Invitations: Teaching Tips

English Learners

English language learners would benefit from learning how to build an invitation sequence so that their invitation has a better chance of being accepted. In the same way, they should know how to decline an invitation appropriately. They also need to understand the sometime subtle signs of acceptance, unwillingness, or rejection in order to be able to act accordingly. Exposing ESL/EFL learners to the variety of invitation sequences through explicit instruction is likely to stimulate an awareness of such verbal and non-verbal cues as well as enhanced interactional competence if sufficient interactional practice is provided. (See the Invitations in American English page for details.)

English learners often lack knowledge of the use of pre-sequences as an indirect and preparatory move, which often contributes to many of the pragmatics-related problems they face during interaction. For example, when ESL/EFL learners hear a question like “What are you doing?” they need to be able to recognize it as a pre-invitation, rather than a literal question.

As an inviter, the learner can make strategic use of concepts like the "monitor space" by paying attention to hesitations and lengthened sounds in order to measure the invitee’s possibility of acceptance. Likewise, invitations can be revised and reissued in an attempt to increase their chances of being accepted. 

Signs of Rejection
Learners need to understand the subtle indications of possible rejection, including a weak acceptance or even silence.

Rejection Finalizer
If no further revised invitation is to be issued, a short response token, such as “oh,” “OK,” or “alright,” will show acceptance of rejection.

Response Token
The short listener responses, such as “mm hm,” “uh huh,” “okay,” and “yeah,” indicate continuity in mutual understanding. However, ESL/EFL learners must be careful not to overuse them in order to avoid sounding too interested. They may also wish to vary the response tokens when using them. For example, learners should avoid using ‘mm hm’ too frequently to avoid giving their conversational partner the impression that they are bored or disinterested.

(above passages based on Wong & Waring, 2010)

Ostensible Invitations
Ostensible invitations are fairly common in English. For instance, when Mary says, “Let’s do lunch sometime,” and Justin responds, “Yes, let’s,” the two speakers are not actually planning to get together for lunch, but rather are simply engaging in a social ritual of pretense. It is important for ESL/EFL learners to recognize this pretense and collaborate with the other speaker to establish the social purpose of ostensible invitations. Understanding the differences in the basic designs of ostensible versus genuine invitations will help the language learners avoid misunderstandings (see Classification and Examples of Genuine and Ostensible Invitations in English on the main page.)

(above passages based on Isaacs & Clark, 1990)


Persian Learners

One should keep in mind that features of ostensible and genuine invitations in English are not directly applicable to invitations in Persian.

Persian culture, like some other Asian cultures, considers social relationships and communal interdependence as particularly important. Therefore, the primary reason for issuing ostensible invitations in Persian is to enhance face for both inviter and invitee.

Invitation transactions in Persian involve complex interaction between “face,” “politeness,” and “sincerity,” through long sequences of negotiation. If the invitation does not involve enough turns of insistence, then the invitee may feel offended for being offered an “empty” or an insincere invitation.

Ostensible invitations in Persian may seem forceful and insincere to someone who is not familiar with their ta’arof custom. But this ritual politeness is highly regarded in the Persian culture, because offering such invitations demonstrates the inviter’s social sophistication in his/her attempt to enhance face for the conversational partner.

(above passages based on Eslami, 2005)



Eslami, Z. R. (2005). Invitations in Persian and English: Ostensible or genuine? Intercultural Pragmatics, 2(4), 453-480.

Isaacs, E. A., & Clark, H. H. (1990). Ostensible invitations. Language in Society, 19(4), 493-509.

Wong, J., & Waring, H. Z. (2010). Conversation analysis and second language pedagogy: A guide for ESL/ EFL teachers. London: Routledge.


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