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You're not happy with your hotel room. You want to complain. But how do you do it politely and effectively? Pick up some tips and tricks with our special functional English programme.

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There's a problem with my room...

Making complaints

This activity looks at the functional language you need for making complaints. Things don't always go our way, so being able to make a complaint is a useful skill in any language. But how do you do it effectively and politely in English?

The British are famed for their politeness, so let's listen to Finn and the Learning English team as they do some roleplays in a fictional hotel. Which phrases do native English speakers use when they are complaining?

To do

Listen to the programme. What is missing from both Rob and Catherine's hotel rooms?

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Finn
Hello, this is Finn, and I've got some real language for you today – some useful stuff that you hear in everyday life. In this case, we're going to learn how to make a complaint when you're staying in a hotel. A polite complaint, of course!

So, picture the scene – you're on holiday, you're in your hotel room, but there are a few problems: the kettle is not working, there aren't any slippers, and there's no hot water. What to do? Are there any strategies, or special words and phrases that you could use? Well, yes, there are.

So, how about this: we'll do a small roleplay – I'll be the receptionist… (clears throat) the receptionist, there we are – and I'll wait for the guests to call me with their problems. Listen out for how they complain – do they say the problem straight away? Ooh, there's the phone now.

Finn
Hello, reception?

Rob
Hello reception. It's Mr Carter here. I checked into the room on the 4
th floor just a few minutes ago actually.

Finn
Okay.

Rob
Yeah, well, everything's fine, it's a lovely room, but the problem, you know, is, I was really desperate for a drink and the mini-bar's empty.

Finn
It's me again. That sounded a bit like Rob. Anyway, his mini-bar was empty, that was his problem. But he didn't tell me the problem straight away. First, he gave the background, he set the scene, he told me a little story, about how he checked into the room a few minutes ago, and everything was fine, he even gave a compliment – that it was a lovely room… And he also gave a reason for needing the minibar – that he was desperate for a drink. Listen again:

Rob
It's Mr Carter here. I checked into the room on the 4
th floor just a few minutes ago actually.

Finn
Okay.

Rob
Yeah, well, everything's fine, it's a lovely room, but the problem is, I was really desperate for a drink and the mini-bar's empty.

Finn
So, this is quite common – people don't go straight into the problem, first they tell the story – how they came to the problem. Now, sadly, the lack of cold drinks isn't Rob's only problem here. Let's listen to a bit more of the conversation. What's wrong this time?

Rob
Well there is one more thing.

Finn
Right.

Rob
Because I couldn't get a drink out of the mini-bar I was trying to make a cup of tea, but the kettle isn’t working.

Finn
Ah. Right.

Rob
I filled it up with water and plugged it in, and I've switched the switch on, but it doesn't seem to be working, really.

Finn
Yes. This time the kettle's not working. Again he told a story – about why he wanted to use the kettle – to make a cup of tea. And then he said how he tried and failed to use it successfully. But there's more – listen to this phrase. What does he say instead of 'it's not working'?

Rob
It doesn't seem to be working, really.

Finn
It doesn't seem to be working. Now, that's a softer way of saying 'it's not working'. In fact, he doesn't directly say that it's not working at all – when he says it doesn't seem to be working, it's as if there's even a possibility that it's Rob's fault. So this is a very soft way of making a complaint.
You'll hear seem to quite often. It's often used with a negative auxiliary like can't or doesn't.

Neil
The hot water doesn't seem to be working.

Mike
I can't seem to find any slippers in the room.

Finn
But you can also use it in a positive sentence with no auxiliary.

Neil
There seems to be a problem with the hot water.

Mike
There seem to be no slippers in here.

Finn
And there's another phrase which is very similar: appear to. Again with a negative auxiliary:

Mike
There don't appear to be any slippers in the room.

Neil
The hot water doesn't appear to be working.

Finn
And in a positive sentence with no auxiliary:

Neil
There appears to be a problem with the hot water.

Mike
There appear to be no slippers in the room.

Finn
So – those are my two tips: tell a bit of a story, give a bit of background before going into your problem or complaint. And use phrases like seem to or appear to to soften your language.
But remember – you do need to make your point clear, even though you're being polite.

Well that's it from me, but I'll leave you with one more conversation to listen to. Catherine seems to be having a problem in her room - and what is it with slippers in this hotel?

Finn
Hello. Yes, reception. Can I help you?

Catherine
Hello. Yes, it's Catherine here. I'm in room 207.

Finn
Hi there.

Catherine
I wonder if you can help me? I've got a couple of problems.

Finn
Okay.

Catherine
I've been running a bath and the water's cold. I can't get any hot water.

Finn
Oh, I'm very sorry about that. I'll send someone to have a look at that right away.

Catherine
Thank you, if you would, that would be great.

Finn
Yes, of course.

Catherine
Thank you very much. And something else I've spotted, actually, is, in the room there don't seem to be any slippers.

Finn
No slippers, huh?

Catherine
No, I'm afraid not, no. There's normally a pair of little paper slippers aren’t there? And I just can't find them anywhere…

Downloads

You can download the programme and transcript from our Unit 4 Downloads page.

Language tips

So what was missing from Rob and Catherine's rooms? Slippers! Essential in any good hotel room.

Now let's remind ourselves of the language tips and tricks that can help us to make better complaints:

1) Tell a story

Don't go straight into your problem or complaint. Give a little background first, so the listener understands your situation better. Don't make it too long though! Here are two good examples from the programme:

  • I checked into the room on the 4th floor just a few minutes ago. It's a lovely room, but the problem is that I was really desperate for a drink and the mini-bar's empty.
  • Because I couldn't get a drink out of the mini-bar I was trying to make a cup of tea, but
    the kettle isn’t working.

2) Use softening language

Instead of directly saying that something is bad or not working, you can soften it by using seem to or appear to.

The form is seem to + infinitive + the problem

Often, the infinitive is be. For example:

  • Sorry, there seems to be a problem with the radio.
  • Excuse me, there appears to be a problem with your ticket.

And these sentences, in the negative, take auxiliaries like can't and don't:

  • I can't seem to switch on the TV.
  • There don't appear to be any slippers in the room.

This was our second special programme teaching you functional language. The first was how to haggle, in Unit 1 of this course.

Next

So, those are our two top tips for making complaints. Would you like to try your knowledge of this language? Test yourself in our quiz, next.

 

이번 세션 문법

Session Vocabulary

  • Tips for making complaints

    1) Tell a story: Give some background before mentioning your complaint. But keep it short!

    • I've just checked into room 401. It's a lovely room, but the problem is that I was really desperate for a drink and the mini-bar's empty.

    2) Soften your tone: Use seem to and appear to to make your language softer. They're often used with be. In the negative, you need an auxiliary like can't or don't.

    • Sorry, there seems to be a problem with the radio.
    • Excuse me, there appears to be a problem with your ticket.
    • I can't seem to get the TV to work.
    • There don't appear to be any slippers in the room.