British conversation rules

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Transcript British conversation rules

British conversation rules

An ethnographic approach to teaching English

Simon Parker Sharing One Language



1. Cheers 2. Ta 3. That's great 4. Cool 5. OK 6. Brilliant 7. Lovely 8. Nice one 9. Much appreciated 10. You star 11. All right 12. Fab 13. Awesome 14. Wicked 15. Merci 16. Danke 17. Gracias 18. Super 19. Ace 20. Thank you

Source: boutthat/7959915/Britons-abandon-thank-you-in favour-of-cheers.html

participating people’s daily lives


listening to what is said watching

asking questions

collecting whatever data is available

M. Hammersley & P. Atkinson

A rule: a fact or the statement of a fact, which holds generally; the normal state of things

• • • • Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour Kate Fox Publisher: Nicholas Brealey Publishing (April 2, 2008) ISBN-10: 18 578 850 82

A: B: A: B:

“The Ultimate Gap Fill”

“_____ _____ _____ _____ you?” “_____ _____ _____ _____ please” “_____ _____ _____ _____” “_____” what cheers two can that'll I packets be £1.10 of get crisps please

A: B: A: B:


What can I get you?

Two packets of crisps, please That'll be £1.10, please Cheers

Weather speak

Context rule

: simple greeting OR ice breaker (the weather is only an excuse to talk!)

Reciprocity rule:

response ALWAYS required from B

Agreement rule:

positive ‘social response’ required from B – you agree even if you really disagree!


: question, question tag or interrogative intonation.

Weather hierarchy rule:

“but at least it’s not......” sunny and warm  rainy and cold

A. Oh, it’s cold today, isn’t it?

B. Yes, but at least it’s not raining again Weather - as - family rule:

foreigners can not make negative comparisons (“What? You call this cold? I come from Knezha and....”)


you can make positive one – if you say you prefer the weather in the UK.

Female bonding

Counter compliment rule:

compliment + self-critical remark


self depreciating denial +counter complement

2 nd Response: more

self depreciating denial +counter complements • • • A: Your hair looks great. Mine’s so boring and mousey B: Oh no, it’s terrible! It gets so fizzy – I wish I could have it short like you but I just don’t have the bone structure; you’ve got such good cheekbones A: No way, they’re far too high. I look like Donald Duck especially with my neck. Your neck is so elegant.

Extra ‘social points’

for witty, amusing self depreciating remarks

Use in class:

(1) show the students this dialogue (2) get them to identify the rules/pattern (3) discuss what it ‘might’ tell you about English people (4) get the students to write their dialogues in pairs which follow this pattern .

Male Bonding

The ‘Mine’s Better Than Yours Game Start:

boast or attack on other person’s ‘theirs’ . Topic is immaterial.


statement is challenged (even if they agree with it) • • • A: I see your company chose your car again. Not even someone with your bad taste would buy a Kia B: Sod off – it least it won’t spend half its time in the garage like yours. I bet your mechanic’s bought himself a new house with the amount you spent fixing that German pile of rubbish A: He’s been tuning it, you idiot. It’s something you do with performance cars – who the hell would tune a bloody Kia?

The ‘no earnestness’ rule:

seriousness or zeal are both unmanly and un-British

Use in class:

Same as female bonding but you will problem need to change some of the words for students in any class lower than XI .

Social Class Rules

pardon sweet settee lavatory lounge

The 7 deadly class sins

sofa loo tea living room dessert serviette dinner couch sorry napkin pudding afters toilet supper sitting room (1) Find the 7 groups of synonyms (up to 4 words in each group) (2) Decide which word(s) are (a) upper + upper middle class (b) middle middle to working class words

1. Pardon , sorry 2. Settee, sofa, couch (US) Red class = middle middle to working class, blue = upper middle to upper 3. Living room, lounge , sitting room (not in ex. drawing room (mainly upper class) 4. Sweat , pudding , afters , dessert (American – sort of acceptable!) 5. Tea , dinner , supper 6. Toilet, Lavatory 7. Serviette, Napkin , (1) (2) (4)

Use in class?

Discuss class in Bulgaria –


there are class structure here? What are the classes?

Ask if the different classes/groups they have identified speak differently? Do they use different words?

(3) Do the exercise Wider discussion – is it right to judge people based on their class? Can language/accents be a barrier to a good job in Bulgaria?

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Thanks for listening!

Simon Parker

[email protected]