Why Chinese people sometimes seem impolite when speaking English
Chinglish or Chenglish is used to define the way our Chinese people speak English. When we speak English, most of us are used to applying our Chinese grammar and thought to it. Therefore, in the native English speakers’ mind, Chinese people’s English is broken. Moreover, they think Chinese people sometimes impolite when we speak English.
Why do we give the foreigners this bad impression? Of course, we never mean to be rude. But the way we express ourselves follows Chinese custom and is not the standard way that native talkers will use. In another word, Chinese are not accustomed to English way of being polite, thus making us seem unprofessional and rude.
For example, in the restaurant or coffee bar, Chinese usually order menu like that” I want to have XXX”. It’s easy for Chinese to understand and accept this expression while foreigners would consider it to be a little rude. In fact, foreigners will speak in a way like that “could I have…, please” or “can I have …, please”. There is another example.
When Chinese reject the invitation for dinner, we will directly say that” sorry, I can’t. I have another appointment”. This is a typical Chinglish answer, and if you refuse a kind invitation like that, you might never receive another one in the future. Foreigners would like to say that“That is a good idea. I would like to join in, but I have another appointment today.”
From these examples, we can summarize some key points for being polite when we speak English.
1. When communicating with others, westerners tend to use more modal verbs such as COULD, WOULD, MIGHT, MAY, CAN and so on. Modal verb is also called Modal Auxiliary; it can indicate speakers’ tone and help speakers to express suggestion, demand, possibility and willingness, making their tone sound more polite and mild.
2. Subjunctive mood is widely used. Westerners use “would (had) rather”, “would (had) sooner”, “would (just) as soon” etc for subjunctive mood, or they use past tense in the declarative sentence, which is also a way of subjunctive mood. What’s more, conditional adverbial clauses that starts with “if” is used to express possibility and is a kind of subjunctive mood too. Such speaking can make the listeners have deep impression that the speakers have considered the best results and try to avoid the bad ones, or they have speculated problems that may occurs and have tried to find the solution.
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3. “Please” is added in the end of the sentence rather than in the beginning. When “please” is placed in the beginning of a sentence, it indicates a stronger tone and sounds like that the speaker is making a demand or command. Chinese will say that “please give me a reply by Friday. Thank you”, which is common according to their usual talking custom. In fact, it would be more gentle and polite if you said “could you please reply me by Monday? Thank you.”
4. Try to use more questions, negative sentences or clauses instead of declarative sentences, for the declarative sentences make your mood sound gruff, harsh and impolite. Remember to speak in a positive, suggestive, and gentle tone rather than a negative, commanding, direct or arrogant tone.
5. Follow the principle of taking others as the center and the precondition of agreeing with others, which will make you more humble. When you finish speaking, add “thanks” or “thank you”.
China has been always known as a nation of courtesy. We know the importance of being polite and have acted as what our ancient have instructed. The reason that we sometimes seem impolite when speaking English is that we haven’t comprehended the way of expressing courtesy in the West. As long as we pay more attention to this issue and learn with heart, we will show our great manner to the foreigners.
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