Small vocabulary changes, big differences

There is an interesting breakdown to my group English lessons. I teach adults in politics, public administration and in the private sector. Everyone from receptionists and assistants to government ministers, heads of state agencies and  Prime Ministers.

Over the past 24 years and close to a thousand groups, the composition is ALWAYS at least 95% women. I have frequently wondered why. Do men not want to admit they need a little help with their English? Do they think they are good enough already? Do they feel they are too busy? Do they not want to show weakness or make mistakes in front of other people? I have noticed that if a man is late for a class he will usually just say ‘sorry I am late‘, whereas a woman will apologise several times and spend a minute or two giving details of why they are late.

Managers I have taught have also said that during wage negotiations, men tend to feel they are worth promotions and salary increases.  They are thus better at getting them than women, who tend to apologise for asking for a raise, and over-explain why they would like an increase.

There are also often gender differences in the way people speak. Women underplay achievements and apologise a lot. So, some tips

  • remove the word just from your vocabulary. So, instead of saying ‘it’s just me’, say ‘it’s me’. Instead of saying ‘it’s just a suggestion’, say ‘I have a suggestion’
  • instead of saying sorry, say thank you. For example, instead of saying sorry I have to leave early, say thank you for your time
  • don’t overexplain. For example instead of saying I am sorry I am late, the bus didn’t come, just say I am sorry for being late. Instead of saying I cannot do this because because because, just say I am sorry I will be unable to make it/do it. 
  • instead of saying I think, say I believe

Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

One thought

  1. Wow, I didn’t realise how much to the forefront my feminine side actually is. I apologise for being late and explain why, I also apologise when I have to leave early. This is presumably why I find it difficult to get pay rises, promotions and recognition for my work.

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