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Why Do I Sound Rude In English?

Do you ever worry that you might come off as angry or rude in English, even though you don’t mean to? 

Without realizing, you may be saying things in a certain way or style that makes people believe that you aren’t interested in the conversation, or even that you’re being “rude”.  

Now, I bet that is not what you’re trying to do! But, if you’re like some of my students, you’ve had interactions with others that haven’t gone the way you planned, and maybe you’ve unintentionally come across as rude or angry, even when you aren’t! 

One of my students, who’d been living in the US for over 20 years, told me that every time she spoke to her colleagues, they’d respond with, “Why are you so angry today?”

She thought, angry? I’m not angry!

Another student said that whenever he spoke in English, people would get defensive. He had no idea why!

If you can relate, you’re not alone. 

And in this blog post, I’ll tell you the three reasons why you may come across as aggressive or rude in English when this is not your intention.

Let’s get started.

Prefer to watch the video? Click here 👇

TRANSCRIPT

Podcast intro:

Hey everyone. What’s up? Today is an interesting and fun topic because I don’t know why I haven’t talked about it before, but this is something that a lot of my students struggle with. And they face this experience where they are perceived to be rude or not polite or angry, where in fact, they are not.

Has that ever happened to you? Has someone ever felt like you were feeling a certain emotion where in fact you were totally not feeling that emotion, especially if it’s a negative emotion? I can tell you that it has happened to me quite a lot. Sometimes I’m so preoccupied in team meetings, and I come across as very short and sometimes aggressive because my mind is very busy with thoughts about what I need to do.

And then my answers are so short that it sounds like I’m angry at my team. And then I realized that they’re like, “Hadar, what is wrong with you today?” And, uh, I either acknowledge and I say, “I’m sorry if I sound like this today. It’s just that I have a lot on my mind”. And sometimes I just apologize and try to actually change how I communicate because it is important.

So what comes out of our mouth is not always aligned with our intention. Especially when we speak a second language, especially when it’s not just the intention, it’s also the intonation or other things that get in the way that we’re not aware of. And this is why I wanted to make this episode for you.

Now, even if this has never happened for you before, this is still a really important episode to listen to because I talk about intonation, tone of voice, mindset, and all those things that are extremely important for anyone who wants to improve their communication skills, especially in the second language.

All right. So let’s go ahead and listen to today’s episode. And of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, then please take a moment after to rate and review it, and maybe even share it with someone who might need it. Because when you do that, it helps this podcast get to the ears of the people who need it. So, thank you in advance. All right, let’s go ahead and listen to today’s episode.

Video transcript:

Do you sometimes come across as angry or rude when speaking in English, even though you are not trying to be rude or angry at all? This has definitely been the case for many of my students.

I remember a conversation I had with one of my students who said: “I’ve been living in the U. S. for over 20 years, and every time I speak to my colleagues, they tell me, ‘Why are you angry today? What happened? What have I done?’” And she told me, “I have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m not angry. I’m not frustrated. I’m just me. And sometimes being me feels to other people like I’m angry or I’m just being rude.”

I also had another student telling me that whenever he speaks, people are becoming very defensive, and he has no idea what that is. So, if that has been the case for you, or you’re afraid that you might come across as rude with no intention of being one, this episode is definitely for you.

If you’re new to my channel, then hi, my name is Hadar. I’m a non-native speaker of English, and I am here to help you sound clear, confident, and free when communicating in English. Many of the things that I share with you here on my channel and my platform are things that I had to deal with myself or things that many of my students struggle with, and I try to share with you the solution and some of the lessons that I’ve learned and that I teach my students. If you want more free resources, check out my website at hadarshemesh.com, or my social media accounts for free daily tips.

So, there are three reasons why you may come across as rude or aggressive when speaking, when this is not your intention. The first is intonation. American English has a very unique intonation pattern and tone of voice that is associated with certain circumstances.

When you speak another language, sometimes you’re not aware of these nuances or you bring your own intonation, the intonation that is associated with your native language, to English. And as a result, this intonation may be perceived as aggressive, rude, or angry.

For example, when you’re asking for something, let’s say, “Can I get a cup of coffee?” The intonation that is usually associated with it and the tone is usually a higher, friendlier tone. “Hi, can I get a cup of coffee, please?”

People who don’t use pitch a lot in their first language may not be aware of it. And let’s say if your intonation has a less varied pitch, you might be saying it like this: “Hi, can I get a cup of coffee?” For you, that might not be problematic at all, because this is how you would say it in your first language. For native English speakers, when they hear this tone, it sounds aggressive because this is a tone that is associated with an angry tone or with an impatient tone. “Hi, can I get a cup of coffee?”

So understanding this and understanding that pitch plays a significant role when speaking English – not only when delivering your message, but also the tone that you have when you speak – that will totally help you understand those social circumstances and what is expected, and then you can modify it so you don’t come across as rude.

Again, there is no issue with you being you and speaking the way you want to speak, but at the same time, if you want it to be easier for you to communicate, build trust, create better relationships, and also understand the context in which you operate, these things are significant and pitch is critical.

Let me give you another example. Let’s say, I come to you and I say, “Hi, how are you?” And your response is “Good”. “Good”. Because in your first language flat intonation is a part of how you speak. “Good”. “Fine”. And you could even be saying it with a smile – “Good”. Because people expect to hear this pitch dropping – “Good”, “Good”, not hearing that would immediately trigger a feeling or a thought like something’s not good. “Good” versus “Good”. Can you hear the difference? “Good” – “Good.

Now, the more excited you are or the friendlier you are – again, these are social codes, right, like this is what people expect to hear – you would hear a higher pitch: “Good”. “Oh, good”. “Thank you so much for asking”. So, knowing this and practicing this, of course, is going to help you come across as less rude if this is what you’re experiencing. Now, I have a lot of videos and tips on how to use pitch and how to play with your tone of voice, and I’m going to link to all those videos in the description below.

The second reason is more cultural or habitual in terms of how you ask for things or talk about things. Some cultures are very direct when you say what you want in the fewer words possible. And there are some cultures where you are expected to be a bit more indirect in how you speak about things. So, for example, if someone asks you something and you just want to say ‘no’, some people might just say ‘no’.

For example, “Would you like to meet for coffee after work?”, in some cultures saying, “No, I can’t” may be perceived as completely fine, right? Just like, “No, I can’t, I can’t make it today”. But in American culture, for example, this might come across as rude or too direct. And what people expect to hear would be, “Um, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it”, or “I’m so sorry, I don’t think I can make it. Let me check and get back to you”.

Now, that might make you feel uncomfortable and that it’s totally fine. You do you. But I’m just telling you that if you operate in English, especially in American culture, then this is what people expect to hear. So it’s kind of like you’re softening the message a little bit. Instead of saying, “Give me some water”, what people expect to hear in a more polite way is a rephrased sentence that sounds something like this: “Can I get a cup of water, please?” Right? So, the message is the same. It’s just the packaging of it is a little different, and of course, the sentence structure.

Now, if you want to learn more about this, I’m gonna share with you a few more examples on my blog. So click the link in the description to look at a few more examples of how you can turn simple responses or questions into a more polite response or question by simply changing the structure.

Now again, I want to mention that there is no or problem with who you are and how you want to say things. It’s just that sometimes we need to be smart about how we ask things or say things, if we want to get what we want, if we want to build trust, if we want people to listen to us. And knowledge is everything. And what I’m offering here is that if how you operate now and how you speak now is not serving you, this is how you can change that.

The third reason for why you may come across as rude or aggressive or impolite is because of your confidence. Sometimes when we don’t feel confident in a language, when we don’t feel like we belong, when we feel like we are evaluated, we kind of like diminish and remove all elements of humanity and expressiveness that we have as individuals when we communicate. Things that you don’t even think about when you speak in your first language: pitch, and jokes, and energy when speaking, and you know, just being yourself, being authentic.

So, we narrow it down and we just say the bare minimum because we’re afraid of making mistakes or we don’t want to get it wrong or we don’t want to be judged. And as a result, you’re not fully showing up and that affects your voice and how you communicate. And some people, especially people who don’t understand this aspect of speaking a second language, may interpret it wrongly as you just being rude or not wanting to talk to them.

Now again, it doesn’t matter what they think and it is okay. You are trying your best at any given moment. Okay? But part of the work that we do when communicating in a second language is learning how to be okay with who we are and how we sound and to show up like ourselves, and to give ourselves permission to be ourselves and to speak up and to make jokes and to try out new words even though you’re not 100% confident in how you speak. Because that allows you to really show who you are as an individual and make real connections.

And that is the most important thing, and that is the bottom line of this episode – is that when you make real connections and when you allow yourself to feel and to be vulnerable in a conversation. You’re unlikely to come across as rude or aggressive. What does rude mean to begin with? Rude means that someone is standoffish, they’re not connecting with me right now, they don’t care about me, they try to make me feel bad.

This feeling doesn’t happen when there is real connection. And for you to be able to make real connections with other people means that you have to stop judging yourself and allow yourself to just be. So, if there is one big takeaway from this, is that just give yourself permission to be you, and as a result, you will not come across as rude or aggressive.

Alright, that’s it. Have you ever experienced being perceived as rude, aggressive, or angry where you were not rude, aggressive, or angry? Let me know in the comments, and let’s start a conversation there.

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider sharing and subscribing to my channel, and check out my website for more resources and content for you to speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom, go to hadarshemesh.com. And you can also subscribe to my weekly newsletter to get my lessons to your inbox every single week.

Have a beautiful, beautiful rest of the day. And I will see you next week in the next video. Bye.

The InFluency Podcast
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338. Do you sound rude in English? Try doing this
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1. Intonation

In American English, pitch and tone of voice matter a lot in different situations.

But sometimes, if you’re speaking English as a second language, you might not be aware of these nuances. Or you might bring the intonation from your native language into English, which can lead to misunderstandings.

Here’s an example.  

Let’s say you’re asking for a coffee, and you say, “Can I get a cup of coffee, please?” 

In English, we usually use a higher, friendlier tone for requests like these. 

But if your first language doesn’t use pitch a lot, you might say it like this, “Hi, can I get a cup of coffee.” with a flatter tone.

Pitch refers to the highness or lowness of a person’s voice. It’s one of the elements of intonation, which involves pitch, rhythm, and stress variation in spoken language.

For you, it might sound like a normal pitch, but for native English speakers, it might sound aggressive or impatient because that pitch might be associated with anger or irritation in English.

Understanding this role of pitch in English is essential for delivering your message and the tone you use. 

Tone refers to the quality or character of a person’s voice and the emotions or attitudes they convey while speaking. 

💡 Remember, it’s ok to be yourself and speak the way you want to, but being aware of these differences can make it easier for you to build trust, create better relationships, and understand the context in which you’re speaking.

Let’s talk about another common phrase. 

Imagine if I ask you, “Hi, how are you?” And your response is, “Good.” 

A flat intonation is typical in some languages so you might say, “Good,” even with a smile. 

But in English, we expect to hear a pitch change, a rising and then falling, when someone says, “Good” 

Look at the difference: “Good.” versus “Good!” It might seem small, but it can affect how your message is received.

 

🗣 Prefer to hear the difference? Click here to watch a video! 🗣 

Understanding and practicing the right pitch and tone of voice can help you come across as less rude or aggressive unintentionally. 

Ok, now that we’ve talked about intonation, let’s move on to Direct vs. Indirect communication styles. 

2. Direct vs Indirect – The Key to Not Sounding Rude in English

Before we get into the example of indirect vs direct language, let’s define what each term means:

Direct communication: Straightforward, says only what is necessary, and not afraid of confrontation.

Indirect communication: Prioritizes the feelings of how a person receives the message, softens the message with extra words and tone; confrontation can be understood as a challenge.

And one more important thing: Remember that there isn’t one communicator that’s better than another. However,you might unintentionally come across as more direct than you mean to, because you’re not using the right words to “soften” your message.

Ok, now for some real-life examples.

Let’s say you were visiting me (that would be lovely! 🤩) and invited me for coffee. The conversation went like this:

You: “Hey Hadar, can you meet for coffee?”

Me: “No.”

Now, some cultures are very direct. You answer or say what you want in as few words as possible. 

If that is the way you are used to communicating, you may think, ‘Oh, Hadar is busy. She can’t do coffee.’

But in American culture, for example, “No,” might come across as rude or too direct. 

People might expect to hear, “I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it.”

Or “I’m so sorry, I don’t think I can make it. Let me check and get back to you.”

Now, all of those extra words might seem like too much for you, and that’s OK!

But if you feel that sometimes you sound a bit too direct in English, adjusting the way you respond can be helpful, because in many cases, it’s what people are expecting to hear, especially in American culture. You can think about it as softening the message a little bit.

Here’s another example.

You’re in a restaurant, and you are really thirsty. 

Instead of saying,” Give me some water,” to the waitress, you might rephrase the sentence to sound something like this,” Can I get a cup of water, please?”

That message is the same, but the packaging is a little different, right? 

More Helpful Examples for Indirect Speaking

When trying to speak indirectly in English, you can use modal verbs. Modal verbs are helper words that make our sentences more interesting and help us express different feelings and ideas.

Examples of modal verbs:

  • be able to 
  • could
  • may
  • might 
  • would

And you can also use softeners. Softener words make your messages sound gentler and kinder, so you don’t come across as too direct or rude.  

Examples of softeners:

  • quite                   
  • slight                  
  • just                    
  • a bit (of)              
  • I wonder
  • I think       
  • would you mind              

Now let’s put these words together for everyday use.

10 Examples Of Direct Phrases You Can Say In An Indirect Way

  1. I need a ride to the store →. Could you please give me a ride to the store?
  2. No, I’m busy → I’m so sorry; I’m really busy right now.
  3. Is the proposal ready? → Have you had a chance to finish the proposal?
  4. I don’t like it → It’s not what I had in mind.
  5. Let’s meet on Monday → Are you available on Monday for a quick meeting? 
  6. Let me know what to expect. → Do you have an idea of what I can expect?
  7. No, I can’t do that. → I’m sorry, but I won’t be able to do that.
  8. I’ll take water. → Can I get a cup of water, please?
  9. He wants to have chicken. → He would like to have chicken.
  10. Try it this way → I recommend you try it this way.

Now that you know all about intonation and direct vs indirect speech, let’s move on to the last section, confidence 💪 

3. Confidence – Be Yourself, and You Won’t Sound Rude in English

The third reason you may come across as rude, aggressive, or impolite is your confidence. 

Sometimes you don’t feel confident in a language when you don’t feel like you belong. 

Or, when you feel like you’re being judged on how well you speak English, you remove all elements of humanity and expressiveness that you have as an individual when you communicate.

You are funny! Expressive! Full of energy! 

But when you’re afraid of making mistakes; you’re not fully showing up as the amazing person you are. 

And that affects your voice and how you communicate. 

And some people, especially people who don’t understand what it’s like to speak a second language, may interpret it as you just being rude or not wanting to talk to them. 

Now, again, it doesn’t matter what they think. You are trying your best at any given moment. 

But part of the work that we do when communicating in a second language is learning how to be OK with who we are and how we sound, and to show up like ourselves, giving ourselves permission to be ourselves, even though you’re not 100% confident in how you speak.

That’s how you really show who you are as an individual and make real connections.

That is the most important thing and the main point of this post. 

As long as you just be yourself, you will have a real connection with others. So, stay true to be you, and you will not come across as rude or aggressive.

Do You Sound Rude In English? Not anymore! 

Now, there is no issue or problem with who you are, and how you want to say things is just that. 

But sometimes, you need to be smart about how you ask things or say things to get what you want. 

If you want to build trust, if you want people to listen to you, then knowledge is everything. 

And what I’m offering here is that if how you operate now and how you speak now is not serving you, then this will help you sound less rude in English while being your authentic self. 

Your Turn

How would you turn this sentence into a more indirect phrase?

I need to know if this is correct. —> _____________________

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6 Responses

  1. Hi 👋
    I’m happy to get in touch with your Instagram page and website,
    Hope you correcting me if I have mistaken.
    Wish you all the best

  2. Please distinguish between “can” and “may” when making a request. Can asks “ability”. May asks for permission. If someone asks, “Can I get a cup of coffee?” I want to answer,, “I don’t know, can you? Are you able to pour your self a cup of coffee?” A more polite way to ask is, “May I get a cup of coffee? Or, May I have a cup of coffee?

  3. Hello Hadar,
    Thank you a thousand times for your videos, which are always so instructive and enjoyable.

    I hadn’t realized how important the pitch was…Your example with the phrase “Hi, how are you?” “Good”, was a revelation for me! As a French person, I tend to speak flat. It’s that kind of detail that changes the mood.

    One day, someone invited me to lunch and I saw her frown when I replied as a good Frenchwoman: “thank you, but I won’t be able…” I recently saw on the internet that if I answer “thank you” it means yes. So she was surprised when I added “I won’t be able to”. I should have started my answer with “I’m sorry” I think. Thanks for giving me your opinion (if you have time of course! ).

    Kisses from France

  4. You are one of the best English teachers I have seen on the networks. Congratulations Hadar !

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