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Lesson Transcript

Kellie: Making a Formal Complaint in English.
John: In this lesson, you’ll learn about using “if” and “whether” when discussing outcomes.
Kellie: The conversation takes place in Craig’s flat and is between Craig and Lucy.
John: They’ll be speaking informally as they’re friends, but there will also be some formal language involved.
Kellie: Right, let’s listen to the conversation!
Lucy: Hey Craig, what are you doing? You’ve been busily typing away on your laptop ever since I got here.
Craig: I’m writing a formal letter of complaint on your behalf because I know that you won’t do it yourself. The restaurant should be told how bad their service was last night.
Lucy: You’re just hoping that they’ll give you free food or a discount as an apology. What have you written so far?
Craig: (clears throat) “Dear Sir/Madam, I am a regular patron of your restaurant, but am deeply unhappy with the sub-standard service and food that I endured on your premises last night.”
Lucy: “Endured”… I like that. What else?
Craig: In the second paragraph I list all of the problems individually, and then close the letter with a brief recap and by saying that I hope they will take my comments on board. If you do get any discount vouchers as an apology, please give them to me.
Lucy: I don’t know whether they will do that or not, but if they do we should share them as after all, it was my first date that was ruined.
Craig: I wanted to put that as postscript at the end; “P.S. Thanks to your bad service, my love life has suffered as my date doesn’t want to see me again.”
Lucy: Actually, I think it helped. It gave us plenty to talk about and I’m seeing him again in a couple of days.
Craig: Really? Maybe I should take my next date to a terrible restaurant too!
Kellie: Why is Craig complaining and why didn’t Lucy complain at the restaurant?
John: Things are slowly changing, but British people still don’t really like formally complaining in person. A letter is far more serious and more likely to be taken seriously than complaining in person. Most businesses will have formal complaint procedures that they have to follow when a complaint letter is received. They don’t always have them for verbal complaints, though.
Kellie: So written complaints are treated as more important than just a spoken complaint?
John: I think so, yeah. You’ll usually get a letter of apology back from a complaints manager, and maybe even some vouchers.
Kellie: Craig will be happy if he gets some! So, the letter Craig was writing would be written formally, right?
John: Yeah. He probably wouldn’t know the name of the person he was writing to so the letter would be addressed as “Dear Sir or Madam”. When he signed the letter, he would sign it as “Yours faithfully”.
Kellie: Because he doesn’t know their name? What if he did know their name?
John: “Yours sincerely” is the standard close to a formal letter when you know the name.
Kellie: Do formal letters always follow the same pattern?
John: Typically, yes. We’re taught the standard opening and close, to introduce the purpose of the letter in the first paragraph, to summarise in the final paragraph and to go into detail in the middle. Another advantage of writing a complaint letter instead of complaining in person – you can do so calmly and think about what you’re saying.
Kellie: I’ll practise my formal complaint writing skills then in the hope of getting some vouchers! Now, onto to the vocab.
John: Let's take a look at the vocabulary for this lesson. The first word we shall see is:
Kellie: on behalf of [natural native speed]
John: to do something for someone else as if they were doing it themselves
Kellie: on behalf of [slowly - broken down by syllable] on behalf of [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: patron [natural native speed]
John: a customer of a bar or a restaurant – often a regular customer
Kellie: patron [slowly - broken down by syllable] patron [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: to endure [natural native speed]
John: to carry on doing something that causes pain or discomfort
Kellie: to endure [slowly - broken down by syllable] to endure [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: discount vouchers [natural native speed]
John: a coupon that reduces the price of something
Kellie: discount vouchers [slowly - broken down by syllable] discount vouchers [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: on board [natural native speed]
John: to listen to information and consider it carefully
Kellie: on board [slowly - broken down by syllable] on board [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: postscript [natural native speed]
John: usually abbreviated to P.S. and is an additional note added to the end of a letter
Kellie: postscript [slowly - broken down by syllable] postscript [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: to suffer [natural native speed]
John: to be affected by something bad
Kellie: to suffer [slowly - broken down by syllable] to suffer [natural native speed]
John: Next
Kellie: sub-standard [natural native speed]
John: below an acceptable level
Kellie: sub-standard [slowly - broken down by syllable] sub-standard [natural native speed]
Kellie: Let’s start with “on board”. Craig says “I hope they will take my comments on board”.
John: In this context it means to accept ideas and thoughts. The verb used when a passenger goes onto a ship is “to board”. If you imagine that the passenger is an idea, and the ship is a person then it’s a similar thing.
Kellie: Ah, so you’re listening to the idea and bringing it “on board” to yourself so that you can think about it?
John: That’s it! You sure brought that definition “on board” quickly!
Kellie: I try my best! Next is “on behalf of”.
John: In the dialogue, Craig was writing the letter “on behalf of Lucy”. It was Lucy who had suffered through the bad date and the mistakes of the restaurant, so Craig had no reason to complain. But, he wanted to complain for Lucy.
Kellie: So he was helping her complain?
John: Not quite. Doing something “on behalf of” someone is more than just helping them. It means acting for them, as an agent and in their interests. Here’s another example – the complaints manager probably won’t respond to the complaint letter personally, but
another member of the complaints team will. They will write it on his behalf.
Kellie: I think I got it!
John: You can also say “in behalf of” someone as well as “on behalf of”, with “on behalf of” becoming more popular. Historically they had different meanings but they’ve become interchangeable in British English in recent years.
Kellie: Thanks for that extra info! Now let’s move on to the

Lesson focus

Kellie: The grammar focus of this lesson is “if” versus “whether.”
John: Yes. They both serve the same broad purpose, but they can’t be used interchangeably so it’s important to know the differences.
Kellie: The example we have of “if” in the dialogue comes from Craig – “If you do get any discount vouchers as an apology, please give them to me”.
John: Craig is talking about what response they will get as an apology. It’s possible that the restaurant will do something other than send vouchers if they chose to reply. They could send them, but they could also send a letter of apology or a gift. You can’t use “whether” here.
Kellie: The example of “whether” is in Lucy’s reply. “I don’t know whether they will do that or not, but if they do we should share them as after all, it was my first date that was ruined.”
John: Here, Lucy is speaking specifically about discount vouchers, so there are only two possible outcomes. Either she will get the discount vouchers, or she won’t. There’s nothing else that can happen so she uses “if”.
Kellie: So “whether” is only used when there are only two possible results?
John: That’s correct. Usually, you’ll say the two possible results as well. For example, “I don’t know whether Tony will come Friday or Saturday”.
Kellie: There’s only two outcomes in this – either Tony arrives Friday or Saturday.
John: Yep! The speaker is referring to only Friday and Saturday and only those two options. With only two options we use “whether”. But what about “I don’t know if Tony will arrive Friday or Saturday”?
Kellie: Um, he may come Friday, he may come Saturday or he may come another day? Or not at all?
John: Yeah. Using “whether” limits the options to only those that are spoken in the sentence. Using “if” means there are other potential outcomes. If Tony isn’t that reliable, or it’s only a vague plan that he will come on those days, “if” is the better choice as it hints that there are other possibilities.
Kellie: Okay, only use “whether” when there are only two options. Got it! Hm, I wonder if Lucy will get those vouchers.
John: I wonder whether we’ll find out in later lessons or Not.


Kellie: Well, that’s it for this lesson so we’ll just have to wait and see. Ok, everyone, thanks for listening, and make sure you check the lesson notes!
John: Bye, everyone!
Kellie: Bye!