemic topic, and one that arouses a lot of passion in people (either for or against the sport)
  • Be too “braggy.” Putting too much emphasis on your personal achievements and success can be considered off-putting.

If you’re still not sure what is safe to talk about with a Spaniard (aside from the basics), here’s a list of topics that are always sure to please:

  • Football/ Soccer
  • Food (especially Spanish food–they’re very proud of it)
  • Spanish wines and/or beers
  • The city/ region in Spain they are from. Spaniards are very proud of where they came from. So, if you do enter into this topic, make sure you avoid throwing in any negative comments about their homeland.
  • Typical Spanish traditions, holidays, or festivals. Everyone loves to talk about their culture, and to learn about others.

3. Introductions and Greetings

Introducing yourself in Spanish isn’t overly complicated, but it does require a mini lesson of its own. For a quick summary on how to introduce yourself in Spanish, check out this article HERE.

4. Personal information

Giving and asking for personal information is an integral part of conversing with someone new. This doesn’t mean you have to ask about very personal things, but things that are unique about the individual you’re talking to. Below you’ll find some examples of questions you might ask or be asked and how to answer them.

Note: These are given using both the “tú” (informal) and “usted” (formal) options. Depending on who you’re speaking to and the situation you’re in, you may need to use one or the other. For example, in Spain, the “tú” form is used in most situations, whereas in certain Latin American countries the “usted” form is always used with strangers.

Spanish
English
¿Cómo te llamas? (Informal)
¿Cómo se llama? (formal)
What’s your name?
Me llamo.../ Mi nombre es...My name is...
¿Cómo estás? (informal)
¿Cómo está? (formal)
How are you?
Estoy bien, gracias.I’m fine, thank you.
¿Cuántos años tienes? (informal)
¿Cuántos años tiene? (formal)
How old are you?
Tengo X años. I am X years old.
¿De dónde eres?
¿De dónde es?
Where are you from?
Soy de España. I’m from Spain.
Soy de los Estados Unidos.I’m from the United States.
Soy de la República Dominicana.I’m from the Dominican Republic.
Soy de México. I’m from Mexico.
¿Dónde vives? (informal)
¿Dónde vive? (formal)
Where do you live?
Vivo en Madrid. I live in Madrid.
Vivo en Buenos Aires. I live in Buenos Aires.
¿Cuál es tu número de teléfono? (informal)
¿Cuál es su número de teléfono? (formal)
What is your phone number?
Mi número de teléfono es...My phone number is...
¿Estás casado/a? (informal)
¿Está casado/a? (formal)
Are you married.
Sí, estoy casado/a. Yes, I’m married.
No, no estoy casado/a.No, I’m not married.
Estoy soltero/a. I’m single.
¿Tienes hermanos? (informal)
¿Tiene hermanos? (formal)
Do you have any siblings?
Sí, tengo dos hermanos y una hermana. Yes, I have two brothers and one sister.
Sí, tengo un hermano. Yes, I have one brother.
No, soy hijo/a única. No, I’m an only child.
No, no tengo hermanos. No, I don’t have siblings.
¿A qué te dedicas? (informal)
¿A qué se dedica? (formal)
What do you do for a living?
Soy médico/a. I’m a doctor.
Soy estudiante.I’m a student
Soy abogado/a.I’m a lawyer.
Soy dentista.*I’m a dentist.
Soy profesor/aI’m a teacher.

*Some professions, such as dentista, periodista, electricista (the ones that end in ista) will be the same in their masculine and feminine forms.

5. Common questions and answers

There are a whole slew of other questions you can ask or expect to be asked that don’t deal directly with your personal life. These are things like your hobbies or interests. For some of the most common questions and how to answer them, check out the table below.

Note: Again, questions will be given in both the formal and informal ways.

English
Spanish
¿Cuál es tu deporte preferido? (informal)
¿Cuál es su deporte preferido? (formal)
What is your favorite sport?
¿Te gustan los deportes? (informal)
¿Le gustan los deportes? (formal)
Do you like sports?
¿Practicas algún deporte? (informal)
¿Practica algún deporte? (formal)
Do you do any sports?
Me gusta jugar a...I like to play...
Me gusta ver...I like to watch...
Practico...I play...
Mi deporte preferido es...My favorite sport is...
¿Cuáles son tus pasatiempos? (informal)
¿Cuáles son sus pasatiempos? (formal)
What are your pastimes?
¿Tienes un hobby? (informal)
¿Tiene un hobby? (formal)
Do you have a hobby?
Me gusta...I like...
Me gusta cocinar.I like to cook.
Me gusta leer. I like to read.
Me gusta salir con amigos. I like to go out with friends.
En mi tiempo libre...In my free time...
Voy al cine.I go to see movies.
Paso tiempo con mis amigos. I spend time with my friends.
¿Tienes una mascota? (informal)
¿Tiene una mascota? (formal)
Do you have a pet?
Sí, tengo un gato. Yes, I have a cat.
Sí, tengo un perro. Yes, I have a dog.
No, no tengo una mascota. No, I don’t have a pet.
¿Te gusta la música? (informal)
¿Le gusta la música? (formal)
Do you like music?
Sí, me gusta el jazz. Yes, I like jazz.
Sí, me gusta el rock. Yes, I like rock.
Sí, me gusta el hip-hop. Yes, I like hip-hop.
No, no me gusta la música. No, I don’t like music.
¿Tocas algún instrumento? (informal)
¿Toca algún instrumento? (formal)
Do you play an instrument?
Sí, toco el piano.Yes, I play the piano.
Sí, toco la guitarra. Yes, I play the guitar.
Sí, toco la batería. Yes, I play the drums.
No, no toco ningún instrumento. No, I don’t play an instrument.
¿Qué tipo de películas te gusta? (informal)
¿Qué tipo de películas le gusta? (formal)
What type of movies do you like?
Prefiero las películas románticas. I prefer romance movies.
Me gustan las películas de miedo/ terror.I like horror movies.
Me gustan las películas de risa/ comedia. I like funny/ comedy movies.

Conclusion

This has just been a quick guide to how to navigate the surprisingly complicated world of small-talk. What do you think? Do you have any experiences making small-talk in Spanish that you want to share? Lessons you learned? Mistakes or taboos to avoid? We’d love to hear your input!

About the Author Ana

Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.

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