Knowledge in everyday life
Knowledge in everyday life

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

Knowledge in everyday life

2.6 Context and language variation

As well as contributing to meaning, context can also influence the actual words and sentences that we use. Do you sometimes say ‘Hi’ and at other times say ‘Good morning’? Do you have a ‘telephone voice’? This variation in language may be done deliberately, but often it is not. There are two main reasons as to why we adjust the way we speak:

  • to fit in with our audience or what we feel they expect of us; you may use ‘professional’ language with children's parents, for example – in part to give the implicit message that you are dealing with their child in a professional manner;

  • to be clearly understood by our audience, e.g. in the way in which you speak to children.

Activity 10: Your language in context

1 hour 0 minutes

Over the next few days, keep a note of examples that you feel illustrate how your language changes to suit its context. Choose 10–12 of these and record them on a chart – for example:

My language Context Reason
‘Good morning’ Greeting a child's parent Emphasising my professional role – a bit distant but ‘in control’
‘Oh dear, what happened to your poor knee?’ Gemma brought to me with a grazed knee, crying Warm tone, comforting (with close eye contact and hand on child's shoulder)

Finally, write a brief explanation of how you adjust the way you talk to meet the needs of the young children with whom you work.


You will probably notice the interpersonal basis of many of your choices. When we enter into conversation, we often want to express solidarity or ‘closeness’ with the person we are speaking to, although there may be occasions when we wish to establish distance by deliberately speaking differently from them.

For every variation in the way you speak, there will be a reason. Sometimes variation towards less formal ways of speaking is criticised as a lapse in ‘good English’, but this is a questionable view.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus