Resources: Notes on Life and Language in the United States

Tip # 2: How to Know the "Feeling" Behind your English Words

Posted by Lindsay McMahon on Thu, Dec 19, 2013 @ 08:58 AM

how to know the feelings and connotations behind English wordsDo you sometimes wonder what the "feeling" is behind the phrases that you use?

Would you like to know if they are too direct or too indirect for the situation?

Many words and phrases in English have different connotations.

That's why you can't just memorize the dictionary and then go out and expect to communicate sucessfully.

What should you do?

Read today's post to find out!



Here is an example:


speak English with American colleaguesLet's imagine that you are in a meeting with some American colleagues and your colleague makes a statement and you know that he is incorrect so you say, "you're wrong."

He sits back and looks offended, but you aren't sure why.


What happened here?

By directly saying "you're wrong," you used a statement that is too strong.

You could have softened your statement by saying:

  • "I'm not sure about that."
  • "Let's think through this again."
  • "Let's take another look at this."
  • "I'm not sure if I agree."
  • "I don't know."


Read this article about how to avoid offending someone in conversations



3 ways to learn the "feelings" behind your phrases


  • Stop memorizing the dictionary: If you memorize words and phrases in the dictionary and then try to use them in conversation, you won't be very successful. You will encounter problems like the situation that I mentioned above. Put your dictionary away.


  • Learn by listening to conversations around you: If you work in an English-speaking office, you are lucky. You can sit back and just listen to your colleagues communicate with each other. Go to a cafe or a restaurant and listen to English. Try to notice how they deliver their phrases. How do they soften the phrases to make them more suitable for the situation?


  • Learn English in context: Try to make English a part of your life as much as you can. Don't study in isolation at home. Learn in a group, attend meetups and events. Participate in your hobbies with native speakers if you live in an English-speaking country.



Do you have any questions for me? If so, please write them in the comment section below.

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photo credits: scrabble: Kirsten Loza

Topics: English Lessons, United States Culture, Vocabulary Workshop

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