Greetings: Teaching Tips

Cultural Differences in Interactional Norms of Greeting

The different patterns and norms of interaction in a language are governed by cultural and social contexts, among other factors. However, L2 learners may remain unaware of the interactional norms in the target language, particularly because they are socialized into the discourse routines in their L1 or other dominant languages. For instance, in the case of greetings in English, the question, How are you? typically elicits a brief ritualized response such as Good or Okay. If one were to provide a lengthier response involving many details, this would likely defy the conversational partner's expectations of the ritual function of the greeting.

When conversational partners do not share the same expectations for interaction or are unaware of these expectations, there may be miscommunications or other consequences for the interaction itself as well as the interpersonal relationship between the individuals. For this reason, it is important to raise L2 students' awareness of the interactional norms that are salient in the target language, highlighting how they may differ from patterns in the L1 culture. (See examples from Australian English and French.)

How Textbooks Fall Short

An examination of the greeting expressions presented in seven 7th-grade English textbooks in Japan from the 2000s revealed several noteworthy differences from the language used by speakers of American English in the same study (Kakiuchi, 2005a).

  • The greeting exchange, Hello. How are you. (I'm) Fine, thank you. And you? was observed in a majority of the textbooks.
    • It is not surprising, then, that this greeting set was also used by some of the non-native speakers of English in the study, as they likely modeled what they had learned in their English courses.
  • Two-and-a-half-turn patterns were present in several of the textbooks, yet only once in the data from American English speakers. 
  • Although most American English speakers used Good when responding to question-form greetings, this form was not included in any of the textbooks.
    • Instead, the expressions (I'm) fine and Thank you were presented as common responses in the textbooks, yet these were not used by native speakers of American English.
  • Question-form greetings were often presented in textbooks without an initial short greeting expression such as Hi or Hello, which American English speakers tended to include.
    • Such question-form greetings in textbooks sometimes included the hearer's name following the question (How are you, Kazumi?), a behavior that was not observed among American English speakers.
  • Among the greeting lessons presented in the English textbooks, none provided explicit contextual information about the speakers such as age, gender, status, etc., even though these contextual variables influence the pragmatic language used in the interactional exchange.

These findings from Kakiuchi (2005a, pp. 77-79) highlight that greeting behavior in American English is not represented appropriately in many of the textbooks used to teach English, potentially resulting in the use of awkward or unsuitable greeting expressions by learners and even teachers.

Teaching Strategies

Lesson A:

Considering that textbooks are not always reliable sources of pragmatically appropriate language data, Kakiuchi (2005a) suggests that teachers can turn to other methods to teach speech acts such as greetings in an L2.

  • Guide students in a language variation analysis to help them develop a wider repertoire of greeting expressions. For example, students can observe different greeting expressions in natural settings and record these behaviors in a notebook.
  • Guide students in learning new skills to analyze the contextual variables that may influence language use.
    • Raise students' awareness about the different variables that can impact suitable language use such as age, relationship, and social context, among others.

These critical skills can help students to autonomously understand and produce pragmatically appropriate language in a variety of different contexts outside of the classroom. (See Kakiuchi, 2005b, for more details related to language variation analysis.)

Lesson B:

This lesson from Ishihara & Cohen (2014) may be suitable when teachers do not have much time to teach contextualized language use through greetings as in Lesson A above. This lesson can also work in an EFL context where most students don't have access to naturally-occurring language outside of the classroom.

When the language of greetings in the textbook appears stilted, teachers may present two short greeting exchanges, one between status-equals and the other between status-diffentials. With a few follow-up questions, students can analyze the specific expressions used in these dialogues in relation to the contexts as below.   

Dialogue 1: At school

Kumi: How are you, Ms. Anderson?
Ms. Anderson: I'm fine, thank you. And you?
Kumi: I'm fine too. Thank you.


Dialogue 2: On the street

Kumi: Hi Paul.
Paul: Hey, Kumi, how's it goin'?
Kumi: Pretty good, thanks. How are you doing?
Paul: I'm OK.

Discussion questions:

  1. Who is Ms. Anderson? Why do you think so?
  2. Who is Paul? Why do you think so?
  3. What is the level of formality reflected in Dialogue 1 and Dialogue 2? Mark an X for each dialogue on the line below? What makes you think so?

Lesson C:

To help Australian students of L2 French learn about the greeting norms of the target language, a lesson can be taught about the differences in interactional norms between Australian and French cultures. One such lesson (Liddicoat & Crozet, 2001) included the following steps:

  • First, the teacher began by having students identify stereotypes about people from the two cultures, pointing out that these judgements are often the result of cultural misunderstandings.
  • Next, the students were prompted to provide answers to the question "Did you have a good weekend" in both French and Australian cultural contexts.
  • After the students realized that cultural norms influenced the responses, the students listened to and discussed an Australian's commentary about the French answering this question as well as a French person's commentary about Australians, both of which were taken from Béal (1992).
  • Then, the teacher provided explicit instruction about the ways Australians and French people answer the question at hand, outlining various rules of interaction that were informed by empirical research (Béal, 1992).

The effectiveness of this lesson was confirmed by examining students' performance on role-plays about their weekend. Analyses of students' role-plays before and after instruction revealed that they shifted from their L1 norms of providing a formulaic and short response to the L2 norms of actually discussing the weekend as the topic of conversation. Moreover, content-related elements of interaction such as providing details and opinions were retained one year after instruction, yet the form-related elements like providing feedback and repetition were observed less in the delayed role-plays. These findings support the implementation of awareness-raising instruction about the differences between L1 and L2 interactional norms such as greetings.



Interactional Greeting Patterns among some International Speakers of English

Opening Greetings
According to a study from Kakiuchi (2005a, pp. 73-74), the greetings produced by some international speakers of English (Japanese and Korean graduate students and ESL students) followed similar trends as those outlined in the American English examples (Kakiuchi, 2005a). Examples of opening greeting exchanges are provided below. (Note: Stars* indicate that the speaker or receiver was a non-native speaker of English.)

  • One-turn greeting patterns such as greeting-greeting and question-answer were most commonly used (82%).
    • Among the greeting-initiated forms, the greeting-greeting form tended to be used most frequently.

      A*: Hi.
      B: Hi.
    • Among the question-initiated forms, the question-answer form was more commonly observed.

      A: How are you?
      B*: Fine. Thank you.
  • One-and-a-half-turn patterns and two-turn patterns tended to be used less frequently (12% and 6%, respectively).

    A: Hi.
    B*: Hello. How are you?
    A: Good.

    A*: Hi.
    B: Hello. How are you?
    A*: I'm fine. Thank you. And you?
    B: I'm doing well. Thank you.

Click for possible explanations of learner greeting behavior.


Variation among some International Speakers of English

Non-native Speakers of English as Initiator (Speaker)

  • A study from Kakiuchi (2005a, pp. 74-75) found that some non-native speakers of English tended to use fewer greeting expressions than American English speakers. These included:
    • How are you?
    • Hi
    • Good morning
    • Hey
  • The non-native English-speaking participants often did not include a short initial greeting before a question-form greeting, like American English speakers typically did.
  • The non-native speakers of English who had spent less time in an English-speaking country were more likely to utter non-target-like expressions, such as How are you? without a short greeting form beforehand.
    • Therefore, simply being immersed in an L2 environment, even for a short time, does not necessarily guarantee the development of pragmatic competence in the L2.   


Non-native Speakers of English as Receiver

  • The same study (Kakiuchi (2005a, pp. 74-75) revealed that the non-native English-speaking participants often used Fine as an answer form, while American English speakers preferred the term Good.
  • When responding to an initial greeting, some non-native speakers of English uttered a literal answer the length of a sentence.
    • This may demonstrate their limited understanding of the pragmatic norms of ritualized greetings in English.
  • Many of the non-native speakers of English (43%) tended to include an expression of thanks (Thank you) in their response form, while some (14%) also returned the question (And you?).
    • These behaviors were typically not observed among American English speakers, although such norms may be more common in other varieties, such as British English.
  • The expression, "Fine, thank you. And you?" was often used as one set, reflecting the greeting expressions that are typical in many of the English textbooks used in Japan for junior high school students.

While these greeting behaviors are not necessarily wrong, extending their use with anyone at any time may be considered inappropriate. For instance, teenagers do not often greet each other by stating, "I'm fine, thank you. And you?", even though this behavior is often included in textbooks.

[Research Note:]
The data from Kakiuchi (2005a) come from observations of 25 sample sets of non-native speakers of English as initiators (speakers) and 26 sample sets of non-native speakers of English as receivers. Again, the greetings occurred naturally in spontaneous speech.



Béal, C. (1992). Did you have a good weekend? Or why is there no such thing as a simple question in cross-cultural encounters? Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 15, 23-52.

Ishihara, N. & Cohen, A. D. (2014). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Where language and culture meet. Abingdon, England: Routledge. (First published in 2010 by Pearson Education).

Kakiuchi, Y. (2005a). Greetings in English: Naturalistic speech versus textbook speech. In D. Tatsuki (Ed.), Pragmatics in Language Learning, Theory, and Practice (pp. 61–85). Tokyo: The Japanese Association for Language Teaching, Pragmatics Special Interest Group.

Kakiuchi, Y. (2005b). Language variation analysis. In D. Tatsuki (Ed.), Pragmatics in language learning, theory, and practice (pp. 157-160). Tokyo: The Japan Association for Language Teaching Pragmatics Special Interest Group.

Liddicoat, A. J. & Crozet, C. (2001).  Acquiring French interactional norms through instruction. In K. R. Rose & G. Kasper (Eds.), Pragmatics in language teaching (125-144.) New York: Cambridge University Press.

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