English Etiquette

English Etiquette

It might seem like common sense but you will be surprised how many people do not practice language etiquette or etiquette in general. It’s completely normal if foreigners do not practice English etiquette while traveling, having meetings or meeting a native. At least, this was my experience when visiting non-English speaking countries. In some countries English etiquette is not needed, it’s called English etiquette for a reason because it’s English, not Russian, not French and not German, etc. Some languages simply either have no need for the vocabulary or no need to practice a type of etiquette.

I’ll share an example story. A woman I know married a foreigner, she is British. She was always frustrated that when her husband would come home after work, he would slump into his comfortable chair and say to her: “bring me tea”. Now, if you know anything about British or English etiquette, we don’t allow anyone to speak to us like that. It’s just rude! Where are his manners? He is appalling, what a rude man! Right? But upon further investigation, her husband is actually a wonderful man with excellent manners according to his native language and land. Where he is from it is not needed to say please for silly little things like tea or when they ask for the salt to be passed for food. Please and thank you are reserved for more important and serious matters to express the seriousness of the situation since passing the salt is such a minor task, why should they ask, please? You didn’t lose an arm passing the salt, did you?

I am sure you understand where I am going with this.

What’s your point?

Well as English teachers we need to educate our students regarding the English language and the etiquette that comes with it. Without this knowledge, our students could create the wrong impressions while traveling or attending English business meetings thus we always do more than just teaching a language, we teach manners and politeness too! No matter who you teach to, the culture will always find its way to the classroom.

How do we even start a lesson about politeness?

It’s important to assess and understand what politeness and etiquette rules are in your student’s native country.

Some questions you can ask:

  • Is it important in your culture to be polite?
  • When should you be polite?
  • What happens if you are not polite?
  • What instructions would you give someone about being polite in your home culture?

When you have the answers to these questions you’ll be able to dictate the next move of your student. I can assure you these questions will open up some interesting topics and make the topic much lighter to discuss as there will be mutual understanding and respect for each culture and their specific values.

Need some tips? Get your free etiquette lesson plan here.

Let’s look at some common English words that express politeness and good manners

  1. Please & Thank You

Now, keep in mind that please and thank you can be overused and can come over as sarcastic depending on your tone thus when you use ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ when you ask for a favor it’s important to smile and use a soft tone of voice. Sometimes ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can also be confused between favor and obligation.

Let’s look at them here:

  1. Natalia, can you bring me my copies from the printer when you collect yours, please?
  2. My love, for once PLEAAAAASSSEEE will you put your dirty laundry in the basket and not on the floor!?!?
  3. WOW! You finally picked up your dirty laundry and placed it in the basket, THANK YOU!!

Can you feel the difference? So, we use ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ mostly for favors no matter how small they are. It is simply polite. We use ‘thank you’ when someone has done something nice for you, gives you a gift. Even if you do not like the gift or something the person has done for you, you should still always say thank you and not doing so gives the do-er an impression that you feel entitled and unfortunately that can leave a bad impression.

  1. You’re welcome

‘You’re welcome’ connects to ‘thank you’ and is said instantly after a ‘thank you’ from the recipient. Other synonyms are: “my pleasure, you are most welcome, only a pleasure, I’m happy to do it, no problem”

  1.  Excuse me

I’m so sad that ‘excuse me’ seems to be a forgotten term but it is extremely important. Most people say ‘just a minute / just a sec’ instead of ‘excuse me’. We use ‘excuse me’ when we want to pardon ourselves or ask forgiveness for coughing, sneezing, having to leave a meeting, table or have to leave the room. Basically, we use ‘excuse me’ when we need to exit but did you know that we can also use ‘excuse me’ for when we are at a loss of words?

“Did you know that Jen had an affair??” Excuse me??”

More detail here.

  1. I’m Sorry

We use  ‘I’m sorry’ when we have made an error or mistake or hurt someone’s feelings. ‘Sorry’ should also not be overused as it can come across as being not sincere. By saying ‘sorry’ we immediately acknowledge our mistake and show that we care about how our actions affect others and have consequences. They do say that ‘sorry’ is the hardest word to say.

We also use “I’m sorry’ to respond to bad or even sad news. For example,

A: My boyfriend broke up with me!

B: Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that.  

A: My dog went missing last night with the fireworks.

B: Oh no, I’m sorry!

What words should we completely stop using?

  1. Yep, Yeah Yeah, Nope.
  2. No problem
  3. Deregatory vocabulary

‘Yep, Yeah Yeah’ and ‘nope’ are slang words for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and come across as lazy and gives the sense of a very poor character. As for ‘no problem’, it can come across as it was indeed inconvenient and problem to do something for the person thus it sends the wrong message to the receiver and can leave a bitter taste in ones’ mouth. Any derogatory vocabulary should be avoided as it is extremely offensive and can in fact land you in some pretty hot water.

Keep in mind that based on the English etiquette it is important to avoid the following topics:

Money, Political opinions, Weight & Age, Negativity and personal details about oneself and health.

If you would like more information on the English etiquette, I have shared some of my favorite links here:




Apart from using your voice, there are some actual actions that are absolute “no go’s” such as:

  1. Picking your nose ANYWHERE.
  2. Spitting, not even in public. It is not only disgusting to us English but it’s extremely unacceptable and unhygienic.
  3. Don’t burp, please excuse yourself instead
  4. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or have to cough. Use a tissue in private.
  5. Don’t speak with your mouth full.
  6. Put your knife and fork together on your dinner plate, to the side to indicate that you are done eating.

Getting to know the English etiquette will absolutely benefit you and your student. Your student will feel confident when having polite conversations, traveling or attending to business meetings. It’s important that we give them the tools to succeed in the English language and this includes incorporating the English manners and politeness.

I’m sure you and your students will find this information useful! Got anything to add to our list? Don’t forget to leave your comments below!

That’s it from me, happy teaching!

Hanette Lian Stimie

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