The Internet TESL Journal

Compliments: Integrating Cultural Values into Oral English Classes

Chou, Yen-Lin
yenlinch [at]
The University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California, USA)
Compliments can be viewed as an expression of certain cultural values (Manes, 1983). Therefore, integrating the teaching of the cultural values of the compliments in the language classroom provides students with opportunities to learn not only the language (English) but also the cultural differences. Moreover, the role play activity, group discussion, and oral presentation are utilized in the language classroom in order to improve students' speaking competence, especially the communicative ability. While the students are engaging in the activities, it is attainable for the teacher to assess whether the students achieve the objectives or not as well as evaluate each student's speaking competence.


In order to increase international students' consciousness of the cultural differences, improve the speaking competence, and develop the understanding of distinct cultural norms and values from their countries (Manes, 1983), the instruction of the expression of cultural values (compliments and responses) and the reinforcement of the speaking skill are incorporated in the language classroom.

The design of the course aims to help international students have better awareness of how western people express compliments in English and assist students in understanding that different cultural meaning and messages exist in the expressions and responses to the compliments from cultures to cultures (Manes, 1983). Moreover, in order to improve students' speaking competence, especially the communicative ability, the group discussion, role play activity, and oral presentation are employed in the language classroom. Students can obtain a variety of opinions from their partners while participating in the group discussion (Graves, 2000); By means of the role play activity, "students can experience cultural values and awareness because it gives an opportunity to be emotionally involved in cross-cultural learning and reflect upon cultural differences" (Kodotchigova, p.5, 2002). Through engaging in the oral presentation, students have more opportunities to practice their English speaking skills.

Moreover, applying the use of the observation and reflection cards is effective for the language teacher to assess if the students achieve the objectives and obtain the knowledge of the classroom content.  Therefore, the details of how to apply the observation and reflection cards in the classroom are illustrated in the article as well.


Students will increase the cross-cultural consciousness and develop the English speaking ability.


Class Profile

Students' Profiles

The course is an intensive English course that is designed for an intermediate level class. The total amount of time the students spend attending classes is two hours per week.

Class Time (each class)

2 hours

Preparation Time

10 minutes

Materials and Equipment

Weekly Classes Procedure

Week 1 (Class 1)

Week 2 (Class 2)

Week 3 (Class 3)


In order to assess if students successfully achieve the objectives, the teacher applies the observation and reflection cards (see below) in the language classroom. 

The group discussions enable students to cooperate with each other and to pay attention to various opinions when other students express their opinions. Meanwhile, the teacher can observe how individual student participate in the discussion (Graves, 2000). The observation can be considered an effective instrument in the course. Because most of the students come from other countries, the students do not feel overwhelmed and anxious when the teacher "silently" assesses students' performances. Through observing, the teacher can judge students' interests and learning preferences (Graves, 2000). When observing the group discussions, the teacher can fill out the following sheet.

Student's Name:  

Understand the different expressions and cultural meanings of the compliments (responses) in American culture and the culture of his/her home country:

Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required   

Student's performance and learning preference participation in the discussions:

Active, Average, Reluctant

Any interesting idea brought up:


The role play activity is employed in order to assess if students absorb the classroom content and to evaluate each student's speaking ability. The use of role play activities can be regarded as an on-going and communicative assessment tool (Kodotchigova, 2002). While students engage in the role play activity, the teacher observes each group of students and fills out the following sheet (Lambert, 2003).

Student's Name:    

Use the appropriate vocabularies and sentences in English to express compliments in the role play:
Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required     

Choose the proper vocabularies and sentences in English to respond to the compliments in the role play:
Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required     

Student's Speaking Ability:  
Fluency: Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required
Accuracy: Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required
Pronunciation: Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required  
Communicative skill: Perfect, Good, Satisfactory, Improvement Required     

Mistakes made in the role play:      


The reflection cards are employed in the course as well. Each student has to answer the questions on the reflection card at the end of every class. Students can write down their reactions to the content of the class, give some suggestions to the teacher, and express the new ideas they acquire during the classroom activities. The reflection card is illustrated as follow:

Please answer those following questions HONESTLY.

1. What did you learn from today's class?

2. Please give the teacher some suggestions (There is no punishment if you criticize the  teacher, so, relax, speak up what you want to say).

3. Did you like today's classroom activities? If so, why? If not, why?

Appendix A

Description of the Group Discussion

Before the group discussion, the class listens to numerous segments of taped conversations and the content of the conversations is the expressions of compliments and the responses to the compliments among native speakers. Next, the teacher divides the students into several small groups consisting of four students. Students in each group have to discuss questions, such as "How do you compliment other people in your home country?" and "Compare the compliments you use in your home country with the compliments you observe from the taped conversations.  Are there any similarities or any differences?"

Appendix B

Description of the Role Play Activity:

The teacher asks students to find a partner. After students form a group, the teacher hands out the cue cards. Each pair of students have both cue card X and cue card Y (adopted from the role play activity, Kodotchigova, 2002).

Cue Card X
You are an international student from another country:

Imagine your American friend invites you to visit his/her new house.
  1. Greet your American friend and compliment his/her house.
  2. What would you say to your American friend when he/she dresses up?

Cue Card Y
You are an American:

Imagine you invite your friend from another country to visit your new house.   
  1. Greet your friend and respond to your friend's praises.    
  2. How would you respond to your friend when he/she compliments your clothes?

Students in each group have two roles: American and international student. Students have to follow the instruction on the cue cards and interact with each other (Kodotchigova, 2002). Each student must take turns and practice complimenting and responding to the compliments in the role play activity. When the role play activity is completed, the teacher asks each pair of students to demonstrate their role play activities in front of the class.


The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. X, No. 12, December 2004