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Would you be so kind?

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von Business Spotlight
Ein wenig ähnelt die englische Sprache einer Arznei für Kinder: Damit bittere Pillen besser schmecken, bekommen sie einen Zuckerüberzug. Wer seine Forderungen an den Geschäftspartner nicht allzu ungehobelt rüberbringen möchte, sollte sie deshalb mit ein paar Höflichkeitsformeln versüßen.
Germans are rude and loud, British people are polite and reserved, Americans are polite and loud. Ah, yes, those cultural clichés again. Nevertheless, many people seriously think that Germans are less polite than the British or Americans. I don't believe that, on average, this is true. In general, German people find their fellow countrymen as polite (or rude) as people in Britain or America find theirs.

However, there is a tendency for some German-speakers to sound slightly rude when speaking English. There are two main reasons: first, some German accents sound harsh; second, German tends to be more direct, which sounds less polite to the ears of English-speakers.

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Here are some ways for German-speakers to soften their English and so to add an extra touch of politeness:

"Would like" not "want"_"I would like" - or, better still, "I'd like" - is one of the most useful expressions in English: "I'd like to speak to Janet Brown, please"; "I'd like a cup of coffee, please". "Would" should also be used in questions: "Would you like ...?"; "What would you like?" German-speakers tend to use "want" too much. Listen to yourself and ban "want" from your vocabulary.

Please to the end_There is no 100 per cent rule about where the word "please" should occur in a sentence, and it is possible to make it sound polite or rude in any position. Anyway, it is probably best to put it at the end: "Could you pass me the report, please?" If you say, "Could you please pass me the report", you might sound like a parent asking a child to finally do something.

"I'll" not "I"_One of the most common mistakes German-speakers make is not using "I'll" when promising action. For example: "I'll call you tomorrow" is correct, not "I call you tomorrow", which sounds too direct and almost threatening. Even "I will call you" sounds less polite than "I'll call you".

"You're welcome."_This is a correct reply when someone thanks you. Alternatives are "Not at all", "My pleasure", "Don't mention it" or, in Australia, "No worries". Do not say "please".

"I was wondering if ..."_This is a good way to start a request: "I was wondering if you could give me that report by Friday"; "I was wondering if I might take Monday off work". Other good expressions include "I would really appreciate it if ..."; "Would it be possible for me to ..."; "Would it be all right if we ...".

The power of "just"_At school, one teacher tried to stop us from using the word "just" when we explained our poor behaviour ("But Sir, I was just ..."). He saw it as an attempt to minimize our offence. In fact, "just" is a very useful word for non-native speakers, as it helps to soften the language: "I was just wondering if you could ..."; "If you'll just wait a moment"; "Could you just take a seat?"

Maybe, baby_"Maybe" is also a very helpful word, particularly for suggestions: "Maybe we should consider a new product range"; "Maybe you could take a look at this report".

Be afraid!_"I'm afraid that ..." is a typical polite expression in English when you want to apologize: "I'm afraid she's not in the office today"; "I'm afraid we won't be able to deliver the goods on time". It can also be used to express polite disagreement: "I'm afraid that we are unable to accept that price." Other good ways to apologize include "I'm (so/dreadfully) sorry that ..." and "We regret that ...".

That seems good_"Seems" is a good word when you wish to complain politely: "There seems to have been a mistake here". This indirect form is more polite than the personal "You seem to have made a mistake".

Think about your pronunciation_Record yourself speaking English to see whether you have a typical German accent. The sounds that are particularly harsh to English-speakers are "v" instead of "w" and "z" instead of "th". This can produce sentences like "Ve zink zat zis is ze vay ve vant to go" instead of "We think that this is the way we want to go". If you do sound overly Germanic, practice softening your pronunciation.

Don't overdo it!_You will sound silly if you try to be "overly British" by saying things like: "I was just wondering if you could possibly be so kind as to consider the possibility of thinking about ..." This is more likely to sound sarcastic or rude than polite. As with most things, moderation is the answer. "Could you ..., please" would be better.
Dieser Artikel ist erschienen am 21.05.2002