Disagreeing
 

Bringing your own voice into conversation, that is, showing people who you are and what you think an believe is an important part of what face-to-face interaction is all about.  What you disagree to and how shows the people you talk to what you think and feel.  However, disagreeing in a way that is appropriate can be tricky.  Your choice of words and other aspects of how you disagree will be interpreted as having a certain meaning.   To help you both be sensitive to other people's feelings and to communicate more precisely what you mean,  it is necessary to gain a much deeper understanding of how people disagree in English.



Background
There are numerous ways to disagree with someone.  What you will need to examine is what these different ways mean to a native speaker.  In the chart below, I recorded examples of disagreement that I encountered over two days.  I have included 1) who and when 2) the topic of disagreement 3) the language used and 4) what it meant to me as a native speaker.  What ideas can you begin to form based on these examples?
 
Who? and When? Topic  Language Used What it Means
my advisor, 1:45 M afternoon a point I wanted to write about in a paper "Well..." By this, she meant "It's possible, but maybe you should think about it." It was indirect.
my wife, M evening who should wash the dishes, I suggested she was better at it and therefore should do it "Yeah, right! I don't think so." This was direct, but her intonation told me she was joking.
my wife, M evening how she should punish her students (she is a high school teacher) I said, "Mmm, I don't know." This was indirect but pretty strong.  She replied, "What do you think I should do?"
a classmate, T afternoon I was telling her that I believe interacting with native speakers is the purpose of learning a language She said, "Well, I don't know if that's always the case." It was indirect.  I didn't know if she really wasn't sure or if she just didn't want to say I was wrong directly.


Investigation
 When you investigate disagreeing, keep in mind the importance of understanding how disagreeing in different ways has very different meanings to native speakers.  Also, keep in mind the distinction between direct and indirect disagreement.  You may miss some examples of indirect disagreement if you aren't paying attention.

1.  Predict:  Based on the examples above and what you may already know about disagreeing in English?  In what ways may it be the same or different than your native language? How do you imagine native speakers perceive direct and indirect disagreement differently?

2.  Plan:  Where do you imagine you may be able to encounter examples?  What topics may encourage disagreement?  Remember, for this speech behavior it is especially important to get information on what different types of disagreement mean to native speakers.

3.  Collect Data:  For this step, try to collect first hand examples, like mine above, if you can.  If you are unable, you may want to try compiling a list of statements that a person can disagree with and ask a native speaker for their responses.  To gather information on native speakers' perceptions, try doing an informal interview (or two).

4.  Analyze:  For this investigation, you may want to try to categorize your data.  Are there any patterns in the types of responses you found?  How do these categories compare with native speakers' reactions?

5.  Reformulate:  Based on what you found, what do you believe learners of English to be aware of when disagreeing?  What phrases should they learn or what behaviors should they adopt?  What do teachers need to consider when teaching students about disagreeing?
 
 

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