Asking for Information & Offering Help

From elementary level on we need to start teaching how to ask for something. Often students first learn to ask for something with verbs such as want and give. It’s very similar to when a child first learns to speak. They often say “Give me salt” or “I want salt”. They quickly learn to say “Please give me salt” as a way of being more polite, but still it is a little too direct for English and not very natural. So, we teach some phrases that we use. It’s not important to explain each word in a phrase, all the students need to understand is that to ask for something, they need to use the phrase.

First we teach:

Can you tell me..?

Could you tell me..?

I would like…

Once they have the basics mastered, at pre-intermediate level and above, we introduce the more specific and more complicated structures we have. For example:

I’m looking for…

Do you know..?

Sorry to bother you, do you happen to know..?

Offering help

At elementary level, we teach “Can I help?” as the foundation. At later levels, we introduce “May I help?” and would take the time to explain the general difference between “can” and “may”. We explain that “may” is a little out of date, but we still use it when we want to be more formal. Normally, we use it in a business environment or, perhaps, when we want to be respectful to someone older than us. At higher levels we also teach:

Are you looking for..?

Do you need / want..?

What can I do for you..?