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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

August 21, 2013

The Magic Words: Please and Thank you

The Magic Words Please and Thank youI think the most important words in the English language are “please” and “thank you”. Saying them puts other people at ease. Their absence can stir all kinds of negative feelings. Let me give you two examples.

About five years ago, I was on an international airline headed from San Francisco to Tokyo. Seated next to me was a young Japanese woman. As the flight attendant walked by, the woman seated next to me shouted out, “Blanket”. The flight attendant smiled and handed her one. I (always the teacher) turned to the woman seated next to me and said in Japanese, “ How about using the word ‘please’?” She glared at me, did not respond, and as a result we did not speak the whole flight.

I really wonder how a person could go through six years of English education in Japan and not be able to use the word “please”.

In the next scenario, my husband and I threw a high school graduation party for our son who had invited eight friends. We ordered Chinese food for dinner. I set up 8 futons (with blankets, sheets and pillows) in my husband’s judo dojo to accommodate our son’s friends sleeping arrangements. In the morning, my husband and I made and served French toast for the group.

During the late afternoon his friends departed. Not one of the boys came to me to say thank you. I just heard the front door close as they left one by one. When I asked my son about his friends’ manners, he replied that they were probably too shy to say thank you in English. That was a painful experience for me as a mother and as an English teacher. Didn’t their mothers teach them manners? And what kind of school system could teach English without the students mastering the phrase “thank you”?

As a result of these two experiences, I make it a point to focus on these words and other polite phrases when I teach English, no matter what the age or level. My goal is to get the students to use these phrases repeatedly in natural social situations. All of our students are required to use the following phrases in class over and over again: please, here you, thank you, you’re welcome, Excuse me, Pardon? and May I….?

For example:

Entering the classroom
May I come in? Yes, you may.

Borrowing something
May I borrow your erase/pencil/dictionary/red pen/scotch tape?
Here you are.
Thank you.
You’re welcome.

Going to the restroom
May I go to the restroom?
Yes, you may.
May I go to the office?
Yes, you may.

Handing in homework
Here you are.
Thank you.

Handing back homework
Here you are.
Thank you.

When a student or teacher does not understand
Excuse me?

Simple requests
Pencil, please.
Eraser, please.
Dictionary, please.

These phrases are recycled several times during one lesson because all the activities are interactive. Actually, it is easier for me to get youngsters to use these phrases naturally with each other than it is with my university students. I find the older the students, the more hesitant they become. So I encourage those of you teaching English to children to initiate and coordinate similar scenarios, using English phrases naturally so they can master them, which will help them navigate themselves in social situations and foster good feelings with others. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.

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