Compliments: Teaching Tips

Intonation is an important factor in giving sincere compliments.

Some ESL learners tend to assume that people of lower status are likely to give compliments if this is the norm in their native-language, but this is not the case in American English.

Accepting Compliments
Some learners may believe that Americans always accept compliments due to typical textbook descriptions, previous classroom learning, and limited experience.

Unequal Status
In interactions where status is unequal, in American English the most appropriate response may be a simple acceptance of the compliment (Thank you).

In Arabic, formulaic expressions are often used for compliments and compliment responses. Arabic speakers may be apt to give too many compliments or find it hard to simply accept a compliment without elaborating on it in English, because in Arabic in general, the longer a compliment is, the greater the sincerity is (Nelson, Al-Batal, & Echols, 1996 [©]).

Spanish speakers especially may need to be warned about appropriate topics for compliments particularly in male-female interactions. In Spanish, piropos (flirtatious remarks) uttered by a male to a female are socially accepted (Campo & Zuluaga, 2000).



Nelson, G. L., Al-batal, M. & Echols, E. (1996). Arabic and English compliment responses: Potential for pragmatic failure. Applied Linguistics, 17(4), 411-432.

Campo, E. & Zuluaga, J. (2000). Complimenting: A matter of cultural constraints. Colombian Applied Linguistics Journal, 2(1), 27-41.

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