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Spoken Language for Everyday Life

Using ‘ordinary’ or ‘everyday’ spoken language within a university setting is a skill that is often forgotten about – most of the time available in language classes seems to be spent on improving students’ academic reading and writing skills. Commonplace speaking activities can often become neglected as a result.



1. Using ‘everyday’ spoken language is a skill which should not be neglected. Why?


Recommended books for developing everyday use of English language

Advice on the kind of spoken language you need for everyday life


Using ‘everyday’ spoken language is a skill which should not be neglected. Why?

Studying English for university purposes, like any other task, is often a matter of priorities – with limited time available, it is tempting to spend most of the time one has on developing writing skills.

However, it would be a great pity to neglect some of the more common speaking activities, because:

  • You need some basic words and social phrases to be able to communicate successfully in everyday situations (in shops, in a restaurant, in town, on the bus, with friends in your accommodation, or at parties, etc);
  • You need to speak using an appropriate register (level of formality) so that your language is suitably polite where the occasion demands;
  • Being able to socialise helps you to make friends and to get the most out of your time at university – many people would argue that it is not only the academic work that is important when you go to university, but the social experience. If you miss out on the social experience, this would be very disappointing.
  • It would be a great pity if you missed out on the opportunity to learn social English while you are in an English-speaking country – it will be much more difficult when you return to your own country later on, and of course, you will not be able to practise what you have learned so readily when you are not surrounded by English.

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Advice on the kind of spoken language you need for everyday life

When you are speaking English in ordinary, everyday situations, you will need to find the English formulae that you need – this is not only a case of getting the grammar right, but the register (level of formality) must also be suitable.

As you gradually become more used to speaking English around you, you may find the following strategies particularly useful in improving your social competence:

  • Try to sound happy to greet the other person: ‘Great to see you’, ‘Hello, long time no see’, etc.
  • Try asking more polite questions/ interest questions if you can : you could begin with something like ‘I was just wondering….’ or ‘I wonder if you could tell me if…’;
  • Using question tags (‘isn’t it?’, ‘don’t we’, etc) is a good way to express interest, even when both speakers share the information (e.g. ‘It’s a nice day, isn’t it?’, ‘He did well, didn’t he?’).
  • Make a few more polite requests : you could try something like ‘I don’t suppose you could…..could you?’ or ‘Would it be at all possible to….’? The voice begins ‘high’ in this sort of phrase (high intonation generally indicates politeness).
  • Decide to make a compliment to someone, by placing appropriate emphasis on the auxiliary verbs ‘do’ and ‘did’: e.g. ‘that tie does look nice…’, ‘I did enjoy your presentation today’, ‘I do like that book’.
  • Try to use the word ‘Oh’ a bit more : you can use it to express modesty ‘Oh, it was really nothing at all’, or to express surprise ‘Oh, that does look nice’, ‘Oh I’m sorry to hear that.’
  • Try ‘commiserating’ and ‘sympathising’ with the person you are speaking to if they have had bad luck or bad news : ‘What a shame!’, ‘Oh dear, that is a pity’, ‘Oh, that must have been awful for you’, ‘Oh, how annoying’..
  • Try to ‘make the right noises’ when you are listening to someone else – it is especially nice if you can sound enthusiastic: for example, ‘A-ha’, ‘Oh really’, ‘Right’, ‘I see’, ‘Really?’, ‘Goodness me, how strange!’, ‘Well, I never did!’, ‘Fancy that!’, ‘Good heavens, I bet that was funny!’, etc.
  • Show when you haven’t understood: ‘I didn’t quite catch that’; ‘Sorry, I didn’t quite get what you said there.’
  • Make your apologies sound a little stronger and more sincere: ‘Oh, I am sorry’, ‘Oh dear, I do apologise’, ‘I’m awfully sorry’, ‘I can’t tell you how sorry I am…’, etc.
  • Invite someone to do something in a friendly way : ‘Would you like to…?’, ‘Do you fancy coming to my party…?’, ‘Shall we…?’, ‘How about….?’
  • Accept invitations with plenty of enthusiasm: ‘Oh, thanks a lot!’, ‘I’d really love to’, ‘What a good idea!’, ‘That would be great’, ‘Oh that would be really nice…’, ‘How very kind of you’, etc.


Recommended books for developing everyday use of English language


In order to develop everyday spoken language skills, we especially recommend:

Mark Fletcher and Roger Hargreaves (1973). Making Polite Noises. English Experience.

Making Polite NoisesAlthough it was first published some years ago, this book is still available to buy new from Amazon, and is modestly priced at £4.


Mark Fletcher has been involved in producing many ‘brain-friendly’ teaching materials, which draw on the theory that when learning languages, one should use both sides of the brain. Roger Hargreaves is a well known illustrator.


The simple book gives you the language you need to do the following :

  • ask for information
  • make suggestions
  • offer to do things
  • make complaints and apologies
  • start and finish conversations
  • use the telephone
  • be persuasive

The book has an accompanying cassette.


The authors make the following advice in the introduction to the book :

‘If you are supposed to sound angry you must sound angry : the same when you are showing you are interested, sympathetic, happy or whatever. Remember, ‘It’s not just what you say, it’s the way that you say it that matters’.


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The text was prepared by Dr Gerard Sharpling