Small talk is a big deal! Conversational Spanish topics that are sure to get people talking.
Don’t let yourself be at a loss for words when you’re on Spanish Immersion!
You likely selected a program with host family lodging because you recognize the linguistic and cultural value of interacting with people in their home – and you really want to learn all you can while you’re on immersion. It’s important to realize that healthy chit-chat with your host family actually builds confianza– this idea of trust that engenders peoples’ willingness to open up to you, create a deeper friendship, and discuss the things that are dear to them. So…. you’re headed back to your host family and you’re not quite sure what else there is to talk about. You feel like you’ve covered the basics and you’re stuck; you need help avoiding the uncomfortable silence.
What are some good conversational Spanish topics that are sure to get the Spanish conversation rolling? Here are a few topics to consider adding to your conversational Spanish repertoire:
Conversational Spanish topics for adults:
- The weather: Everyone likes to talk about the weather, it’s such an easy topic to get the words flowing. Actually, this is a really practical conversation topic for you – you probably want to ask a few questions about what sort of weather you can expect for the day. That will help you know if you need to take your hat, sunscreen, umbrella, jacket, etc. On our Spanish immersion programs in Costa Rica, the weather is pretty dynamic. In the morning it can be hot and humid and then before you know it you can walk out of a store or restaurant to lightening and thunder!
- Sports: If you’re on Spanish immersion, the only real conversational Spanish vocabulary you probably need is soccer terms. Everyone loves soccer and people are usually pretty fanatical about their favorite team. As I write this post, Costa Rica’s team in the 2014 World cup made it much further than anyone expected, and the country is crazy for fútbol and super proud of la Sele (the “Select” team).
- Current (or Past) National Events: Most people have an opinion about newsworthy items in their country. This could be a recent presidential election, some international notoriety, a sports accomplishment, strikes, whatever. And if people don’t have an opinion, they’ll certainly be willing to tell you why they don’t care about that particular subject. So, take a look at the latest headlines of the newspapers that you see around and ask your host family about it!
- Weekend Plans: Your plans for the coming weekend are a great conversational topic – and usually a good idea to run by your host family. They will likely have some tips for you if you have to coordinate logistics, and they may have some suggestions for certain places to go and things to see at your destination. Even if you don’t plan to travel at all on the weekend, asking your family about their fin de semana will help you make sure you don’t miss any important family events or special outings.
- Nice Places to Visit: You’re traveling to a foreign country and the assumption is that you’re going to do a little sight-seeing as well. Your host family is a great resource for you, and if they’ve done any traveling they’ll be glad to share their favorite spots with you. Most people brave enough to do a Spanish immersion program want to visit the places that the locals visit – so start up a conversation with your family about their favorite spots to visit!
- Cooking: Apart from keeping you safe and providing you a comfortable place to call “home” while you’re away, one of your host family’s primary responsibilities is to feed you a couple times a day. This is the perfect conversational Spanish topic, and it might even get you working alongside your host mom! Ask her how you can help and get her talking about the ingredients, the tools in the kitchen, and how it all comes together!
- 20 Years ago: When you’re talking to adults (and you have enough Spanish to work the past tenses), asking them about what life was like 20 years ago is a perfect conversational topic. Things change so much that it will be impossible to not get some mileage out of this topic with your host family. You’ll probably hear some imperfect tenses when they’re talking about what things “used to be” like and then some preterit to describe what change happened.
Conversational Topics for Children: ***Disclaimer*** – Most children don’t make for great conversationalists – especially with people they don’t know. I have 3 children, and sometimes I look at them and wonder how bouncing, smiling, draping themselves over me like a wet towel, or just silently smiling are appropriate responses to an adult trying to start up a conversation with them – but they’re kids. So, if my children get the chance to travel with you, you may or may not have success with any of the topics below :-). If you can find a child who will talk to you, try these topics on them:
- Best & Worst Parts of School: Kid’s lives are dominated by school – this is their reality and they might be willing to talk about their favorite subject (materia) or their least favorite and why. Who knows, maybe you can help with homework!
- Favorites: Talking about kids’ favorite foods, sports, tv shows, apps, video games, movies, etc. is a perfect recipe for a 1 or 2 word answer; but if you add the question ¿Por qué le gusta tanto? you might get a few more sentences in the exchange.
In all honesty, trying to build your conversational Spanish with children is probably a limited venture if you approach it topically. Your best bet to get kids talking is to play with them. As soon as you enter their physical sport or imaginative world, you’ll be best buddies and you’ll have tons of Spanish conversation!
There are some Conversational Spanish topics you’ll want to avoid until you’ve built up some confianza with your host family.
It’s not that people don’t talk about these things, it just takes getting to know people a little more before you’ll really be able to get anywhere with the topic. Work the topics above as much as you can, and after a few weeks you may be able to broach these Spanish conversational topics below:
- Religion: Most people are fine talking about religion on a surface level, especially in Latin American countries where the church is such a central part of every town and daily life. But avoid getting too personal about faith and religion (unless your host family has initiated it) until you’re pretty tight with your family.
- Politics: This topic is pretty analogous to religion. Most people are happy to complain about something when it comes to politics, but try to hold back on your ardent political values, and definitely avoid pinning anyone down to taking a particular stance on issues – it usually makes for bad conversation :).
- Money: Money is one of those topics that is partially okay to talk about but usually better to not address. You should know that people in Latin America probably see you as wealthy (regardless of your means) simply by virtue of being from the United States. After all, you’ve traveled all this way to be staying in their country and you have the time away from work to do so. You may not think you’re “rich” – and you may not be – but these things are relative, and it’s probably true that you have more opportunities than the average person in your host family. Anyway, it would be fine for you to talk about money in the context of how much something costs – like almost complaining about how expensive things are. But, you probably shouldn’t talk about how “cheap” or “inexpensive” you perceive things to be. That’s something that will send subtle clues to your host family about your position/means relative to theirs.
- Work: As North Americans we tend to define ourselves by our profession (or at least identify very closely). Within the first minute or two of meeting a person someone has likely asked the question: “What do you do”? Many of us have the luxury of turning our passions into careers and earning a living as we pursue doing what we love. This is an inherent blessing of living in the United States, but it’s wise to remember that most people across the world work to live. There is often little connection between passion and profession. So, while you might find work/profession a stimulating conversation, your host family in Latin America may not relate at all to the idea that anyone would want to talk about their work outside of work.
- Personal relationship and age questions across sexes: Many Latin American countries have an indirect method of communication. This is a topic for another blog post, but suffice it to say that if you ask about personal relationships across the sexes, you may be perceived as indirectly making a pass at someone or working up to asking them out. This goes the same for asking about someone else’s age – it may be perceived as you wanting to know if they’re in your range of acceptable “date-ability”. So, unless you’ve built up some confianza with this person of the opposite sex, you might want to avoid “How old are you?” and “Do you have a boyfriend?”.
Small talk between people in Latin America is a great way to establish the foundation for deep relationships. Yes it takes getting over your discomfort with conversational Spanish, but you’ll be surprised at how much your conversational Spanish skills increase when you make the intentional effort to practice speaking in Spanish. The additional benefit, of course, is the connection you establish with other people in your social circle while traveling.