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:

Listening- Bookclub (C2)

Listen to some short extracts from interviews with world-famous writers. Match each extract (1 – 6) with the best heading (A-H) and write the letter in the appropriate box. ONE of the headings does not correspond to any of the extracts. The first extract is an example. You can listen to the clips twice.

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)? 

Listening- Woman’s Hour: New Year’s Resolutions (C1)

Listen to this clip from BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour, where two speakers exchange their views on New Year’s resolutions. For questions 1-6, choose the best answer (a,b or c). You can listen to the clip twice.

Instagram to hide likes (self-image)

Listen to this news report about a new measure that Instagram is trialling in an effort to silence criticism that it has a negative effect on users’ self-esteem.

Source

Transcript

  • Can you see any positive aspects of Instagram? Can you see any downsides?
  • Has Instagram had any effect on society (relationships, money-making…)?
  • Would you say Instagram has changed the way people see themselves? If so, to what extent?
  • How different would your life be if Instagram hadn’t been developed?
  • Some people don’t use email anymore, because they prefer to communicate through social media. What’s your take on this?

Money- resources

You can find below a series of resources which can be used if you need to deal with the topic of money and finances:

Debit card ad:

Money and consumerism- Spotify playlist

Word cloud with idioms from songs:

Edpuzzle quiz– clip captioned in English, questions and comments aimed at working on the vocabulary of money. (C1)

Winning the lottery:

Transcript 

  • Cashless societies:
  • Pensioners splashing out vs cash-strapped millennials:

transcript

      • Facebook cryptocurrency launched:
      • Have you/Would you invest in bitcoins? Why? -Watch these clips from The Big Bang Theory (The Bitcoin Entanglement)

Finances:

Model declared bankrupt:

Transcript

Sex and the City- Ring a Ding Ding (the protagonist finds herself broke after years of splashing out on, among other luxuries, shoes)

Crime and money:

  • Cybercrime and fraud:
  • Measures to prevent fraud:
  • Using a dead woman’s card (B2):