Reflections on Chia’s IATEFL interview on politeness and requests

The constantly inspiring Chia Suan Chong kicked off the first day of IATEFL at the BESIG PCE by talking about politeness and some of her MA research on requests. For those who caught her on the recent BESIG webinar, you’ll be aware that Chia spent a lot of time recording and analysing requests related to NNS (non-native speakers) and NS (native speakers) perceptions. Today, she managed to fit in a short interview with Andi White and Rob Lewis.

Chia raised the point that NNS are kinder to each other than NS are. One reason why natives are not as nice is that they may be less culturally aware, not having not learned an L2 or lived abroad. In comparison, foreign students are often immersed in different cultures in their classrooms and host families and come to some appreciation of how best to behave and speak. This certainly relates to Globish and ELF but it is unclear whether our classrooms are actually a positive influence or not.

Chia argued that we are understanding as teachers but other native speakers are not. So, are we doing our students an injustice? Should the classroom be a perfect and safe bubble where everyone is nice and understanding but when they go outside they encounter the real world? This is something I feel rather strongly about too and it has a lot to do with old-fashioned EFL materials with fictional scenarios. There are non worse than those sold abroad full of pictures of Big Ben and afternoon tea. There you won’t find any disagreement or lack of politeness. Instead, students are drilled politeness phrases every day but when they arrive in London are amazed why people don’t constantly say please.

My favourite quote was: “a lot of course books at the moment don’t really look at discourse and pragmatics”. This should change but if it doesn’t then it’s up to us to do it ourselves and it’s not as difficult as it may sound. A great place to start is with native speaker interactions compared to NNS ones and looking at what impressions their language, voice and even appearance gives. As Chia notes, intonation becomes important, as too do facial gestures, especially for low levels.

So, the challenge is there and if you really want to prepare your students for a world full on NNS then pragmatics looks even more important but how will you do it? I think a great place to start is just to ask your students to define politeness. How do you define it?


Chia’s talk:

Speech Acts:

Politeness theory:

Grice’s politeness Maxims:



4 thoughts on “Reflections on Chia’s IATEFL interview on politeness and requests

  1. I saw the interview too; very interesting stuff. Did you see Jamie Keddie´s interview re: dealing with tough topics in class. Also interesting, and similar to the lessons we produce. Nik Peachey seemed a bit dubious about dealing with such topics in an EFL classroom though due to potential student reaction, which i felt was a bit weak. I´ll ask my b1.2 students for a definition today and i´ll get back to you. cheers Phil.

    • Hi Don,

      I’ve just blogged about Keddie. Yes, I thought he raised some good points and was surprised because some of his video lessons seem more aimed at lower levels and not tackling tough subjects.Thumbs up for Jamie!!

    • Yep but she’s a tough one. She roasted me on the DA. Later though I was very lucky to work with her on a new BE Drama article which is working its way to a BESIG newsletter as we speak. She used to be/is still a pretty famous actress. I think she was in casualty.

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