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How to Introduce Bad News
Announcer: This is an All Ears English podcast Episode 1016: “How to Introduce Bad
News Using “Alas”, “Unfortunately” and More.”
Announcer: Welcome to the All Ears English Podcast, downloaded more than 50 million times. We believe in Connection NOT Perfection ™, with your American hosts Lindsay McMahon, the ‘English Adventurer’, and Michelle Kaplan, the ‘New York Radio Girl,’ coming to you from Boston and New York City, U.S.A.
Announcer: And to get your transcripts delivered by email every week, go to AllEarsEnglish.com/subscribe.
Announcer: Today, we get a great question from our listener Kadeer. How can you use the phrase “alas” to share bad news? Find out how to do it, plus get a few other phrases today.
Michelle: Hey (hi) Lindsay, how’s it going? How are you?
Lindsay: Hey (hi) Michelle, I’m feeling great. We have a big week coming up because, guys, you guys know we record a little bit in advance, and this weekend we have the Urban Adventure in Boston. So we’re going to get to meet some of our listeners.
Michelle: Ohh my gosh. Are you having fun getting ready for that?
Lindsay: Ohh yeah (yes), it’s super fun and I’m just excited to meet them and just to bring them around Boston, and we’re going to dive into native English. It’s going to be so cool, it’s going to be cool.
Michelle: That’s great, that’s great. Have a great time. Ohh wow, tell everyone I said hi.
Lindsay: I will, for sure. And, Michelle, we also have some app, some people who reviewed our iOS app. Isn’t that exciting? I mean, we had Episode 1000 and some of our app users went ahead and left us reviews.
Michelle: That’s nice, that’s so great. So, are we going to thank them?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I want to yell out their names really quick to say a special thank you.
Lindsay: Alright. Are you ready, Michelle?
Lindsay: Okay, here it goes. Thank you to Mariana _____ Willie Cuban, I from
Brazil, Gio, your Nicaraguan listener. [laughter]
Lindsay: [laughter] __ 555 and Moonlight99 and Emily1275, ___ . Guys, you are awesome. It’s so cool that these guys are using the iOS app. That means they’re seeing the bonus videos. Like, Michelle, you made a cool bonus video last week about the heat in New York. Didn’t you?
Michelle: [laughter] Yes.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes). Jessica also did a video this week about, well, we won’t tell our listeners what they learned, what the phrase was, but it was related to heat. Because we’re all in the heat waves of the summer right now. Or we were last week.
Michelle: So funny. So, she did it too? That’s so funny.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), a similar topic, but also, we learned new vocab. So, very good. So, guys, if you don’t know what we’re talking about, you want to get the iOS app onto your phone so you can start listening to our show over there and seeing these bonus videos. Go to AllEarsEnglish.com/bonuses.
Michelle: Nice. Alright. That’s great.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes).
Michelle: Yeah (yes). Lindsay, I mean, I had a good weekend, but, I mean, I wanted to go to the beach, but alas, it was raining so I didn’t get to go.
Lindsay: “Alas”? “Alas”, I never hear you use that word, Michelle. Interesting. Okay.
Michelle: I know. Isn’t that interesting? Yeah (yes). So, this is a key word that we are going to be talking about today, because we got a great question from our listener Kadeer. Lindsay, would you like to read the question?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), and I want to say thank you to Kadeer, because he’s a big listener of our show, he works very hard on his English, he sends in a lot of questions, and Kadeer, we admire your dedication to English. I think that is so cool.
Michelle: We definitely do, and we really appreciate the questions. Alright, this is a good one.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). Okay, I’m going to read the question. Here we go. So, “Hello
Lindsay, Michelle and Jessica. I hope y’all are having…” Okay, he said “y’all”, so that’s a Southern term. Right? So, “I hope you’re all having a best week of your life. As for me, I’m really excited to become a freshman at the university in September.” That’s awesome. “Enough with the introduction, let’s dive into my question. Recently, I came across a sentence that is, ‘For many people, alas, hunger is part of everyday life.’ I feel like the word ‘alas’ here is an exclamation, which I don’t see that much, if at all. I would like to hear your thoughts on the meaning of that word and also on what other words we can use to get a similar meaning. Thanks a lot in advance. I hope you’ll be answering my question. Kadeer, 18, from Turkey.” So, Kadeer is getting ready for college. That is so cool.
Michelle: Yeah (yes). So, maybe when this episode comes out, I don’t know, maybe he would have started already. I don’t know, but good luck. Yeah (yes), we wish you a great year. Wow, how exciting.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), he’s got a really solid head start on his English and I think he’s going to be headed for really good things with those English skills that he has. That is so cool.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), good luck, good luck.
Lindsay: Alright. So, Michelle, how are we going to dive into this today?
Michelle: Yeah (yes). Well, I think this is a really good question. I mean, do you know this word “alas”, Lindsay? Have you heard it before?
Lindsay: For sure. I have definitely heard it. It’s not one that I use. It’s just not really in my vocabulary. It’s not something I necessarily feel comfortable using, but I definitely hear it all the time, especially… I mean, it sounds smart, it sounds articulate, it sounds intellectual in my opinion. What do you think?
Michelle: Yeah (yes), for sure, for sure. I agree with everything you just said. Yeah
(yes), of course I know this word. I don’t know that, like, that example that I just said to you about, “But alas it was raining.” There’s no way I would have ever said that to you like that. I would have never said that to you with “alas”.
Lindsay: But some people would.
Michelle: You think so?
Lindsay: I think so. I think it’s got this tinge to it of, like, artsiness, like, poetic, like, someone who’s trying to be poetic or trying to be, like, melancholy in the way they’re speaking.
Michelle: “But alas…” Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), a little artsy.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), that’s true.
It’s got that kind of twist to it. Some people would, but only if they’re trying to, like, emphasize that they want to be a little bit melancholy.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), that’s a really good point, yeah (yes). I think that it can be used, but I wouldn’t be using it just, like, “But alas, it was raining.” Like, that’s too casual.
Lindsay: No, no.
Michelle: But if I want to be, like, a little bit dramatic, or maybe even trying to be a little bit funny, just, like, in the drama of it all, like, “But alas, it was raining.” You know?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). It’s definitely, like, kind of when you feel like you’re kind of on stage, not literally on stage, but you want to convey a certain emotion and you want to kind of animate your speaking a little bit.
Michelle: Right, right. So, alright, so, what does it mean? So, in the dictionary it says that it is used to express unhappiness, pity, or concern. So, in my example with the beach it’s, like, unhappiness, “But alas, it was raining.” But in Kadeer’s example, you know, about hunger, it means kind of something very similar, but like, you know, feeling concerned more, I guess. You know? “For many people, alas, hunger is a part of everyday life.” You know?
Michelle: Yeah (yes). So, that’s what I would say. But yeah (yes). Some other examples could be, “She thought she had the job, but alas, they gave it to someone else.” Right?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), exactly. So, clearly, this word can be used for a bunch of different scenarios, right?
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: Something as simple as it’s raining to talking about much more serious topics like hunger around the world. Right? So, it’s obviously quite dynamic. Yeah (yes).
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). What else, Michelle?
Michelle: Yeah (yes), well, you can say, “I called him, but alas, he did not pick up.” Something like that. Yeah (yes), that’s like, you know, these are things, you know, I think that’s a good point, Lindsay, that it can be used from something really terrible to something just, you know, not so terrible. When you kind of, if it’s not so terrible, you’re trying to be, like, kind of cute or a little bit dramatic. That’s what I think.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), a little poetic, a little dramatic, a little artsy. That’s how I think of it. Sometimes, I don’t know, sometimes I roll my eyes when I hear it. [laughter]Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes).
Lindsay: It’s just a little bit too much sometimes, just trying to sound a little too poetic and artsy, but it depends on who it’s coming from. So, guys, just listen for it. You know? That’s the key and see if you want to add it to your vocabulary. That’s kind of your choice. Right?
Michelle: Definitely, definitely. Yeah (yes). So, I mean, I could also see it in a book
or something like that. But, you know, so guys, you know, Lindsay and I don’t really use this word, but you know, you may decide that you want to; you might hear somebody use it in a funny way or just kind of silly way or something like that. But, there are other ways that we can express this, and it’s important to know how to express this because I think that it enhances connection. Right? Because you’re sharing your emotions about your something, you’re saying, “But this happened.” It’s kind of a good add-on.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes).
Michelle: To kind of make the phrase deeper or whatever you’re trying to say, get someone to understand how you feel about something.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), totally. That’s a good point, Michelle. So, the function of it is,
again, to show your emotion. So, even if I roll my eyes when I hear “alas”, this ability to connect through showing how something felt is super important. Right? That’s something we don’t want to leave out of our English.
Announcer: It’s the fall and it’s time to dig into English, but to do this we’re not going to break open our grammar books, no way. Instead, you can learn the Seven Simple Secrets to Connection in English to get started. Go to AllEarsEnglish.com/secrets to get your free video lesson now. That’s AllEarsEnglish.com/SECRETS.
Michelle: For sure, for sure. Yeah (yes). Okay. So, let’s go through it. So, what’s the first one, Lindsay?
Lindsay: Okay, well, something as simple as just saying “unfortunately”.
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
This is a lot more down to earth, I think. Does that make sense?
Michelle: Yeah (yes). I think this one is used all the time. I think this is probably the
most common thing that, when I hear “alas”, like, I just hear kind of, you
know… The first thing that popped into my head was “unfortunately”. So yeah (yes), so, you could say something like, “I opened my fridge this morning to make scrambled eggs, but, unfortunately, they were all broken.”
Lindsay: Ohh no. Nothing drives me nuts more than when I want to have
something for breakfast and it’s not there and I have to go to the store and
I’m in my pajamas. It’s just so annoying. [laughter]
Michelle: [laughter] Definitely, definitely. So, yeah (yes), “unfortunately”, guys, I think this is a good one. What’s the next one, Lindsay?
Lindsay: Well, “I’m afraid”. So, I like this one. This is a classic. Right, Michelle? Classic. So, you know, a little bit more buttoned-up, you think? Definitely a little bit.
Michelle: That’s what I think. What do you think?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes). I agree, I agree. It’s something, like, I would envision, like, a high school guidance counselor saying, “I’m afraid your SATs aren’t enough for Harvard.” Or something. Right?
Michelle: Right, right, right.
Lindsay: A little more formal. Yeah (yes). It’s not necessarily something you’d say to, like, your sibling when you say, “I ate all the chocolate. I’m afraid I ate all the chocolate in the fridge.” It doesn’t make sense. Right? It’s too formal for that.
Michelle: Right, right. So, you could say, “I’m afraid” or “I’m afraid that”. Right, Lindsay?
Lindsay: Sure, yes.
Michelle: Yeah (yes). And let’s just make this clear, you know, it’s not necessarily about real fear.
Lindsay: Exactly, it’s just another way of saying “I’m sorry that” or “too bad that”.
Right? Here’s an example sentence, “I want to give you a good grade, but
I’m afraid that you failed the test.”
Michelle: (yes), yeah (yes). Maybe “I’m afraid you failed”, I don’t know. I’m not sure about this “that” now, but it’s fine either way.
Lindsay: I think both are okay.
Michelle: Now I’m starting to hear it in my head over and over. So, yeah (yes). What do you think of this one, Lindsay?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), I like it. I also don’t use it much because it does feel more buttoned-up, a bit more formal. It’s just, it’s not in my range, but certainly people use it, absolutely. And it does convey this sense of, yeah (yes), like, you’re sharing news that’s not positive, it’s not a good thing. Yeah (yes).
Michelle: Right, right, definitely. Yeah (yes). And the next one is kind of similar, the next one is “sadly”. Right? This also is a little bit formal sounding, but it’s used. So, like, “They had a beautiful wedding, but sadly they got a divorce two years later.” something like that.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). I like that. Yeah (yes). And then… And that kind of conveys a little bit more emotion in the whole thing.
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: I feel like “I’m afraid that” and “unfortunately” kind of keep it more objective, but “sadly” shows the emotion, shows that feeling behind what you’re conveying.
Michelle: That’s a really good point, Lindsay. Yeah (yes), I agree with that. “Sadly” is, like, yeah (yes), that you really kind of feel that sadness.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). I like the next one, Michelle. This one sounds good. So, what is it?
Michelle: Thank you. “Much to my dismay”. [laughter]
Michelle: This one I think is a little bit more old fashioned, definitely more formal,
but what do you think, Lindsay?
Lindsay: Ohh man. Yeah (yes), it’s more formal, but I like it. It’s kind of artsy sounding and it could be fun. I mean, for example, if you guys are taking the IELTS exam, it would definitely make you stand apart from other candidates in the speaking test for sure. Okay? Yeah (yes).
Michelle: Yeah (yes). So, it could be “to my dismay”, “much to your dismay”, “much to their dismay”. Right?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes).
Michelle: So, for example, “They put a bid on the house but, much to their dismay, someone had given a better offer, so they didn’t get it.” Right?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), that’s a good way of articulating that. I mean, again, it’s, yeah, (yes), it sounds intellectual, it sounds smart, it sounds articulate.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), definitely. So, I mean, so, Lindsay, which one do you think is the most natural sounding for you? Which one do you think you use the most?
Lindsay: Okay, so, for my personal range of vocabulary it would be, within here, it’d be “unfortunately”.
Michelle: Yeah (yes). Is there anything you wanted to add or anything else you can think of that you would use?
Lindsay: Let’s see. I’m trying to think, because the situation just happened to me
this week. You know I joined a tennis league and I’ve been loving it. I’ve been loving getting on the tennis court and I met someone very cool and we’ve hung out a couple of times. You know, “sadly”, “unfortunately” I can’t join the league in the fall because it’s filled up, it’s full. So, I’m trying to think of what else I would put there instead. So “unfortunately”… I might go really casual and say something like “It’s really a bummer, but I can’t join the league in the fall.” Something like that. But yeah (yes), nothing else comes to mind, Michelle. I think we covered it here.
Michelle: (yes). I think “unfortunately” to me also feels the most natural, the one that just, you know, comes out of my mouth when I’m expressing this emotion. Yeah (yes). But you know, there are, you know, different ways to express these emotions and, you know, we can always do a follow-up in the future. So, Lindsay, should we give it a try in a role play?
Lindsay: I would like to do that, definitely, Michelle. Let’s do it. So, what’s going on here?
Michelle: Alright. So, we are talking about people from high school. We went to the same high school and we’re talking about them.
Lindsay: Have you ever been to a high school reunion?
Michelle: No. Have you?
Lindsay: Yes, I went to my five-year reunion. But you know, a five-year reunion is practically not a reunion because people hadn’t done much. I mean, I actually had lived in Japan, so I’d come back and I had done something, which was cool. But I don’t know, since then I haven’t, like, heard about any reunions. Maybe I got off the list or something. [laughter]Michelle: [laughter] Yeah (yes), we’re actually going to talk about that now. You want to give it a go?
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). “Have you heard from anyone about if they’re coming to the class reunion?”
Michelle: “Not really. Melanie, sadly, has a wedding that day so she can’t make it.”
Lindsay: “That’s too bad.”
Michelle: “Yeah (yes). I’m afraid that many people can’t make it because it’s during the holiday season.”
Lindsay: “I heard Ben can come, but don’t tell anyone. Unfortunately, he and Sally got a divorce.”
Michelle: “Ohh no. They’ve been together since tenth grade.”
Lindsay: “Yeah (yes), alas, it happens, much to everyone’s dismay.” [laughter]
Michelle: Okay. Alright.
Lindsay: When people say “alas” they tend to like – like, exhale.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), “alas”.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes), for sure, for sure. Yeah (yes) guys, we tried to pack them in here, but… So, what was the first thing, Lindsay, I said?
Lindsay: You said, “Not really. Melanie, sadly, has a wedding that day, so she can’t make it.” So, you would have wanted Melanie to come, because you probably think she’s cool. So, sadly, she’s not able to come.
Michelle: Yeah (yes), I really like Melanie.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), clearly.
Michelle: And then, just a bonus, guys, Lindsay said “that’s too bad”.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), “that’s too bad”. Yeah (yes), that one works too. Mhh hmm.
Michelle: For sure. And then I said, “I’m afraid that many people can’t make it.”
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). We mentioned when we taught these that “I’m afraid that” is quite formal. You know, because we are classmates from high school, it felt a little bit formal. Right? Even though we’re just trying to use the word here, it felt a little formal. Right? What do you think, Michelle? Yeah (yes).
Michelle: I don’t know, I feel like I would have said it here. Like, “I’m afraid that”…
Like, maybe a little bit formal, but I could hear someone saying it like this. I don’t know.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes). Yeah (yes), yeah (yes), yeah (yes). That’s just, like, a very slight nuance for our listeners here.
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: (yes), exactly.
Michelle: For sure. And then what happened?
Lindsay: And then we said, “But don’t tell anyone. Unfortunately, he and Sally got a divorce.” So yeah (yes), that’s a way to introduce, you know, that it’s also important to prepare your audience, right? That you’re going to say, get some kind of, piece of bad news, and “unfortunately” can be really useful to do that.
Michelle: Right, right, right. Okay. And then finally you said, “Yeah (yes), alas, it happens, much to everyone’s dismay.” So, you used those there together.
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), it’s funny. I feel like that that line could be used, like, in some kind of a Shakespearean play or something. It feels very performancelike. Right?
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: Saying “alas”.
Michelle: “Alas”, that’s true.
Lindsay: “To everyone’s dismay.” Right? It feels like it belongs on Broadway, not so much in that. But we’re showing, we’re throwing this into the conversation, the role play, just to show you guys.
Michelle: Yeah (yes).
Lindsay: Yeah (yes), for sure, we want to look at the context around words and understand where they belong.
Michelle: Definitely, yeah (yes). So, you know, guys, some of these sound more
formal or informal, but overall I think these are really good ways to help us express our emotions about something without going too deep into it.
Like, a word or two, you know, that expresses it and connects more than if I just said, like, for example, in the role play “Don’t tell anyone, he and Sally got a divorce.” Right? I’m actually adding on something like “this is a terrible thing”. Right? So, it’s kind of, I think making me connect a little bit more with you.
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Lindsay: Yeah (yes). It’s also kind of a nice transition. So, it’s a connection, it’s a transition for connection. It’s like you’re transitioning to what you’re going to say, you’re opening it up, and you’re going to connect with the person because you’re saying I’m going to give them bad news now. So, guys, you know, add these words to your vocabulary. I mean, this is what’s going to bring you to the next level to really connect. I love it.
Michelle: For sure. Alright, Lindsay, well, this has been fun, and thanks, Kadeer, for that question. Good luck in school. Yeah (yes), have a good one.
Lindsay: Yeah, Michelle, have fun down in Maryland. Hang out, right? Down in Bethesda.
Michelle: That’s right. Thank you very much. Alright, Lindsay, I’ll talk to you soon.
Lindsay: Okay, enjoy, take care, bye.
Get video one now at AllEarsEnglish.com/INSIDER. And if you believe in Connection NOT Perfection ™, then subscribe to our show on your phone or on your computer. See you next time.
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