August 27, 2007

#01-012: Getting Someone's Facts Straight

Mother Teresa

Note: We don't often talk about it in classes, but language has something called "register." This means that we use different types of language depending on the situation we're in, or the person we're talking to. These can include the forms of words ("going to" instead of "goin' to," or even "gonna") as well as our choice of more or less polite words. In this lesson, we talk about more polite ways to point out that someone has made a mistake.

Get Ready: When someone makes a mistake, do you (1) correct him or her directly, (2) correct him or her in a more polite way, or (3) not correct him or her at all?

Read this conversation. Notice how Harold corrects Sally when she makes mistakes.

Harold: Hey Sally, have you ever heard of Mother Teresa?

Sally: Mother Teresa... oh, yeah, the Indian nun.

Harold: Well, sort of... in fact, her parents were Albanian and she was born in what is now Macedonia. She went to India when she was 21 to help the poor.

Sally: Oh... uh... and because of her work she got the Noble Prize, right?

Harold: Actually, it's the NoBEL Prize, with the accent on the BEL.

Sally: Sorry... So, how old is she?

Harold: Well, um, to tell the truth, she died back in 1997.

Sally: Oh! I guess I better get my facts straight!

Sally is "so close": she knows a little about Mother Teresa, but not quite enough.

Instead of correcting Sally too directly, like one might with a child or one's social inferior, Harold uses several techniques so she won't feel attacked:

  1. Give some credit, if possible.
  2. Take your time. Use lots of pauses (the "... " above). Also, note that many teachers will tell you not to say "um" or "uh." But often, in informal speech, you can use these sounds effectively to prepare the listener for something unexpected.
  3. Use softening words or phrases like "in fact," "actually," and "to tell the truth."
  4. Give the correct information in place of the mistake.

In other words, don't just say, "No! You're wrong!"


Read more:

Practice: Look at the conversation again. Which technique does Harold use on each of Sally's three mistakes? There's more information about each of Harold's answers below.

  1. saying she's Indian
  2. mispronouncing "Nobel"
  3. thinking she's still alive
  1. Give some credit.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Use softening words or phrases.
  4. Give the correct information.

Explanation of the Answers: After you check your answers in the first comment below, read on for more information on these techniques.

  1. After Sally's first mistake (saying Mother Teresa is Indian), Harold gives her credit for nearly being correct by saying "sort of" (A). We might also say "kind of" in this situation. Next Harold uses "in fact," one of the softening phrases we use to get the listener ready (C). Then he explains that she did live in India most of her life, but that she wasn't from there (D).
  2. Sally's second mistake was mispronouncing "Nobel" (the name of the man who created the prize). Here Harold uses "actually" as a softener (C), then gives the correct pronunciation (D).
  3. Sally's final mistake was to assume that Mother Teresa was still alive. Harold takes his time (B) by saying "Well, um" then uses "to tell the truth" (C) and states the facts (D).

Try using these tips next time someone makes a mistake.

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for August 27, 2007

This lesson received 264 visits on my old site between January, 2012, and June, 2021.

1 comment: