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:

Mediation in speaking- C1: Operación Triunfo-cómo les ha ido a los ganadores del concurso

For our unit on entertainment, you are welcome to try this mediation task:

You’re on a video call with European friends discussing the cancellation of the Eurovision song contest, and that leads to how effective TV talent shows are at launching unknown artists’ careers. You have read this article about Operación Triunfo, one of the most successful talent shows in Spain ever. Summarise the main points of the article and the charts in it to contribute to the conversation in no more than 3’30’’.

[The length is a bit longer this time because the text is slightly longer than it should, and it also includes graphs (usually you would have 3 minutes).]

Click on any of the screenshots to download the worksheet.

 

If you think you are going to need extra help selecting the relevant information, or with some vocabulary, you may have a look at this annotated version

Source text

British/Irish TV shows I’ve been watching lately

These are some recent British/Irish TV shows I have been watching/re-watching lately, and which I thought were worth recommending:

  • Broadchurch (2013-2017): crime/drama about the murder of an eleven-year-old boy which takes a small community by storm. Starring David Tennant, Olivia Colman and Jodie Whitaker. Trailer
  • The Crown (2016-): contemporary history, biopic about the political rivalries and romance during Elizabeth II’s reign. Trailer
  • Trust Me (2017) drama, set in a hospital, starring Jodie Whitaker. Trailer
  • Liar (2017-2020) psychological thriller about rape and the aftermath of it- set in Kent, starring Joanne Froggatt (Downton Abbey). Trailer
  • Derry Girls (2018-) comedy set in Northern Ireland, it follows the lives of a group of teenagers against the backdrop of the Troubles. Trailer
  • Butterfly (2018) drama about the ordeal of a transgender child. Trailer
  • A Very English Scandal (2018): political biopic/thriller/black comedy starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw based on the true story of the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy to murder. Trailer
  • The Split (2018-2020) drama about a family of female divorce lawyers, set in London. Trailer
  • There She Goes (2018-): an honest look at the everyday life of the family of a severely disabled nine-year-old girl. A nice blend of comedy and drama. Starring David Tennant and Jessica Hynes (Years and Years, Twenty Twelve, W1A). Trailer
  • Years and Years (2019): Dystopian science-fiction. The first episode is set in 2019, on the same day as it was first broadcast. From then, it moves forward in time, year after year, until 2034. It tackles many global issues,  human rights, politics, the impact of technology… Eerie, as it hits too close to home at times. Lots of food for thought. Emma Thompson plays the role of a ruthless politician. Trailer
  • State of the Union (2019) 10′ episodes, comedy about relationships, starring Tom O’Dowd (The IT Crowd), and written by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy). Trailer 
  • A Confession (2019) thriller based on real events, starring Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Office). Trailer
  • Good Omens (2019) fantasy, based on the book by the same title by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen (Tony Blair in The Queen). Trailer
  • Breeders (2020-) black comedy on the trials of parenthood. Starring and produced by Martin Freeman. Trailer 
  • Deadwater Fell (2020) murder mystery-drama set in a Scottish village. Starring David Tennant. Trailer
  • Normal People (2020): romantic drama based on the best-selling novel by the same title, follows the on-again/off-again relationship of two Irish students from their last year at school through University. Set in Sligo and Dublin. Trailer
  • Charlie Brooker’s Antiviral Wipe (2020): one-off show by the creator of Black Mirror and the Philomena Cunk shows- a satirical look back at the coronavirus crisis in the UK and life under lockdown. You can watch the trailer here.
  • Staged (2020) 6 15-minute episodes. Comedy starring David Tennant and Michael Sheen playing a caricature version of themselves from home during lockdown, placing a series of video calls to rehearse a play. Because of the banter and informal atmosphere, you can hear David Tennant’s characteristic Scottish accent at his best, along with Michael Sheen’s Welsh accent not being substituted by RP. There are discussions about regional accents and their cultures as well as, obviously, about theatre and performance. Trailer
  • The Salisbury Poisonings (2020): three-part drama about the real-life poisoning of a Russian double agent, his daughter and other civilian casualties in Salisbury in 2018. Trailer. 

You may also like these comedies:

You may also be  interested in this:

Further ideas:

(Updated 23.6.20)

Megxit- classroom resources

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, announced their decision to step down as senior members of the Royal Family last week. As it happens, I am dealing with current affairs and the media in my C2 classes. And as of next week, we will be talking about diversity and inclusion, tackling some aspects of race relations. That is why I decided to use this news story as an excuse to design some activities to link both units.

  1. Watch this clip from BBC’s Newsnight where royal correspondents discuss their views on the subject (source). Pay attention to the underlined expressions related to ‘getting information’:

Click on the screenshot to open the video and transcript in a new tab

2. Read the following opinion article on the treatment that the tabloids (and the media in general) have given to the couple, and especially, to Meghan Markle as mixed-race (source). Some sentences have been removed. Choose from sentences A-G the one which fits each gap (1-6) best. There is an extra sentence which you do not need to use.

Click on the screenshot to download pdf file

The text includes a wide range of vocabulary, with some expressions which might actually be interesting to include in your wordstock; however, they may make it harder for you to understand the text. Should you have any trouble, you can click on this interactive version of the text on Thinglink:

3. Mediation in writing: You are a team of journalists working for El País in English. You have been asked to write a news story for their website on Harry and Meghan stepping down as senior royals.

El País is a serious newspaper. Therefore, they tend to use:

Read the following source https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10721340/queen-arrives-church-summit-meghan-harry/ and select the relevant information

  • Think about how you would express those ideas in a way which is more suitable for your newspaper and your target audience.
  • Write a 150-175 word news story.

Download the pdf version of the source article (text only)

4. Follow-up: Share your views on Twitter. Use the hashtag #Megxit to be part of the conversation. [I opened a shared Twitter account for my students so that they would not need to use a personal account. Using Twitter provides real online interaction, and it seems only natural to use social media when discussing ‘the media’ in 2020]. 

  • How do you feel about #Megxit? Do you feel for them? Deep down, are you saying ‘good riddance’?
  • Do you support their decision to step down as senior members of the family?
  • Have they been harassed into leaving by the press, especially the tabloids?
  • Should they continue to be supported financially by the Crown (i.e. by British taxpayers)? 

Keeping up with the news in English

If you want to keep up with the news, these may be useful sources of information:

To see the front pages of newspapers every day, you can visit these links:

You can also watch these news channels: 

Radio:

Further ideas:

Christmas ads 2019

Christmas is around the corner. In the run-up to Christmas, businesses and brands release their very best ads, typically tearjerkers, to catch consumers off-guard and lure them to shop till they drop. I’m well aware of their persuasion strategies, of course. And yet, every year I find myself having a look at British Christmas ads, as they tend to be longer, and usually tell a story, which will allow me to exploit them in the classroom even further than ordinary ads. This is a selection of the ones I liked the most this year:

VISA

a rendition of Queen’s ‘Somebody to Love’ by real shopkeepers struggling to survive in the high street.

Extended version

Alternative version- shopkeepers singing All I Want for Xmas is you

Sainsbury’s– Nicholas the Sweep

Set in Dickensian London, it showcases the story of a waif-an orphan child and chimney sweep, unfairly accused of stealing.

Resources: the ad is set in Victorian England/Dickensian London. Some related vocabulary may be useful to start with:

Click on the image to open the word cloud. Links to definitions can be found by clicking on each word.

  • What do you mean when you say that somebody is ‘rotten to the core’?
  • The story is told by a 3rd-person narrator. How would you narrate the story using 1st-person narrative…
          • a. from Mrs Sainsbury’s point of view? 
          • b. from Nicholas the sweep’s point of view?
  • Imagine the story were to be published as a book. How would you retell it?

John Lewis & Waitrose– Excitable Edgar

Resources to use the ad in the classroom:

Fortnum and Mason– What’s in a Fortnum and Mason hamper? (list of traditional Christmas foods and elements in Britain)

Watch the ad and write down as many foods, gifts and Christmas traditions as you can.

Aldi-Kevin the Carrot #4 (Let Me Entertain You):

Resources to use the ad in the classroom: The Literacy Shed

Sky– ET came home for Christmas

Joules– Wallace and Gromit

Iceland supermarkets– Frozen II

Lidl

M&S Christmas Food (Christmas market)

Smyths toys– If I Were a Toy

Save the Children’s Christmas Jumper Day– You may want to take part in this…

Further resources: