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9.4: Speaking Strategies - Formal Speech versus Casual Speech

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    In the previous unit, we looked at casual speech, which can include jargon, idiomatic expressions, slang, and even offensive language (“curse words”). Casual speech is an important part of any language, and can give the speaker a sense of fluency that may lead to better understanding of the culture and closer friendships.

    That being said, formal speech, is by far the best way to speak a language for several reasons. The most important, though, is that formal speech almost always well received by the listeners. 99% of conversations spoken with formal speech, which includes polite, respectful language, will be taken in positive ways. Whether you’re talking to a teacher, a police officer, a fast-food restaurant employee or a stranger, formal speech should always be used.

    One concern regarding formal speech has to do with its opposition: casual speech. Many people are choosing to spend several hours a day watching television or movies, or using their smartphones to chat, play games, watch YouTube or Netflix. A growing concern is that people are forgetting how to communicate properly. Some are choosing to withdraw from society completely by spending all day in their rooms on their cell phones, while others make attempts to engage in face-to-face communicate by repeating online jargon like “lol” (笑) at the end of a sentence:

    This is not only happening in English-speaking countries. In Japan, for example, there are multiple levels of language, ranging from casual speech to teineigo (polite speech) to keigo (or honorific speech), and they are an extremely important part of the culture because they show respect for the listener. Young people have increasingly been unprepared for situations which call for respectful language, and usually study or are trained before interviews or jobs.

    There’s a way to get back on track by learning a few simple phrases that can be used in a variety of situations, and they always exude politeness and respect. “Please,” Thank you,” “You’re welcome,” “Excuse me,” and “I’m sorry” should be your go-to phrases every single day. Let’s look at some other examples of polite speech that will save your interview, presentation, conversation, and even your life:

    Formal Expressions


    Create your own sentence

    May I have…?

    May I have more time to answer?

    Could I see…?

    Could I have more time to answer?


    May I have more time to answer, please?

    I’m hoping to

    I’m hoping to have more time to answer.

    Is it possible to

    Is it possible to have more time to answer?

    Let me know if…

    Let me know if I can have more time to answer.

    To be honest, …

    To be honest, I need more time to answer.

    Lastly, while there are more phrases and plenty of rules to follow when speaking and writing formally, one very common point should be focused on here. When using informal speech, it is common to use contracted auxiliary verbs:

    Informal: It’s running smoothly. vs. Formal: It is running smoothly.
    Informal: She’s left the office. vs. Formal: She has left the office.

    Learn these rules and phrases, and use them as often as possible. The critical message here is this: If you’re not sure of which to use, defer to formal speech. You will almost never offend anyone, and will more than likely make your listeners feel respected and appreciated.

    Speaking Activity

    Practice your polite speech skills with a partner! Recreate the scenario from the previous unit, and see how the conversation would go if both the student and the teacher were using polite speech. After you’ve acted it out and discussed it, switch the scripts, and have the student and teacher talking to each other using the worst casual speech you know (nothing violent or degrading). After both skits are finished, discuss them with the class.

    This page titled 9.4: Speaking Strategies - Formal Speech versus Casual Speech is shared under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Daniel Velasco.

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