How to learn to regognize formal and informal style?

I don’t know, some nationalities, like flamish speaking Belgians, seem to have real problems in getting the difference between “Sie” and “Du” or “tu” and “vous”. Even the security guards and customs officers at the airport say “Du” to everyone, and this is quite disturbing…

I suspect that they do this on purpose you will find the same in Quebec and Spain lots of “tu”. That is how they speak. When in Rome…

Certainly, it’s not the concept of formal vs informal pronouns which is so difficult (Dutch has them too, so I don’t see why Belgians wouldn’t understand it.) Instead, it’s a problem of knowing where the boundaries lay in different cultures. The Netherlands is known to be more relaxed and the informal is used far more heavily than in German, for example.

@Steve
No, they don’t do it purpose. They don’t know better. By the way, this belgian habit even appears in a book by Eric Emmanuel Schmitt, La reveuse d’ostende…
@Imyirtse
I understood that the Dutch only use the equivalent of “Du”…???
I thought that was why the belgians had a tough time with it…

No, both exist in Dutch, Ora.

In the Netherlands it’s:
‘jij/je’ - informal
‘u’ - formal
‘gij’ very formal (biblical/archaic)

In Belgium it’s:
‘jij’ in dialects - informal
‘gij’ general informal 2nd sg
‘u’ formal (also the basis for other forms of ‘gij’ possessive, etc)

But, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere: having a feature in one’s own language, doesn’t mean that it’s instantly something which will be easily acquired in another. Maybe a little help, but you’ve still got to pick it up. Gender is a good example of this.

These Belgian custom officials probably enjoy the fact that some of their German and French visitors do not like being addressed using “du” and “tu”. I would, if I were a customs official.

I cannot imagine that someone who actually wanted to use “du” and “Sie” correctly couldn’t do so. They either don’t care or do it on purpose in my opinion.

Sweden is another country which was very formal, with people using titles all the time, and the “Sie” form has now almost totally disappeared, within the last 30-40 years.

Steve, it’s true that Dutch speakers are becoming generally less formal as a society, especially in the Netherlands. It seems the the informal form will take over. In English, the formal form won! Rather surprisingly, the informal ‘thou’ lost. Also, the case of Belgium with the very formal ‘gij’ taking over. It’s strange how these things work.

I think you’re not quite correct that it’s simply by intention in all cases though. Perhaps in this case it is, but it’s possibly just habit. They would probably get into the habit of it if they lived in France/Germany/etc.

I know I always laugh at people who take offense and say "‘she’ is the cat’s mother!’ This one has never made sense to me. So much fuss over a pronoun. :slight_smile:

Well, actually, I once toldd a customs officer "What you are doing here is quite impolite. You should say “Sind Sie müde?” instead of “bist du müde?”.

He exploded. He stopped speaking German and only addressed me in flamish (which coincidentally I understood quite well) and told me:
“Such a minor mistake, I make an effort to speak German so that you can understand me and you criticise me for a small mistake???”

From this incident, I conclude that he was not aware of what he was doing, but just considered it a “negligable error”, kind of he cared not enough to learn proper German to make this distinction.

This is what I do not like about Bruxelles airport: they act as if they knew ever language “Which one do you want to speak? French? English? German? Flamish?” But they actually do not know their languages well.

In fact, it is not at all advisable to speak proper french in Bruxelles airport. firstly, they will say “tu”, secondly they do not like you because they consider you a wallon ennemy, even if you are from a different country…

Ora, it’s true that most people don’t really give much of a damn about learning languages. It’s not impolite. It’s just normal. How many people have the amount of time I spend on languages? :smiley:

I try not to get too involved in language politics. haha

If you don’t like the Brussels airport then don’t go there. I’m not Belgian and have never been there but they are in their country, and they make the effort to speak other languages. If you’re not satisfied with it, why don’t you learn their language?

I think Belgians can easily understand the difference between “Sie” and “du” or between “tu” and “vous”. They’re not more stupid than others (even if in France we like to say they are :P).

I speak their language, but the wrong one: french!!!

I am not saying they are stupid (althoug, at the airport, you might get that impression…) but they certainly do behave strangely.

And yes, I avoid going there as much as I can…

The service at Brussels Airport is perfectly fine, so it seems to me. I think it’s good they at least try to speak your language. In other airports they don’t even bother trying to speak your native language…

And yes, Belgians do know the difference between “Sie” and “du”, there is a similar difference in both French and Flemish.

It’s just too ridiculous to say that they would consider a foreigner a “walloon enemy”. Only some people with extreme-right ideas think that way, and they won’t work in the international airport for sure.

P.S.the correct spelling is not Flamish, but Flemish. (I consider myself to be Flemish, not Flamish)

Imyirtseshem, I would just want to say that in Belgium “gij” is considered very informal and grammatically wrong. The difference between the Netherlands and Belgium is that most people in Belgium do not use “jij” a lot. Instead we use the very informal form “gij”, only to people we know, else we use “u”. It’s funny that sometimes in one sentence we both use “gij” en “u”. To me “jij” is considered very childish, and I would only use it to kids. It’s just Flemish, I guess…

Since it’s a question related with the topic I’ll make it here: How do phrasal verbs work in english? I mean, can I use them whem I’m writing or talking in a formal situation? I ask this because I thought they were generally used more often in informal language, but I’ve seen them a lot in articles. Even today, for example, I was reading an text about unemployment and instead of the word “resign” I saw the phrasal verb “step down” been used.

Well, my teacher says that if I want to write in academic style I shouldn’t use phrasal verbs, idioms nor any expressions which are unnecesarily long (e.g. on the other hand) so that depends on kind of text you are writing.

Well, Konsa, I’m of the opinion that your teacher is an idiot! :slight_smile:

@Allisson - If you’re writing a term paper in university, I suppose I could see why phrasal verbs wouldn’t be as appropriate, but I think it depends on a case-by-case basis.

I would say “step down” is no less formal than “resign”, and was commonly used in articles about Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple shortly before he passed on a couple of months ago.

@konsa - While I wouldn’t discredit your teacher’s advice, I think the answer they gave you was just a general rule. Meaning not all phrasal verbs are informal.

Edit - Imyirtseshem put it more bluntly than I, but in any case it’s clear that the answer they gave isn’t entirely true :wink:

Thanks konsa, Imyirtseshem and alex for the answers.

P.s. Imyirtseshem always with sharp words. :slight_smile:

Alisson, better sharp words than soft words. when sharp words are needed. haha

If your problem stems from you having learned too many words out of context, doing something like the following might help you to help to improve your awareness of register:
-find texts and other recorded language in different registers to work with.You must be able to gauge the level of speech from the start, a native speaker might help with that. IMHO it should not be textbook material as writers of textbooks tend to distort - erm, simplify - the language they use in order to teach a specific item. I’d pass poetry and older literature, too.

-choose one text at a time and imagine the way the piece works - can you picture a politician giving it as a speech, a scientist trying to convince colleagues, a rock star giving an interview, a couple fighting, a labourer talking like that in the pub? At this point you should concentrate on creating a very vivid mental image and ignore the details.

-parse it for words and expressions that may be indicators for register. Some of those have been mentioned in here already. At this stage, look at words individually and try to think of synonyms. If you remember one, what was the level of speech you’ve heard/read that word used in? Try to guess which word is more formal, or if one of the words is used in British English and the other one in American English. Then, look it up in a good dictionary. (I’m too lazy for paper dictionaries, so I usually google ‘define word’.)

-quiz yourself. review.

-if you have access to a competent speaker, re-write passages of your text in a different register and have them corrected

-everytime you encounter the words you learnt to associate with a certain register that way, recall the impression that first text (and subsequent ones) gave you, so you can reinforce the association between word and register; and, of course, fine-tune it over time.

-do the same for a wide range of sources

-once you’ve created a solid base of keywords for register, start to systematically work through the words you’ve studied so far. Google is your friend there, too: usually it’s quite easy to figure out if a word pertains to a certain register or is used in many different situations simply from reading the first page of results. And you can find sample sentences and texts to work with that way, too.

The idea behind this is that register is mostly implicit knowledge. You don’t seem to have the time to simply use the language and let heuristics, awkward moments and being corrected by your conversation partner take care of that problem for you, so the next best option would be to re-learn words you already know in an environment that makes it easier to remember information about register. Basically, I advise you to actively create a space for ‘register’ in your mental representation of enough words that you will end up feeling the need to know about register for words you haven’t revised in the same manner, and then fill that space for the words you need to know.