You have to write a letter to your bank manager, which is something you’ve never done before and have no idea how to go about. (Do bank managers even exist now? And letters? But bear with me…)
Perhaps you’ll be writing in your own native tongue, as in the video clip I link to below, or in a foreign language you’re learning.
It doesn’t matter, really, because if you don’t know what to write and how to phrase it, so as to maximise the chances of the bank manager doing what you’d like them to do to help you, you’re wasting your time.
When we teach writing, typically we’ll focus on the ‘product’, that is to say the finished text – what it looks and sounds like, what it should include.
NOT on the various elements that go to make up the text itself, the grammar, the words, the spelling.
Your bank manager letter should begin with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ or similar and end with ‘Yours faithfully’. A good first line would be something like “I am writing to ask for an increase in my overdraft”.
You could then explain why you need the extra money – “It’s snowing and we have no heating or food.”
And the usual way to finish is “I look forward to hearing from you.”
A letter like that is teachable, and hopefully learnable, in just about any language, I assume. Without too much effort and at more or less any level from beginner to advanced (with appropriate simplifications.)
Teaching a ‘communicative act’, that is to say, focusing on a typical example and learning how to reproduce it, rather than starting from the bottom and learning all its components one by one, is an obvious shortcut.
A common problem is when people don’t begin by looking at HOW members of the language community usually do a certain thing but, say, translate from what they would do in their own knowledge, hoping to find equivalent expressions, grammar structures and vocabulary.
That’s very much the long way around, and not likely to be very successful, either. When Italians write letters in English based on what they would write if it were in Italian, the results are awful, often totally incomprehensible.
Formal, written Italian is highly codified. Italians learn to do it at school, then put it aside and hope never to have to write anything in their own language ever again.
If you want to learn to write an effective letter, in English, in Italian, in anything, then take the short cut of watching how others do it successfuly and copy them.
Guess what? Speaking is similar. Conversation involves at least two people and is full of conventions that those two or more participants use to smooth things out and move things along. For example, ways of beginning and ending, but not only – there are all sorts of speaking conventions if you look for them (how and when to interrupt, for example.)
Hello is ‘Bonjour’ in French, but people often skip that and start a chat with ‘ça va’ (this lady disagrees.)
My Spanish conversation partner usually begins with ‘que tal’. When speaking Turkish I can expect to hear ‘naber’, which I believe to be a contraction of ‘ne haber’ (what news?) but is used in exactly the same way as ‘ça va’, ‘que tal’ and so on.
Focusing on what you might usually say in your own language, or what you happen to want to say right now, ignoring what users of the language would typically do at this point, works sometimes.
But when it comes to communication ‘conventions’, so how to do things when you’re speaking or writing, doing things ‘your way’ might be the long way around, rather than a short cut.
N.b. When learning spoken conventions, for conversation for example, but it could apply to any situation in which communication is fairly standardised (a job interview?), don’t forget to learn the closing comments too! That often trips me up.
“Hasta la próxima lección”, in Spanish, ‘Görüşeceğiz’ in Turkish, and so on. Learn them one time (and practice a little before you need to use them) and you’ll have it off forever, so avoiding awkard hesitations and the foolish feelings that accompany them.
Anyway, here’s the video clip I promised you. The situation is the one I described above. It’s cold outside, our heroes are out of cash for food and fuel, and so need to write a letter to their bank manager. You’ll see, I hope, that the problem isn’t the language, as such, but how it should be used appropriately:
Oh, and the ‘risotto’ part is priceless…