Compliments (Span)

Compliments & Compliment Responses in Spanish

Review the expressions used to give a compliment and to respond to a compliment here (Compliments), and read the articles below which examine the effects of pragmatic instruction for the teaching of compliments and compliment responses

"Effects of Metapragmatic Instruction on the Production of Compliments and Compliment Responses" (Hasler-Barker 2016)

Hasler-Barker, M. (2016). Effects of Metapragmatic Instruction on the Production of Compliments and Compliment Responses: Learner-Learner Role-Plays in the Foreign Language Classroom. In K. Baradovi-Harlig & J. C. Félix-Brasdefer (Eds.), Pragmatics and Language Learning, vol. 14 (pp.125-152). Manoa, HI: Second Language Teaching and Curriculum Center University of Hawai’i. 

The compliment-compliment response sequence has a great deal of social utility for building solidarity (Haverkate, 2004) and as a social lubricant (Wolfson, 1983). This study reports the effects of metapragmatic instruction of this sequence on intermediate learners of Spanish as a foreign language.  The role-play data come from 26 learners of Spanish across three conditions (explicit instruction, implicit instruction, and a control group) and from two groups of native speakers. Instructed learners participated in awareness activities and cross-cultural analysis using authentic language samples, and had an opportunity for controlled and guided practice. Pretest, posttest, and delayed posttest role-plays were transcribed and analyzed for compliment and compliment response strategies. Learner production was compared to both native speaker groups, across testing times, and between learner groups. The results show advantages for learners in both instructional conditions over the control group, indicating that intermediate-level learners can benefit from instruction, and that both types of instruction are advantageous and may be combined for pedagogical success.

Teaching Compliments and Compliment Responses in the Foreign Language Classroom (Félix-Brasdefer & Hasler-Barker 2012).

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. & M. Hasler-Barker. (2012). Compliments and compliment responses: Fromempirical evidence to pedagogical application. In L. Ruiz de Zarobe & Y. Ruiz de Arobe (eds.), Speech Acts and Politeness across Languages and Cultures (pp. 241-273). Bern: Lang.    

Compliments and compliment responses are two inseparable speech acts that represent an adjacency pair (Schegloff / Sacks 1973: 296) or an “action chain event” (Pomerantz 1978: 109-110). For instance, A: ‘Your hair looks nice’, B: Thanks, I always go to the same hairstylist’.  According to Brown / Levinson (1978 [1987]), a compliment may express positive or negative politeness. A compliment such as ‘that sweater looks really nice’ may be interpreted as a positive politeness strategy in the appropriate circumstances because it attends to the interlocutor’s positive face, specifically, his/her wants, interests, and need to be approved of (1987: 102). The most obvious functions of a compliment are to “create or maintain solidarity between interlocutors” and to serve as “social lubricants” (Wolfson 1983: 89). As a negative politeness strategy, a compliment may be used as a face threatening act (FTA), namely, by impeding the hearer’s freedom of action and freedom from imposition (Brown / Levinson 1987: 70). For example, a compliment such as “I love your sweater’, may be interpreted as a request if it is followed by the hearer’s action of taking the sweater off and offering it to the speaker as a gift. In this case, the compliment may be understood as the speaker’s desire towards the hearer’s goods, “giving [the hearer] reason to think that he may have to take action to protect the object of [the speaker’s] desire” (Brown / Levinson 1987: 66). On the other hand, the speech act of compliment response is a reactive speech act which occurs in response to a compliment. Typical CRs may include accepting or rejecting the compliment, agreeing or disagreeing with the compliment, or avoiding self-praise (Herbert 1989, Holmes 1986, Pomerantz 1978). While compliments tend to be accepted (e.g., United States) or rejected with a disagreeing response (e.g., Malaysian and Mexican society) in different cultural contexts (Holmes 1995: 143), CRs may also function to convey humor or irony (Lorenzo-Dus 2001).  

Four Stepts to Teach the Compliment-Compliment Response Sequence (Félix-Brasdefer & Hasler-Barker 2012).

1. Raising awareness. The first activity is meant to make learners aware of the speech acts of compliments and CRs. The teacher explains that there are different ways of giving and responding to compliments in any language, depending on many factors. For example, a compliment given to a colleague may differ in form and content from a compliment given to a close friend or family member. The same may be true of compliment responses. With the help of the teacher, the class brainstorms compliments that they have given or responded to recently in order to come up with various ways to give a compliment and respond to a compliment. The instructor asks the class whether compliments and CRs are identical in all situations. 

2. Exposure to pragmatic input. The aim of this activity is to raise learners’ awareness of the form and function of compliments and CRs in Spanish and English. Students should be exposed to appropriate pragmatic input that includes the targeted speech acts. For this activity, students listen to two situations featuring compliment-compliment response sequences so as to become familiar with these speech acts at the discourse level.  

Complimenting in Mexican Spanish

Complimenting in US English

  • Do you find any differences in the opening (greeting) and closing of each interaction?
  • What expressions do speakers use to give a compliment and to respond to a compliment? What is the object praised? Who initiates more compliments?
  • What similarities or differences do you observe in the way Mexicans and Americans give a compliment and respond to a compliment? 

3. Recognizing compliments and compliment responses. Write down the compliments you observed in the male-male interactions. Identify the most common adjectives used to give a compliment in Spanish and English.

What expressions do native speakers of Spanish use to give a compliment in Spanish and English?

How do native speakers of Spanish respond to a compliment? Remember that requests for confirmation (fishing for compliments) are common in Spanish.

4. Producing compliments and compliment responses. Review the information on Compliments. Then, practice the situations below.

PRACTICE: Complimenting and responding to a compliment

Imagine each of the following situations. In each situation you will give a compliment and/or respond to the compliment. Read carefully each situation and when you are ready to begin the conversation, press the start arrow on each video control bar. Take a minute to look over the conversation. You will have 10 seconds to respond.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     

Situation 1: Complimenting Pedro's watch

Male-male. Your roommate Pedro from Spain just bought a new watch with video and fascinating audio features. You are watching TV in your room when he opens the door.

Pedro: Pedro says hi to you. [Tone]

Tú: Greet him briefly, tell him you are watching a movie with Antonio Banderas. Then, compliment his new watch. [Tone]

Pedro: Responds. [Tone]

Tú: Respond. Then, end the conversation and ask him if he wants to watch the movie with you. [Tone]

Pedro: Responds.

Situation 2: Complimenting your host mother's meal

Host mother - Male or female student. You are having dinner with your host family. Your host mother has prepared a delicious Mexican meal for you. It was seasoned perfectly, not too spicy and not too bland.

Host mother: Your host mother brings more food to the table. [Tone]

: Comment on the guacamole.

Host mother: Responds. [Tone]

Tú: Accept and ask her for the recipe. 

Host mother: Responds.