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Interactive video lesson plan for: BBC Masterclass: Be polite - how to soften your English

Activity overview:

Sian's going to show you 4 ways not to offend people by being too direct. For more, visit our website:


Hi Sian here for BBC Learning English… in this Masterclass we're going to look at something British people love doing! Being polite.

No, I'm not coming to your party this evening. Wow, this food is disgusting! Give me some of your lunch. Now sometimes it’s ok to be direct – or even blunt with your friends…but it's important not to sound rude, particularly in the workplace. We're going to look at 4 ways you can soften your language to make you more polite…

1: Requests, suggestions and questions.
OK, listen to these two requests. Which one sounds more polite and less direct, and why?

Number 1: ‘Pick me up on your way to the party this evening!’
Or number 2: ‘I was hoping you could give me a lift to the party.’

Now, number 2 is much more polite. We soften requests, and suggestions and questions by using past forms, continuous forms or both. For example, ‘I was wondering if you could give me a lift later.’
We can also make requests softer by using a negative question with a question tag. So, ‘You couldn’t give me a lift later, could you?’ or ‘I don’t suppose you could pick me up tonight, could you?’

2: Giving opinions
OK, listen to these two opinions. Which do you think sounds less direct and more polite?

Number 1: You're too young to get married!
Or number 2: I reckon you're a little young to be getting married!

Yeah, the second one is much less direct. It’s softer. We use verbs like reckon, guess, feel to make your opinions less direct. You can also use vague expressions like ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’, ‘a little bit’. It also helps if you make it into a question: ‘Aren’t you kind of young to be getting married?’

3: Discussing problems
Ok now listen to these two problems. Which one sounds less direct?

The first one: ‘You've made a mistake in this report!’
Or the second one: ‘You seem to have made a mistake here.’

Yes, the second one was softer, less direct. We introduce problems with verbs like seem and appear to soften them. So, ‘You appear to have saved over all my documents’. You can also use these to introduce your own problems. So, ‘I seem to have lost those reports you wanted’.

4: Saying no!
Now listen to these two ways of refusing an invitation. Which one sounds less direct?

Number 1? ‘No, I'm not coming to your party this evening.’
or number 2? ‘I’m not sure I'll be able to make it to your party this evening.’

Ok, again the second one was much softer, less direct. We find it really hard to say no! So instead we use tentative language to soften it. So, ‘I’m not sure I’ll make it to your party.’ Or ‘It’s looking unlikely I’ll be able to come this evening.’ This basically means ‘I’m not coming!’

Now to find out more about avoiding being too direct, and to practise not being rude, I was hoping you would check out our website See you soon, goodbye!

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