Welcome to EUROCENTRES blog

How to Make Sure You Sound Polite When Speaking a New Language

When you’re learning the basics of a new language – or even when you reach an intermediate level – you are naturally going to sound very direct. This is because you will often be using simpler grammar than native speakers do in conversation, as well as a smaller range of vocabulary, which makes it difficult to express things in a more gentle or subtle way.

What do I mean by this? Well, for example, imagine that you are trying to give directions to a taxi driver in another language. If your vocabulary is very limited, you might only be able to say things like, “I want to go here”, “turn left”, “stop here”, etc. Depending on the culture you are in, this could sound rude – as if you are giving orders to that person.

Or let’s take another example. Imagine that you have been invited to join a meal with new friends or colleagues, and you want to explain that there are certain things you can’t eat, or really don’t like, without sounding very rude or ungrateful.

So what can you do to make sure that you come across as politely as possible, even when your language skills are not yet sophisticated enough to say exactly what you want to say? Here are a few handy tips that you can use anywhere in the world.

Smile and be Friendly

The most important way that you will demonstrate to the other person that you are trying to be polite is through your body language. Smiling, making eye contact and turning your body towards the person as you speak to them will all go a long way in showing that your intentions are friendly and respectful.

Learn the Words for “Please”, “Thank you” and “Excuse me…”

Not every language will have direct translations for these terms, but almost all will have equivalent expressions. Making sure you start the conversation using a polite form, including “please” before every request and thanking the other person a lot for helping you will make up for any turns of phrase that you use that might sound rude. It’s better to overuse “please” and “thank you” than to underuse them and risk sounding abrupt or ungrateful!

Figure Out the Local Politeness Markers

As well as “please” and “thank you”, learning just a few ways to address people that are considered polite in the local custom will also make a big difference to how the other person sees you. For example, in much of Asia, using a word that means “older brother” or “older sister” to address someone shows respect. In the US, calling strangers “Sir,” or “Ma’am” is considered polite. In France, “Monsieur”, “Madame” and “Mademoiselle” are standard ways to address people you don’t know. It doesn’t take long to learn a few basics like these, but they are really important.

The same goes for physical gestures. In many Hindu and Buddhist countries, pressing your palms together as you greet or thank someone shows sincere respect. In many Muslim countries, putting your hand over your heart means the same thing. In the UK, shaking someone’s hand when you say thank you at the end of the conversation will emphasise the strength of your feeling. Watch carefully to see how local people interact, and mimic this.

Speak Slowly, Clearly and Gently

If the other person is having trouble understanding you, smile, slow down and try another way of saying it – or try writing it down. Never, ever, raise your voice or get angry/frustrated. That’s a very rude thing to do to someone who is trying their best to help you!

Avoid Having Conversations in Your Own Language in Front of Them

Another thing that will really annoy strangers is when you start talking to them, but then start to talk among yourselves as if they aren’t there. If you need to say something in your own language to each other, apologise to the person first and make it quick. Don’t expect them to stand around waiting while you have a conversation they don’t understand – this is the height of rudeness!

Want to improve your language skills so that you can express yourself exactly as you want to? Take a look at our range of language courses at www.Eurocentres.com