Soft Skills: Small Talk About the Weather

Posted by Nancy Callan on 15 February 2014 | 0 Comments

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Over the years I've had numerous students say they've been turned down after job interviews because they lacked local experience. If having worked locally were a prerequisite for the job, would their resumés not have precluded them from even getting the interview? More likely the experience referred to is related not to quantifiable hard skills but rather to more intangible soft skills that enable a person to "fit in", such as knowledge of local language and the ability to engage in small talk. 

You may have experienced bank tellers who ask customers a series of personal questions that comes across more like interrogation than small talk. I recall a trip to a courier shop on the hottest day of the year. The only customer in the store, I expressed appreciation for the store's air conditioning. The answer I got was an abrupt unsmiling, "Can I help you?" At a garage sale, the owner greets a customer and says with a smile, "Was supposed to rain later today, but looks like it's clearing up." The ESL customer replies, "How much is this?" These are examples of a lack of soft skills. 

Coffee shops are great places for field research on soft skills. What do baristas say to customers when they come into the shop? My own research suggests personal questions are not popular. The most popular topic by far is the weather, followed by a comment or compliment about something the customer is wearing or holding. Religion and politics don't tend to find their way into small talk. 

Soft skills need to be part of the English language curriculum. Being able to talk about the weather is an essential skill and reading weather forecasts is a great start. I've made a worksheet using images from my favourite weather site, The Weather Nework, for intermediate ESL that can be used as a spring board for creating weather conversations. You're welcome to download it for use in your own class with your students by clicking on the image below. Check out for more great resources. 

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