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P is for Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective

Teacher training and Development

P is for Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective

<![CDATA[Many teachers who have had the opportunity to read discourse analysis either at University or on a PD course such as the Cambridge DELTA,  express great interest in this way of studying connected text or talk, but just as many find it  hard to incorporate it into their teaching; apart from an occasional lesson focusing on cohesive devices, referents or discourse markers, I must admit I have not seen much by way of other important concepts in discourse, especially related to the study of conversation analysis, an area which should be of intense interest to anyone teaching spoken English.
In most needs driven courses nowadays, there will be some components responding to the need of learners to acquire sociolinguistic competence and the wise ESP teacher will have phrases and functional listings, plus activities to get the studetnts to do things with this language – ranking, labelling, matching, analysing, using, etc…
But still some learners sound aggresive and abrupt in their interactions, and not only because of the intonation.

Politeness Principles Across Cultures


from http://thearticulateceo.typepad.com/my-blog/2011/09/cultural-differences-the-power-distance-relationship.html

Being polite may differ from culture to culture – there are linguistic and paralinguistic means of conveying politeness, distance and respect which do not hold true in every language.
Take the classic French tu-vous distinction – the same exists in Greek – εσύ-εσείς – and using this plural of respect and distance makes politeness easier to spot. For learners coming from such languages, the absence of this in English is rather unsettling and difficult to replace with other linguistic tools
Another example is the highly frequent use of please in English and many other languages. In Greek, this is not used very often but informal requests tend to incorporate this ‘please’ function via the use of the noun dminutive -ακι as well as a more pleading and intimate intonation while making, say, a request. A Greek learner translating this into English will generally use the imperative, oblivious to the need to replace his/her own politeness indicators with their English equivalent.
No wonder  Japanese businessmen are reported to think that Greek businessmen are very aggressive during business negotiations (Ron White, in a talk he delivered some years ago for TESOL Greece).

Grice’s Principle of Cooperation and its Four Maxims 

In Foreign Language classroom,  teachers tend to correct  mostly for errors of grammar, or inaccuracies in functional exponents. Teachers will also respond to errors of pronunciation of individual words or sound clusters and errors of vocabulary. This is expected and highly useful for the learner.
What I do not often see offered as feedback to adult learners in collaborative activities is correction related to whether and to what degree the learners

  • sounded polite
  • took their turn at the right time
  • produced just the right amount of talk, no more, no less, just what was necessary to carry on and promote the discussion/ develop the topic
  • used appropriate intonation
  • stressed the right word in each phrase to convey the central focus of their message – i.e. new information
  • showed appreciation for others’ contributions
  • were respectful of others’ opinions even though they may have differed from their own
  • avoided interrupting others unless absolutely necessary &  then apologised for doing so
  • used language which was of the right tenor for the roles, relationships, relative statuses and genre
  • sounded properly tentative in their pronouncements and not overbearing or opinionated
Much of what is included in this schort checklist is inspired by

Are these rules the same worldwide?

In the boardrooms of the world, different rules will abide and different cultures, microclimates and conventions. How quickly you can reduce distance and converse in a more intimate and familiar way will be very different in a boardroom in the US from, say, a boardroom in an Arab country, or in Japan…
There are many who argue that Grice’s Maxim’s and G Leech’s or Brown & Levinson’s or Lakoff’s politeness principles are not universal, and that following them promotes an Anglo-Saxon oriented interaction culture ( I presume this bothers them for reasons of linguistic imperialism, perhaps), and, therefore, feel it is not really necessary to introduce them into a programme.

From http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/f/forced_politeness.asp

There is, of course,  truth in the non-universality of tones and politeness rules. What sounds polite in English may sound  gruff in some cultures and what sounds polite in another country, may sound cloying, or even ingratiating in English, no question.
But in most cases, our adult learners are not aware of these perceptions of them formed by others.
They are not aware of the fact that their professional or academic persona which comes across just as it should in their native language, can be distorted beyond recognition in the foreign language projecting an image of themselves which would appall and horrify them, if they knew.
Should they not know or should they be left to discover this the hard way?

And should this concern just Business English teachers?

The impressions and judgements  non-teacher native English users form of non-native English users are often formed by  linguistic manner, not by linguistic accuracy.
I, for example, get really annoyed when a trainee teacher  says “Where’s my handout? You haven’t given me one!”  when I sometimes inadverently skip one of them in sharing out stuff. I never say anything because it’s not the right time to call them up on their linguistic manners but I do get a message which travels not to my intellect but to my solar plexus or somewhere near there, where I think is the seat of my emotional reactions 🙂
But being a teacher makes me much more tolerant and understanding. I know that if this trainee were to be speaking to me in Greek, s/he would be using the plural of politeness/respect. In English, it sounds too direct and confrontational but  I understand and do not ‘pounce’ on the erring (according to me, always) producer of this particular utterance – I am even more tolerant in the case of foreign language learners at lower levels.
Being tolerant, patient and understanding of the learning effort, of  lack of knowledge, is one thing. Leaving your learners in the dark is another.

For me, the non-universality argument is food for the complacent, the “I-can’t-be-bothered” type of teacher. Sometimes, it’s even further reinforced by arguments such as, “It’s not my job to teach them manners. They’re adults, they should know”.

For the Business English student, this is, indeed, important information. Careers can be unmade because of such linguistic faux pax.
But it’s not just in business that you need to be aware of politeness rules.
I do think it’s our job to let people know what they sound like when interacting in English and what impressions they may create.
If the learners decide they do not wish to change, as some do, out of a particular kind of ethnic pride, that is just fine, too. It’s their decision, not ours.

How can we incorporate this type of work into speaking activities/practice?

Well, I have already mentioned one of the obvious times in a lesson: feedback after speaking activities, for example, by setting up and giving students lists of criteria and getting them to evaluate peers and self as to whether they did well or not in terms of each category.
But there should be opportunities for presentation or noticing work, too, by analysing spoken samples, by looking at videos of board meetings, by reading conversational transcripts with a particular focus on aspects of discourse, for example, lexical cohesion in a text, or on knowledge speakers take for granted when they are saying something, etc.
And of course, focusing of producing speech, for example, by introducing role activities where some people will be told to be rude and others extremely polite, by cueing the politeness principles in discussions through giving each participant a particular prompt, e.g. “Before your response, summarise the previous speaker’s point and make a flattering comment”, or some such (if this one not to your liking) cues or prompts that regulate the manner and not the content of the discourse.

A story

Some years ago, we were approached by a young executive in a well-known pharmaceutical company who wanted to have one-to-one lessons because he was soon to be transferred to a higher position in a different country and wanted to improve his English as much as he could in the short time available to him before his transfer.
Two weeks into his course, his teacher (a young native speaker teacher fresh out of her DELTA course) came to me and announced that she could not stand this student any longer and could I find him a different tutor?  “He’s really very rude!!!” she said. “I cannot deal with him at all!”
I told her that I would give him a couple of tutorials to identify the problems and we would then decide how to proceed.
The teacher was right. While speaking to me in Greek, the young gentleman was charm personified, but in English, he turned into someone who really got on one’s nerves.
In his case, and because I could not take on the 1-2-1 course myself, I decided that we needed to confront the problem head on with some explicit instruction first and some contextualised practice later.

Materials Used

As his issues had to do with intonation, nuclear stress and discourse politeness rules, I only did some work on those areas and to be honest I could not think of any better material than what I was already using for my trainee teachers. The student was intrigued and fascinated by this ‘different’, as he called it, material, but he was highly motivated and keen to improve.
In two weeks, the student was fully aware of his main issues – as we also talked about how Greeks tend to express themselves and he did recognise himself in some of my descriptions.
His progress was fantastic.
Of course, he began by using this knowledge in a deliberate and rehearsed way before each thing he said (in other words, it had not become an automatic decision for him as yet) but I was thrilled when, one day, I heard him say in answer to a point I had just made during a problem solving task/discussion in which I was partnering with him
“Your viewpoint is very interesting, Ms Constantinides”, and in an ‘aside’ he added: “I’ve just made you feel good, but now I ‘m going to disagree with you!” 🙂
I returned him to his teacher two weeks later and, apparently all was plain sailing from then on.

Teacher Language Awareness & Discourse Analysis 

For me, it goes without saying, that the study of discourse is essential on any teacher development programme. How can teachers introduce it to their learners if they themselves do not have that type of awareness?
Discourse (spoken and written) is an important component of our English for Teachers course as well – right in the heart of their systemic competence, along with Grammar, Syntax, Phonology and the study of Meaning.
The methods we use to introduce this area of systemic knowledge do not have to be laborious and complicated. For example, the video clip below, is excellent as an introduction for the study of the topic of politeness across cultures
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UTE0G9amZNk]
Videos are great as they can lead to discussions of Ss’ own cultural practices and make them more aware of those of other peoples’.
Games & Quizzes  of various kinds can be used as well – the funnier the better, to make them memorable.

Final Comments

Learning about politeness rules in spoken communication, presupposes the use of samples of language which are embedded in a context of use, preferably authentic. This does not necessarily entail long and difficult stretches of language, so the earlier we begin, the better.
I used some Wikipedia entries to link to definitions of terms used in this article but there are many very good books on the subject and if you have any further ideas to add, either about how you teach different aspects of discourse, or interesting texts and articles, I would appreciate it if you left a comment.

Some Books on Discourse Analysis

Brown, G., & Yule, G., 1983, Discourse Analysis, Cambridge University Press
Johnstone, B., 2003, Discourse Analysis, Blackwell
McCarthy, M. 1991, Discourse Analysis for Language Teachers, Cambridge University Press
Partridge, B., 2006, Discourse Analysis – an Introduction,  Continuum International
Thornbury, S., 2005, Beyond the Sentence, Macmillan Education

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P.S. If you need to use some of the ideas as a quote, an amended version of this blog post was published in IATEFL BESIG
Constantinides, M,. 2015, Politeness Principles Across Cultures, in IATEFL BESIG Newsletter, Summer 2015, Issue 90.

Politeness Principles Across Cultures


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44 Responses

  1. Great post, Marisa, and a topic that doesn’t get the attention it deserves in many classrooms. One politeness point that always gets me is when students use the term ‘should’. Sure, it’s taught to them as though it’s an universally acceptable advice word, but so often, depending on context, it comes off quite forward and presumptuous–inappropriate for student to teacher.

    • Oh, I love your “gets me” … maybe we could make an anthology of ‘what gets me’s”...
      A lot of teaching out there (whether or not it is following an appropriate metholodology) is based on very poor language awareness which remains focused at the level of form, meaning, and function – if lucky.
      This is better than just focusing on the form or just the function with no more information (which also happens – still) but, as you also note, is not good enough.
      An example of this type of presentation material was recently posted on a language study page I maintain on Facebook It’s this video here http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=303438919666713 (hope you have access to Facebook) in which Queen Elizabeth is shown greeting the Pope by saying “Greetings” and Obama to Gaddafi “Where have you been hiding yourself? !!
      This is online stuff that poses as modern methodology because it is accessible via podcast and video!
      Anyway, I should stop myself – I could go on…. 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Tyson

  2. Debbie says:

    Thank you Marisa for this post, super practical,interesting and useful. I posted this link about greetings on my facebook, hope you don’t mind. I thanked you there anyway. I took a webinar on CC and now I’m a little worried about this kind of things.
    Hugs from Buenos Aires

  3. A post for all teachers to read and to save and refer to. Thanks, Marisa.
    I’ve been doing some research on the topic and was wondering : So far the assumption of course is that since our learners will be speaking in English, we would consider how they’d come across in English to the English native speaker (probably UK or US).
    But if NNS to NNS interactions are on the rise, the issue of how politeness is realised becomes slightly more complicated, doesn’t it? So if a Spanish speaker is learning English to talk to a Korean speaker, should we as teachers be raising awareness of the English way of realising politeness…or the Korean way? Or maybe there is a ‘third space’ (as suggested by Kramsch) that speakers operate in…?
    I would really like to know your opinion of the matter because although ELF has been a topic of heated debate in the last decade, the field of politeness in ELF hasn’t been quite addressed.

    • Hi Chia,
      You are right that it’s that much harder when you try to work with an ELF point of view. Personally, I don’t believe that it is an easy task nor a necessary one for every single course that we teach.
      There will be less of this angle on general courses (and younger learners) and more on courses focusing on BE or EAP or general EOP. It will very much depend on what our students need, unless it is a pre-sessional or pre-experience course, in which case, I think some unit or units focusing on how people communicate and express politeness, distance or intimacy, would be highly appropriate.
      You could argue that this would be great material for new coursebooks in this era where people of all nationalities are talking to each other in English, couldn’t you?
      Another way of going about it, might be to introduce the topic and give your students the necessary research skills which would help them find out information on their own.
      A higher level executive or CEO visiting another country would not even need to do this on their own, you know! They could probably get an assistant to do proper research online, offline, on the phone, finding out vital information about what might be considered offensive or overly familiar, or unacceptable. But their awareness must be raised first, I think.
      The forms of the language are not, of course, the only issue. The amount and type of information we give out is another issue. Telling someone in perfectly fluent English, for example, that you recently broke off with your partner because you caught them in bed with someone else, or insisting on showing them the scar from your tummy tuck is just too much information, not for every Greek, I must acknowledge, but certainly for this one!!!
      So, no, I don’t think it’s an easy task, nor do I think it is an insurmountable one but it necessitates a different level of awareness in the teacher, first.
      Perhaps there is a body of research missing in studies of contrastive analysis between English and other languages, Chia.
      I know of one done between English vs Turkish & Greek – Maria Sifianou & Arın Bayraktaroğlu coedited this book published by Blackwell, in case you are interested. Maria’s Phd thesis was on “Politeness Phaenomena between English & Greek” but I am not sure if it’s possible to get a copy of it. I read it when she was writing it and it was really interesting.
      Linguistic politeness across boundaries: the case of Greek and Turkish
      You can see bits of the book on Google books to preview
      Thanks for your thought-provoking comment

      • Thanks so much Marisa for your detailed reply. I have read excerpts of Sifianou’s book that you mentioned and found the different definitions of politeness rather interesting (e.g. the British think of politeness as distance and appropriacy while the Greeks think of politeness as friendliness).
        I have recently done some research into the realisation of politeness in ELF scenarios and do find that it is a field that does need more research. Perhaps this ‘third space’ that is created between the two NNS cultures and English is a space that is supported by mutual understanding and an ongoing negotiation of what is polite and what isn’t, and therefore negates the need to realise politeness in a British or American way.
        Instead, perhaps what is needed is more classroom discussion of the issue so as to raise awareness of the different ways politeness is realised in different cultures?

        • Definitely more classroom discussion, Chia. Some may take issue at this; English is, after all, a language of power.
          You can argue both ways, can’t you?
          But I personally feel the option should be offered – if not taken, that is the adult learner’s personal choice.

  4. Jonathan Aichele says:

    Great (and for me, timely) post Marisa. I’m about halfway through Thornbury & Slade’s “Conversation: from Description to Pedagogy” and have been thinking a lot about how there is so much that could be taught/presented/practiced/etc. in relation to conversation and speaking in general, but isn’t–and as you know it tends to get replaced with the more “teachable” aspects of language. Scott’s grammar Mcnuggets, I suppose.

    • Great to see you here, Jonathan, and yes, a lot is left untaught. Unsuspecting learners taught by unsuspecting teachers.
      May be the world might roll more easily that way?
      I don’t know whether this line of thinking is a useful one, but it has me worried, anyway, and I think that a lot of other teachers – at least from the comments on this post – seem to have been wondering about whether the way we teach speaking might not be somehow incomplete and perhaps even inadequate in preparing the adult professional for a world in which a linguistic faux pas might cost you the job or the deal….
      There is a lot more to successful communication than getting the modals right 🙂 Or even the famous polite request expressed sufficiently politely…
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting
      P.S. Pleased no end you are going on with your M.A. Way to go!!!!

  5. Jonathan Aichele says:

    Interesting point you make there about arriving at some sort of ‘politeness common ground.’ I think it’s made even trickier by the fact that, in the information age, there can be huge discrepancies in the amount of background knowledge given speakers have about their interlocutor’s culture.
    Consequently, it’s difficult to know how much the non-native speakers in your example already know about each other’s cultures–I mean, we do make allowances for differences in etiquette when we’re consciously aware of them, don’t we?

    • Exactly, Johnatan. I think most TEFLers are very culturally aware and very sensitive to adapting to others as it is part of our job to do so, but we don’t know how aware NNSs are about the cultures they are to engage in interaction with. Of course, they could always find out beforehand, but then there’s also the issue of essentialism. We don’t want to assume that our interlocutors are going to employ certain politeness strategies just because they are from a certain country. For all we know, they might have done some research and are trying to be polite in the way of their interlocutor! Complex isn’t it?
      I suppose managing politeness and perceptions of politeness is interactions is such a dynamic and fluid thing that simply teaching our students over-generalised ‘rules’ or stock phrases could be over-simplifying the issue. Perhaps as teachers, all we can do is raise awareness of it?

  6. […] Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters – Politeness in Conversational English – a Discour… Source: marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org […]

  7. Thanks for the post, Marisa. Very well-laid out and it has made me think of how I could introduce the topic differently in class. It is certainly a complex topic all things considered, but I’m really glad you’ve addressed it within our ELT context.
    I can see how this could be very easily tailored in a one-one-one situation, just as it could via groups if we introduce the topic and work with it directly.
    I feel a bit less willing to touch upon issues of politeness directly in class as if it were error correction, especially if it’s dealing with a particular student’s actions. In the end, it’s all in the ‘how’ we do it and really depends on the confidence we have in delivering that how with the group at hand. I think my unwillingness comes from the feeling that it doesn’t seem “typical” in the context, which as you’re presenting here, might be an area we can improve upon. Cheers, Brad

    • Hello Brad,
      I know what you mean about confronting individuals with errors relating to manner of discourse (it is indeed with Grice’s Maxim of Manner that I think the Principle of Politeness in Lakoff or Leeche should properly by subsumed)
      There are issues of trust, loss of face and much more, that need careful planning and consideration before deciding to deal with such errors in a public and highly overt manner.
      Some classes and individual students may be OK with this, if the objectives of the correction are placed side by side with their effects and possible repercussions and results of such mistakes.
      It’s possible to deal with these errors in a private and very individual way – by keeping a page of a small notepad for every student and handing them these private and individualized ‘hot cards”
      You could record them and send them the excerpt with a small comments – this is of course much more time consuming and a teacher needs to balance it out against a lot of other factors, pay being one of them 🙂
      I hope this has given you some ideas and may be you can share some of your own

  8. Adding another thank you and a praise for this practical post, Marisa. It§s one of those posts that not only highlights a problem, but addresses it with great intelligence.
    Politeness is indeed a very complex issue to deal with. Social intelligence, cultural awareness and linguistic competence are necessary, as well as respect and awareness – and it starts with the teacher.
    Tyson mentions that what gets him is the misuse of SHOULD by some students. What gets me is when some commonly used ELT textbooks attempt to be cool or engaging and present some topics and themes in patronising, presumptuous or preachy ways. The same goes for teachers (myself including, of course) who easily slip into the role of “know-it-alls” when teaching lower levels.. and use the learner-teacher interaction for an ego trip.
    All in all, this is a great post.

    • Hi Marian and thanks for sharing ‘what gets your goat’ !!! 🙂
      Know-alls are annoying anyway but, as you say, it may be they come across as know-alls, not intentional – sometimes it’s the size of the utterance that may make someone appear to know everything – breaking the Maxim of Quantity – and the relevance, another good maxim which is often broken by many of the people I know who hold their conversations with me by answering questions from an internal conversation with themselves! 🙂

  9. Thanks for the post Marisa. Being a NNSE teacher I took a while to be sensitive to the issue that you’d raised. One technique that I’d found particularly useful while training other NNSE is recording how they talk n then playing it back coupled with of course teacher feedback. In cases where that’s not possible the idea you’d shared of using video as part of training would help. In order to understand the difference they need to first notice what’s the difference. Best, Cherry.

    • Recording learners (as I mentioned to Brad in an earlier comment) may be a good way but may need to be balanced out against other factors, e.g. loss of face etc.
      This is especially true of adult classes whether on general English courses or not. If they are executives within a company, well, you might need to make your comments more private.
      With younger learners, I think it’s less of a worry, not that they are due less respect; with teens, I don’t know, I’m in two minds about it.
      Teens love to be intentionally rude and disrespectful to adults as a first show of independence.
      So, proceed with caution, is all I can say.
      Thank you for commenting.

  10. […] Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters – Politeness in … Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters. Language Teaching, Teacher Education & New Technologies. Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective · Article, ELT Methodology December 11th, 2011. Source: marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org […]

  11. Hi Marisa,
    Great post, and an area I am really interested in. As you describe, I also became interested in this area during my Delta, choosing to base my final LSA on lexical cohesion. I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing about the subject, and haven’t looked at texts in the same way again!
    In Germany, politeness is expressed very differently to the way English speakers do it. Phrases such as “I was wondering if you could…” are often seen as far too waffley and a waste of time. Yet, they have the formalities we lack such as formal and informal pronouns. I recently had some serious trouble working out how I should address the elderly couple who are my neighbours on their Christmas card. After some discussion with a German friend, I was able to put what I thought was respectful enough, but also friendly and Christmassy. But it still felt odd not being able to write their first names etc.. I also find that my British politeness means I got annoyed at the direct way that people here talk to each other. Now I realise that I do it too in German, because that’s how you get things done. It helps to have this knowledge of the way other cultures do things in order to be able to help our students do it, and it certainly is useful to have more awareness of the features of discourse which affect this area.
    Thanks for this post, really interesting.

    • Jemma,
      What an interesting insight into this from your perspective as a learner of German and how politeness norms differ and make you feel (or how they feel, for that matter).
      Greeks are much more direct as well. When I teach indirectness and tentative language (because one must NOT impose one’s own opinion on others), many of my Greek students and Greek trainee teachers tend to groan in desperation “What a lot of palaver!!!!!” they tend to say….
      I sit on the fence on this in a very odd way. I get annoyed by the directness which translates as gruffness but knowledge of their L1 allows me to understand and be more tolerant.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting

      • Jonathan Aichele says:

        Here we return to the issue of “indirectness = politeness,” one of the major assumptions of Brown & Levinson which has been critiqued so extensively (I’m thinking Wierzbicka may have been one of the first, though Marisa discusses this in the original post above as well.)
        I’m with you on this one, Marisa. Whenever we are fortunate enough to have enough cultural background to understand where the directness is coming from, the onus is on us to “roll with the punches” I think. In fact, learning to deal with directness (or indirectness) in a foreign language is one of the key aspects of achieving true competence in my opinion. I believe it also needs to be part of the ‘alter ego’ we often conduct for ourselves when using a foreign language. So, for example, when speaking German I do my best to be more direct than I otherwise would in English and I think (hope!) my overall communicative competence benefits from doing so.

  12. […] Marisa Constantinides – TEFL Matters – Politeness in Conversational English – a Discour… Source: marisaconstantinides.edublogs.org […]

  13. Alan Tait says:

    Hi and thanks to you Marisa and commenters.
    I think this topic is HUGE, both in terms of its effect on communication and its resistance to being taught, and it’s one I worry about a lot.
    As you say, we can use post-speaking feedback and video extracts, but I have my reservations about both.
    Often a teacher’s comment can have little impact, or seem plain silly to students. (Can I give you a reverse example? I knew a Scottish woman in Italy many years ago who had a great command of spoken Italian, but just WOULDN’T use ‘Lei’, the Italian formal pronoun. It just seemed ridiculous to her as an English native. To many learners of English, our tricks of grammar/lexis/intonation just seem bizarre, hypocritical, roundabout or whatever.)
    Also filmed drama tends to concentrate on kiss-kiss-bang-bang rather than the minutiae of ordinary conversation. It can be hard to find the right extracts.
    Anyway, you’ve all given me food for thought. I’d love to hear more about concrete classroom techniques.

    • Quite right, Alan that it’s not easy to find filmed drama excerpts that are the right kind but I tend to keep an eye out when watching films or series and sometimes I get lucky!
      Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to continue the discussion

  14. Tefl Jobs says:

    Hi Marisa,
    I agree with some of the comments that this topic doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It is a huge area and I think there are differences between US/UK English in terms of what would be considered polite. I think it’s something to be mindful of when teaching, and to bring up in class when the opportunity arises, particularly with higher levels.

    • Hi and thanks for commenting 🙂
      I like the word ‘mindful’ which you used – yes, being mindful and taking opportunities as they arise, is also a good way. For example, today, I taught a lesson in which the students had to make decisions about which content and which language to use for something they were about to write; before the discussion, I put up Lakoff’s three points, and we brainstormed a few quick ways of making sure the discussion was going to be conducted – there was nothing special about that – just what you might do the same with lots of areas of language.
      And yes, British and American English do have differences and teachers (especially NNEST’s) need information sources, cultural guides and linguistic maps!
      Not easy but worth pursuing, I think!
      Thank you for stopping by and commenting

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  16. Duncan Trout says:

    This rocks. I’ve been pressing my sts to adopt better customer service skills, emphasizing courtesy and attentiveness. Regardless of their intent, manmy project an attitude of apathy and oblivion. Not a good way to sell your product or service. There are more books that need to be written on this. Yes, indeed.

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  19. […] “Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective”, Constantinides, 2011 […]

  20. […] “Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective”, Constantinides, 2011 […]

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  22. Teresa says:

    Hi Marisa,
    What a nice post! This very topic was one among the speaking skills covered in my final DELTA assignment for Module 2. I chose politeness, and turn-taking because I feel that when people switch to another language, they usually sound blunt and consequently flout fundamental maxims of conversation.
    I must confess I wasn’t really sure whether it was an important matter in ESL and I was afraid my assessor might underrate it. Although I had difficulty finding materials to use in my LSA (as it’s often overlooked by many TD authors), I never gave up because my vast experience in ESL told me otherwise; after so many years teaching in-company classes to professionals whose success depended primarily on their negotiation skills and by that I mean their hability to persuade, agree or disagree so as not to cause others to lose face, I really believed my students needed to develop these skills and learn their pragmatic value for effective communication. I’m glad I accomplished it — at least I assume I did.
    Your post does great justice to this area of discourse, which in my opinion is so important for all learners, especially those faced with the challenge of socializing in a language that is not their own.
    I raised my teenage students’ awareness of the importance of polite language through group dynamics in which their success depended on their appropriate use of language. I totally agree with you: Politeness standards do vary a lot across languages ans cultures and even within the same region where a language is spoken depending on one’s social class, position, upbringing and level of education, among other factors. That’s why it’s something that can be explicitly taught. However, as you point out so well, simply lecturing students about it is not nearly as effective as raising their awareness of their own discourse and its impact on others.

    • Thanks ever so much, Teresa,
      Very happy you liked it – it’s a topic I think about a lot and for which I can find very little material so I thought may be this will inspire some people to create it !!!
      Thank you for stopping by and for your very positive feedback

  23. […] “Politeness in Conversational English – a Discourse Perspective”, Constantinides, 2011 […]

  24. David Clayton says:

    Hi Marisa,
    I currently work in an upmarket hotel in Japan as their in-house English trainer. We recently had a “mystery shopper” from an hotel association of which we are a member call several of our hotels to make a reservation. The conversations were recorded and to our surprise we found that our staff were strikingly direct, to the point of being rude. For example, “I would like to make a reservation” was answered with, “What day?”
    As any visitor to Japan will be aware, customer service here is elevated to extremely high levels, and in a staff-customer conversation specific forms of formal language are used.
    What seems to have occurred in the recorded conversations is that affective factors led to the staff forgetting/discarding the English politeness markers they had learned (as well as all their training in upselling, confirming reservations etc.) as they were seized by a fear of saying the wrong word. In effect, they just wanted to get off the phone as quickly as possible.
    I read your article as part of my research to design a training programme to rectify this, but it strikes me that this may be an example of an alternate reason for rejecting the L2 culture’s norms of politeness; basically, a fear of making a mistake can lead to attempts at politeness being abandoned. This contrasts with the example given in your article of the lady making a conscious choice not to use a politeness marker.
    I wonder if you have any thoughts on this?

    • Marisa Constantinides says:

      Hello Dave and thanks for sharing your own experiences here.
      My learner (a he, by the way) may have sounded gruff, to begin with, for lack of awareness, often using L1 norms in L2 communication which just did not work in the transfer.
      I don’t think his was a case of consciously choosing NOT to use politeness markers or to sound abrupt.
      He had never been taught how to be polite in English – not in the way the hotel staff you mention was specifically trained but forgot due to anxiety.
      Thanks for commenting and continuing the conversation

  25. […] Politeness in Conversational English – A Discourse Perspective […]

  26. David Clayton says:

    So sorry Marisa,
    I was referring to the “Scottish woman in Italy many years ago” Alan mentioned. I mistakenly attributed her case to your original document.

  27. Adam S. says:

    Just referenced on LSA4. I think I should get “distinctions” across the board for that. Pass that on to the folks at Cambridge, would you? 😛

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