C2 interactions: formal language and linguistic politeness

As you know, in a C2 exam interaction you are expected to be able to:

  • have a good command of idiomatic expressions and colloquialisms with an awareness of connotative levels of meaning.
  • convey finer shades of meaning precisely by using, with reasonable accuracy, a wide range of modification devices.
  • backtrack and restructure around a difficulty so smoothly the interlocutor is hardly aware of it.
  • understand any interlocutor, even on abstract and complex topics of a specialist nature beyond your own field, given an opportunity to adjust to a less familiar accent.
  • converse comfortably and appropriately, unhampered by any linguistic limitations in conducting a full social and personal life.
  • advise on or talk about sensitive issues without awkwardness, understanding colloquial references and dealing diplomatically with disagreement and criticism.
  • hold your own in formal discussions of complex issues, putting an articulate and persuasive argument, at no disadvantage to other speakers.
  • advise on/handle complex, delicate or contentious issues, provided you have the necessary specialised knowledge.
  • deal with hostile questioning confidently, hold on to your turn to speak and diplomatically rebut counter-arguments.
  • keep up your side of the dialogue extremely well, structuring the talk and interacting authoritatively with effortless fluency as interviewer or interviewee, at no disadvantage to other speakers.

(Source: COMMON EUROPEAN FRAMEWORK OF REFERENCE FOR LANGUAGES: LEARNING, TEACHING, ASSESSMENT- Companion Volume)

These examples taken from political satire Yes, Minister can provide you with some (very) formal language you may use in your interactions.

The whole premise of the show is based on power plays and dynamics: the Minister is supposed to be the most powerful person in the room, as he holds political power; and yet, he finds it really hard to beat Sir Humphrey, the Permanent Secretary of the Department of Administrative Affairs (effectively, the head of the Civil Service). Sir Humphrey is supposed to be working under whoever happens to be the Minister at the time, but his is a tenured post: he is able to keep his position regardless of the party in Government. And in fact his main goal tends to be to talk Ministers into doing whatever he wants them to do. More often than not, then, the actual measures put in place tend to be Sir Humphrey’s ideas rather than the Minister’s original plans. Finally, there is also Bernard, the Minister’s private secretary, a much quieter person.

In the scenes below, the two speakers have opposing interests: the Minister wants to reduce the number of civil servants to cut down on expenses, while Sir Humphrey strenuously objects to that idea. As you will see, the Minister, as the person in a position of superiority, starts using more straightforward language (goes to the point), while Sir Humphrey resorts to politeness formulae and to his mastery of the language to baffle and confuse the Minister.

(Click on the CC icon to activate the subtitles in English)

Click here to open the video in a new tab

Please pay attention to the examples of formal language used in the clip:

  • Quite so (used to show agreement or understanding)
  • Use of I shall/we shall/I should (instead of the more common ‘I will’/’we will’ simply to express future or ‘I would’ to express condition)
  • With respect,
  • I will do my utmost to oblige
  • Making a suggestion: If you were to take that report… you might find… (instead of ‘If you took…’, or a bold ‘take that report!’)
  • by and large/in general terms (=in general)
  • not to put too fine a point on it 
  • Suppose you were/weren’t…

Other interesting expressions:

Even within this extremely formal context, the Minister still uses question tags and fillers (you know) to emphasise his points. This contributes to the conversation being more interactive, not one monologue after another. [Please note that Humphrey does not use them, as he is addressing his superior, but in a conversation between peers, or from a top-down position as here, question tags can help you interact with other speakers. ]

However, the tables are turned when the Minister later decides to play Sir Humphrey at his own game, by answering questions in Humphrey’s own roundabout way.

(Click on the CC icon to activate the subtitles in English)

Click here to open the video in a new tab

*Notice the pun between ‘draft’ and ‘draughts’ (homophones: same pronunciations, different spelling and meaning)

Please also note the use of a passive sentence to minimise the impact of the accusation Humphrey is making: instead of going bald on record and say ‘ you are hiding the content of the report from me’, he opts for indirectness: ‘affairs are being conducted in a way, which …’.

In this clip from Staged (2020), you can find another example of the expression ‘in the fullness of time‘ being used in context. In the clip, American actor Samuel L. Jackson and Scottish actor David Tennant play versions of themselves, trying to solve a professional conflict via video call while under lockdown. As you will notice, the register here is not exactly formal, but quite the opposite.

Click here to open the video in a new tab

  • Click here for some examples of expressions to use in a C2 individual production or interaction. 
  • Click here for some examples of persuasive language in interactions.

Using persuasive language in interactions

Typically, in exam situations where you have to interact, you will be asked to negotiate: your partner and you will have different (maybe opposing) interests, and you will have to find some common ground, reach an agreement…And one of the strategies you can use to reach that agreement is persuasion– trying to convince your partner that your option is the best one. This is some functional language you can use to persuade your partner(s):

  • Are you saying…? 
  • I’m sure you’ll agree…/I’m sure you’ll recognize…
  • Wouldn’t you say…? 
  • Are you saying that…?
  • It is undeniably the case that …
  • I’m just wondering if …
  • Can I just interrupt you here for a moment (if I may)? [only if you can’t get a word in edgewise]
  • Can I just ask…?
  • Can I just say something here? 
  • Can I point you towards…? 
  • Use question tags/right? 
  • Could we all agree that…/Could we both agree that…

You can find below some examples of persuasive language in negotiations taken from TV shows:

House M.D. ‘Control’: 

Dr. Alison Cameron feels her male colleagues and boss do not take her professional opinions seriously enough, so she has to resort to linguistic resources to try and delude them into thinking that her ideas are actually theirs.

 

Twenty Twelve:

Two senior members of the committee organising the London 2012 Olympics meet two secretaries from Clarence House (The Prince of Wales’s household) to look at ways of linking the 2012 Olympics with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations (the 60th anniversary of the Queen’s accession to the throne). They have to negotiate and reach an agreement that both parties may find satisfactory and that suits their needs.

Watch the video with subtitles in English here

  • I’m going to have to stop you there…
  • I see where you’re going with this
  • Shall I tell you what we’re hoping to achieve here? (Shall I tell you what my main aim is?)
  • Could we all agree that…/Could we both agree that…

*Siobhan (the blonde woman in the blue dress) is not the ideal role model for an interaction: she uses way too many fillers (and too informal for her role, actually-she probably wants to sound young and trendy, but she overdoes it): cool, totally, sure, here’s the thing…Besides, she is not very good at listening (which is something you should also do when interacting- listen to what your partner says and respond to that) or at using turn-taking strategies (she keeps interrupting, and as a result she is frequently interrupted or refused the right to speak in return).

You may also like:

Improve your pronunciation through songs

The summer holidays are coming, and this is an ideal time to keep practising your English without much effort, just by listening to songs in English. In the video below you can find a short description of four phonological features of English (characteristics of English pronunciation) which are present in all geographical varieties/accents of English. If you know about them, you can incorporate them into your own way of speaking English:

  1. Aspiration /h/, /p/, /t/, /k/
  2. Weak forms of grammatical words (to, of, for, from…)
  3. ‘S’+ consonant at the beginning of words (in Spain)
  4. coalescence (want you, need you)

But rather than pronounce those sounds myself, I thought it would be much better if you could listen to well-known songs where these traits/characteristics are present. The examples chosen to illustrate the pronunciation features include songs by Ed Sheeran, Lewis Capaldi, Sia, Adele, Lady Gaga, The Beatles and Queen, among others.

Watch the video below for an explanation of the four traits. All along the video, you will be presented with links to fragments taken from songs. You can either scan the QR codes which will be appearing in the video, or click on the links at the end of this post:

Click here to open the video in a new tab

You can watch the video with subtitles. Click on the CC/subtitles icon if they don’t start automatically. You can also skip parts of the video, by clicking on the video chapter that interests you the most (click on the timestamp-the red line as you watch the video, or, if you watch the video on YouTube, open the description below the video and click on the timestamp of the topic of your choice).

You can find a summary of some of the songs mentioned in the video in this infographic (click on the image to open it on a new tab and activate the interactive elements):

Exercise: Read the lyrics to ‘The Scientist’ by Coldplay and try to identify the pronunciation features present in the blue sounds/chunks of speech.  Then listen to the song to check if your guesses were correct. Could you notice the way the singer pronounces those sounds?

Exercise (Click/tap on the screenshot to download the pdf file):

 

You can check your answers here:

Click here to open the form in a new tab

Key to answers

Good examples of pronunciation:

1. Aspiration

2. Weak forms

3. Initial S 

4. coalescence

Resources:

More about these resources here

  • More resources on pronunciation can be found here.

Finally, you can find all the songs mentioned in this playlist:

Have a great summer holiday, and listen to lots of songs in English! 

recursos prueba certificación B1 inglés EOI Aragón para alumnos 4º ESO- mediación

If you are a student in year 4 secondary, and you are thinking of taking the B1 English test at an Escuela Oficial de Idiomas, the following videos and resources may help you…

  • to understand how the exam works and what you are expected to do
  • to understand what the mediation paper is about
  1. Structure of the exams- specifications, what to expect, what score is needed to pass the exam:

Guía informativa para alumnado- pruebas de certificación EOI Aragón 2019-2020

2. What is mediation? What am I expected to do in the ‘mediation’ paper?

3. Mediation paper- specifications:

Sample mediation tasks:

  • Mediation in writing:

Sample task 1: JK Rowling’s The Ickabog

 

Sample task 2: Five Facts for PacMan’s 40th Birthday

Click here to download the pdf file with the mediation task

Mediation in speech:

Watch this video for some tips on how to do the mediation in speech task in the exam:

 

Sample mediation in speech tasks: 

 

TO SUM UP, THESE ARE THE MAIN IDEAS AND TIPS YOU SHOULD REMEMBER: 

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*If you are an English teacher, you might be interested in the materials and videos from this workshop on the Companion Volume and mediation.

 

listening: Can you save the world? computer game teaching children about social distancing

Listen to the extract and, using the information you have heard, fill in the gaps with up to six words (from 1 word to a maximum of 6 words).  You can listen to the extract twice.

Source

Can you Save the World- exercises- pdf

You can read the transcript here. 

If you are curious about it, you can play the game here. 

Further reading:

Proyectando Escuelas Amigas- conversación de despedida (de momento)

El Proyecto Escuelas Amigas surgió como iniciativa de la Escuela de Idiomas de Pamplona en 2019-2020, para que Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas de toda España pudieran trabajar hermanadas llevando a cabo proyectos colaborativos. Junto a esto, desde Marzo 2020, como respuesta a las necesidades surgidas por tener que trabajar con los alumnos online, las impulsoras de Escuelas Amigas crearon también “Proyectando Escuelas Amigas- Charlas Cooperativas“, una serie de webinars a cargo de distintas/os docentes de Escuelas Oficiales de Idiomas de toda España, en la que se presentaban herramientas que pueden ser útiles para el trabajo online con este alumnado. Todos y cada uno de ellos presentan propuestas y herramientas muy eficaces e interesantes.

En mi caso, contribuí con el primero de esos webinars, sobre el uso de Kaizena para dar feedback a las producciones escritas del alumnado. Lo podéis ver aquí:

El viernes 22 de mayo, y después de veintinueve webinars durante estos dos meses, pusimos el punto final (de momento) a la serie de webinars con una “conversación” entre varios de los participantes (Laura Escribano y Carol Sáez de Albéniz, de la EOI de Pamplona, las impulsoras de todo el proyecto; Cristina Cabal, de la EOI de Avilés; Paola Iasci, de la EOI de Alcalá de Henares; Tere Cots, de la EOI de Lleida; Sandra Llamero, de la EOI de Soria; Fernanda González, de la EOI de Málaga, y Manuel del Río, de la extensión de la EOI Noia), y me invitaron a participar. Hablamos sobre las necesidades surgidas durante el periodo de confinamiento en el proceso de enseñanza-aprendizaje en las EOIs; de los retos y oportunidades que se plantean para el futuro ante un escenario incierto…Si os interesa, podéis verlo aquí:

Una vez más, solo puedo agradecer tanto a Laura como a Carol que me incluyeran en su proyecto; y a todos los compañeros, ponentes y participantes, por fomentar esta comunidad de docentes que tanto aporta.

tips for the EvAU/EBAU writing task- redacción selectividad (EvAU)

If you are sitting the EvAU English exam in a few weeks, this video and the resources below may help you prepare for the writing task:

  1. Watch this video for an explanation of some ‘tips’ to write essays:

 

You can download the presentation I’ve used for the video here.

In the description of the video you can find a timeline of all the points mentioned. If you click on any of the times, it will take you straight to that section, so you can skip parts you may have seen or you may not find interesting.

If you need them, you can watch the video with subtitles in English. Click on the subtitles icon.

2. These are the 7 tips summarised (infographic):

Click/tap on the image to download the pdf file

3. If you want to make sure that have understood the tips, you can have a look at the sentences I’ve collected from year 2 Bachillerato students. Analyse them, and then fill in this Google Form to get feedback to your answers:

  • Click here to download the file with the sentences
  • Click here to open the Google form in a new tab

4. Linking words and signposting– essential to make your text easy to read, clear, cohesive (indicating the relation between ideas) and coherent (making sense):

5. These are the ‘scary mistakes‘ I refer to in the video: a series of grammatical mistakes which you shouldn’t be making at this level. Be very careful, and when you have finished writing your essay/email/…, re-read it to make sure you haven’t made any of them. They will make you look bad.

Click/tap on the screenshot to download the pdf file

6. WAGOLL: Would you like to know what a good writing task looks like? Click here to open the text, and click on the ThingLink below for an explanation of why it is a good piece of writing. That way, you can try to imitate the positive aspects.

Click/tap on the image to open an interactive document with explanations

Download the pdf file with the text here

7. News websites to widen your range of language/improve your vocabulary: The topics you will have to write about tend to involve social issues, current affairs…If you want to read/listen to news reports in English, you can use these websites:

  • El País in English (useful to be able to talk about Spanish issues in English)
  • BBC News (articles and videos)
  • CNN 10– news explained in 10 minutes, transcripts and captions (subtitles) available

8. Finally, if you want to practise your writing, you can find some possible writing topics below:

  1. Should remote learning be promoted by governments?
  2. Should students have to wear school uniforms?
  3. Should standardised testing (such as the EvAU) be abolished at the end of Bachillerato?
  4. Education should focus on Maths and Science rather than Music and Art.
  5. Should 16-year-olds be given the right to vote?
  6. Should takeaways/fast food shops near schools be banned?
  7. Should electric scooters and bikes be allowed on the pavement?
  8. Is human activity primarily responsible for global climate change?
  9. What was the effect of the lockdown on the environment and what does it tell us?
  10. Should animals be used for scientific testing and trials?
  11. Are social media positive for society?
  12. What is the effect of technology on people’s relationships?
  13. Young children should not be exposed to technology.
  14. Reality television has a negative effect on society. What’s your take on this?
  15. Discuss some of the ways in which travel and tourism are going to change after the coronavirus pandemic.

9. If you want to reinforce your grammar skills, you may also like this: exercises to revise key grammar points (Bachillerato)- useful to revise for the ‘rephrasing’ exercise.