Are you offending native English speakers?

Why the need for polite English?

If you are having a conversation with a native English speaker, you would not want to come across as (donner l’impression d’être) being rude or cold.

For example, if you’re asking for help, you wouldn’t want to ask in a way that you would offend (prendre à rebrousse-poil) native speakers, which might result in them ignoring you instead of helping you. Being polite in English goes much further than just “please” and “thank you”.

Granted (D’accord), body language, the tone and volume of your voice also play a part but we’ll look at some expressions that you can use in English to be more polite.

Before we look at specific examples according to context, I would like to give an example in French.

Imagine you are the owner of a pastry shop and a French learner enters your store. When pointing to what he wants, he says “Je veux un mille-fille” or even worse, “Donne-moi un mille-feuille”. Wouldn’t you be a bit taken a back (un peu déconcerté)?

I’m sure it would be better and more polite to say “Je voudrais …..” or even “Est-ce que je pourrais avoir ….”.

Don’t you agree? It’s the same concept in English.

How to be more polite in English

1. Asking for a favour*

If you are asking someone for help, you need to be careful how you ask. You don’t want to rub people the wrong way (prendre les gens à rebrousse-poil) since they won’t be inclined to help you if they think you’re being rude (impoli).

Let’s look at an example below.

What NOT to say: Help me with my homework. (Direct command)

What to say: Could you help me with my homework?

The use of the word “could” softens the request for help.

 

2. Asking for clarification

At times, someone may say something quickly or use a word that you’re not familiar with. What do you usually say when you don’t understand?

Do you usually ask “What?!”?

I’ve noticed that many French speakers use this but this can be seen as a bit aggressive and rude in English. I also spoke about this in my free mini guide: How to fit in with native English speakers. 

What to say

1) Sorry? I didn’t catch that.

2) Could you say that again please?

Note: “Sorry?” must be said with a rising intonation since it is a question. If you do not say it like that, it will seem as if you are apologising*.

 

3. Saying no politely

Situation: Someone invites you out or asks you for help but you want to say no. How would you do this without offending the person?

What NOT to say

No. I don’t want to go out.

No. I can’t help.

 

What to say

Invitation:

  1. Thanks for the invite but I’ll have to pass this time.
  2. Let me think about it and get back to you. (You can use this if you don’t want to give an answer right away.)

Request for help:

  1. I would love to but (give excuse)
  2. You see, the thing is that  (give excuse)

Eg. I would love to help you but I’m a bit busy at the moment/ I have to leave soon.

Eg. You see, the thing is that I’m not really familiar with Whatsapp, so I’m probably not in the best position to help you.

 

In my Fitting In Value Pack, I discuss polite English in more detail and I also talk about conversation fillers that you can use to show interest in a conversation and I have a lesson on social English where I talk about the basics of small talk (which is really important when interacting with native English speakers.)

 

Note:

*favour- I generally use British spelling on my blog. (American English- favor)

*apologising (American English-apologizing)

 

Your turn:

Have you ever made any of the above mistakes? Do you ever struggle with polite English? I’d love to know in the comments’ section below. 🙂

 

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