Mind your manners, please!

ben.wilko1 By ben.wilko1, 29th Aug 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Languages

An outline of the importance of using the correct level of formality in language.

Mind your manners, please!

When learning a new language, you may notice that there are varying levels of formality that come with the vocabulary. While this may not be as prominent in English as other languages, in languages such as German you will find these differences in formality are far more significant. As an example, if you are talking to
a stranger in Germany, you would expect to refer to them as ‘Sie’, meaning ‘you’, however when speaking to a friend or family member (or more generally, a close acquaintance) you would use the more informal ‘du’. Incorrect use of either word may cause offence to the person you are speaking to.

As I said before, this concept is not so much intertwined in the English language as in languages like German, but that doesn’t mean that English is a language of eternal formality or informality, as there is a particular set of words that create this balance between the two. The word used to describe this in English is "slang". This loosely refers to the use of (often vulgar) language that does not necessarily occur in the speaker's standard language and is pretty much exclusive to informal conversation.

What is important to know about slang is that it is not as simple as regional language difference. Slang is generally separated by different generations as well as social groups and as such should be used in appropriate situations in order to avoid offending people. Naturally this is what separates slang from normal colloquial language, which is a broader term that refers to informal language that is usually based on the normal regional variances. Similarly, though, knowing when and where to use any form of colloquial language will definitely be an asset when learning your language, especially in the country where your target language is spoken. I’m sure the locals will be impressed by your initiative if you make the effort to learn the lingo!


Formal, German, Informal, Language, Learning, Polite

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Student of German studies with a passion for languages

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