Last summer, somewhere 37,000ft above the Middle East, in line for the bathroom, I overheard these words: "They're so rude. They never say please or thank you."
You get no prizes for guessing who the flight attendant was complaining about: the hapless Chinese passengers on the VS251 from Pudong to Heathrow.
Every year China spends $2.1 billion on English language education to help its people interact with the rest of the world and every year 100,000 foreign teachers move to China to get the job done. The end result? Dozens of enraged flight attendants and thousands of oblivious Chinese air travelers.
Or is it worse? Imagine you went to a job interview and couldn't say "please" or "thank you". What would happen? Imagine you went to study abroad, stayed with a host family and couldn't say "please" or "thank you". What would happen? Imagine you went into a bar, ordered a drink and couldn't say "please" or "thank you". What would happen?
Anything from unemployment, to eviction, to receiving a serving of saliva in your Long Island ice tea. All of these are likely to happen to our students if we continue to forget to teach them the 3 most important words in English; "please" and "thank you".
So, what can we do about it?
Here are three ideas to help your students remember their P's and Q's:
1. Discuss the differences between "thank you" and "xie xie". When do we say them? Who do we say them to? There are more differences than you think.
2. Show students dialogues with the "please" and "thank you"s removed. Ask them to guess the missing words and add these to the dialogues.
3. Create intercultural miscommunication case studies, give these to your students and ask them to figure out what went wrong.
Next time you're on a plane home at 37,000ft, in line for the bathroom, listen to the flight attendants. If some of your students are on the same flight, you just might overhear these words: "They're so polite. They always say please and thank you.