Requests: Teaching Tips

English Learners

Learners of English might believe that the longer a request, the more polite it is. This may be due to prior instruction where this approach was offered as a rule of thumb. Although this approach may capture the general trend, it does not hold true of a formal and polite request "May I ~?" structure. Learners may mistakenly use "May I ~? in an informal situation, believing that it is a casual request due to its short length.

Above passage from Matsuura (1998).

Learners might be more verbose than native speakers of English in making a request, utilizing more supportive move strategies. For example, to request a lift somewhere they may say: Do you think you can take me by your car to my home because you live near me and have to drive that way if you take me or you don’t? This may be due to their effort to minimize the imposition by attempting to thoroughly explain the situation that requires the speaker to make that request.

Above passage from Blum-Kulka et al. (1989).

Japanese Learners

Chinese learners of Japanese may not utilize as many supportive move strategies as native speakers. Native speakers tend to take a longer time using various supportive move strategies and linguistically more complex structures than learners. Chinese speakers might generally use more direct requests in Chinese and transfer that first language norm in speaking Japanese. Learners might need to be highly proficient and linguistically sophisticated in order to construct more complex structures.

Above passage from Mizuno (1996a).

Beginning and intermediate Chinese learners of Japanese may generally use set request phrases like ... ...te kudasai masenka? ‘would you ...’ and ... ...te itadake masenka? ‘could I ...’ possibly due to frequent use of these structures in Japanese language textbooks. Intermediate to advanced learners tend to make more nativelike requests by utilizing incomplete sentences such as ... ...karitaindesuga, omitting the following phrase iidesuka ‘would that be okay?’

Above passage from Kashiwazaki (1993); Sameshima (1998).

Before producing the head act in a request, native speakers of Japanese often use the phrase koto nandesukedo/keredomo ‘about/regarding ...’ to announce the topic and prepare the hearer for the upcoming request. Japanese speakers also leave their request sentences unfinished while hedging off toward the end of the utterance by prolonging syllables. This helps to minimize the imposition and show consideration for the hearer. When learners of Japanese lack these strategies, they could sound abrupt or imposing. Without the speaker’s announcing the topic at the outset, the hearer might need to do some guesswork, and thus the utterance could be confusing.

Above passage from Kashiwazaki (1993).



Blum-Kulka, S., House, J., & Kasper, G. (1989). Cross-cultural Pragmatics: Requests and Apologies. Norwood, NJ: Alblex Publishing Corporation.

Kashiwazaki, H. (1993). Hanashikake koudouno danwabunseki: Irai youkyuu hyougenwo cyuushinni [Discourse analysis of requests with phatic communication]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 79, 53-63.

Matsuura, H. (1998). Japanese EFL learners' perception of politeness in low imposition requets. JALT Journal, 20(1), 33-48.

Mizuno, K. (1996a). ‘Irai’ no gengo koudouniokeru cyukangengo goyouron: Cyugokujin nihongo gakusyusya no baai [Interlanguage pragmatics in the speech act of request: The case of Chinese learners of Japanese]. Gengobunka Ronsyu 17(2), 91-106.

Sameshima, S. (1998). Communication task ni okeru nihongo gakusyusha no tenkei hyougen/bunmatsu hyougen no syuutokukatei: Chuugokugo washa no "ira" "kotowari" "shazai" no baai [The acquisition of fixed expressions and sentence-ending expressions by learners of Japanese]. Nihongo Kyouiku [Journal of Japanese Language Teaching], 98, 73-84.


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