Don’t say, “I’m fine.”

I use this as a warmer / ice-breaker with most of my new classes. On, the board, I’ll write:

Do NOT say, “I’m fine.”

The first students arrives and I ask how they are …

“I’m fine,” is, invariably, the response. I point to the board and try to elicit alternative answers.

This is repeated with all new students, and becomes integrated into the lesson. Late-comers (there are always late-comers in Vietnam) are greeted with the same question, and look perplexed when the whole class laughs at them for saying, what they believed to be, the ONLY possible answer.

It seems that from Kindergarten class, Vietnamese students are drilled with:

“How are you ?” “I’m fine.” Maybe an, “I’m fine, thank you,” and it’s left at that.

English is such a rich language which, admittedly, can be daunting for learners – so many ways to say the same thing.

I explain that native-speakers don’t really use “I’m fine.” It’s meaningless and conveys no emotion. If anything, it’s used sarcastically, in fights between partners:

“I’m not going to help you, do it yourself !”

“OK, fine !”

From this point we can start suggesting other responses … and intonations.

“I’m good,” “I’m great,” “I’m over the Moon.”

This leads to how we use so much intonation to express meaning in English.

A less positive reply could be “I’m so-so,” or “I’m OK.” Even there, “I’m OK,” get’s it’s meaning from how it’s pronounced … it can mean good or just so-so depended on paralinguistics (body language, tone of voice, expression).

Then we come to not feeling so great.

“I’m terrible,” “I feel lousy,” “I’m a little under the weather,” (idiom)

So, we have an ice-breaking session and mini lesson featuring pronunciation, intonation, vocabulary and use of idiom. That is rather more than fine.

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