The English language has many words with similar—if not the same—definitions. If you look up ‘speak,’ ‘talk’ will be the first synonym, but is it really the same? No. Speaking is gentler and more erudite. “We were speaking about language and it all began to sound like poetry… We were talking and we all started to laugh…”
‘Talking’ is both more casual and stronger. “We have to talk about this” is not the start of an easy conversation.
My role as a Conversation partner/tutor in an English-as-a-Second-Language program often pushes me to explain the subtle differences in word usage. Having to explain the unexplainable is a good exercise for a writer. I often find that I’m learning as much as the student. I try to integrate these elusive word choice differences into my dialog in fiction.
Is the character educated, restrained, and only a bit angry when she says, “Let’s speak about this later”? Is she distressed to the point of boiling over when she insists, “We’re going to talk about this later”? Yes, I think so. But it’s hard to explain why the difference seems clear to me.
“We need to chat about this later” feels casual and cautionary at the same time, and I think it’s the tone of voice that provides the distinction, largely because CHAT is now so closely associated with online exchanges. These can become brusque, snarky, and sometimes violent, as people blow off steam with each click, click, click.
Writing an email may seem like an immediate and careless form of written speech, but it is many times more thoughtful than the lightning speed of chat exchanges punched out on phones. There is no time for reflection or even to catch the oddball word substitutions that spellcheck programs interject. This speed heats up anger and can create problems where there should be none.
Sometimes it’s best to pick up the phone and actually TALK (speak, chat, explain, communicate, cajole, seduce) and even ENJOY a conversation.